HACKENSACK, NJ - The future of the 1,850-member Ford Dealers Alliance is a front-burner issue with the death of its fiery founder and president, Edwin J. Mullane.

But the alliance appears as feisty as ever. It's helping to raise $1.5 million to legally challenge the two-tier invoice pricing of Ford's impending Blue Oval dealer certification program. Certified dealers would get a 1.25% discount on cars purchased from the manufacturer.

Five dealers are suing Ford in U.S. District Court in Newark, NJ. They are Danvers (MA) Motors, Augusta (ME) Ford, Concord Ford Lincoln Mercury in Newark, NY; Fette Ford in Clifton, NJ and Senator Ford in Sacramento, CA.

For 31 years, Mr. Mullane, a retired New Jersey dealer, guided the alliance as a dealer advocacy group after organizing it to protest Ford factory-owned dealerships.

The group fought for "dealer equities" in numerous areas after Ford phased its factory stores out in the 1970s.

The alliance focused on such issues as distribution favoritism, payment of warranty rates on a retail basis rather than wholesale and, more recently, the now-suspended scheme to establish factory-owned dealer "collections" in metro markets.

Mr. Mullane died Oct. 7 at age 89 of a pulmonary ailment. He had been the alliance's only president. He was an inspiring orator and writer, earning him a designation as one of the top 10 "dealers of influence" in the first 100 years of the auto industry.

When Mr. Mullane retired last December, Ross H. Roberts, a Ford senior sales executive who fought many battles with Mr. Mullane, predicted the alliance would wither without him "to keep the flame lit."

Another adversary, retired Ford group sales chief Bennett E. Bidwell, called him "irascible but a stirring dealer advocate."

The alliance's operations chief, Michelle Van Viorst, says the group is committed to continue in the tradition of Mr. Mullane.

She asked members to help finance the court battle against Blue Oval and its two-tier pricing, which Mr. Mullane called "a Trojan Horse through the gates of our dealerships."

Ms. Viorst says an alliance board meeting would be held to plan future activities and consider a successor for the presidency position.