“It's like Bloomfield Hills south,” says Cliff Vaughan over a salad on the porch of the Marina Club in Bonita Springs, one of several small towns now part of the burgeoning greater Naples area.

Dressed in khaki shorts and a striped short-sleeve shirt, attire not uncommon in this balmy area, the retired General Motors Corp. vice president and GMC Div. general manager is among scores of GM executives who have sought refuge from the frigid north here along southwestern Florida's Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Before he retired in 1996, Vaughan, like many of his former colleagues, had a home in Bloomfield Hills, a northern suburb of Detroit that long has served as an enclave for automotive brass.

Among the highest-ranking former GM execs with homes here are Chairmen Roger B. Smith (1981-1990) and John F. (Jack) Smith (1998-2003). Former GM vice presidents such as Vaughan abound, and numerous other retired automotive biggies such as Harold A. (Red) Poling, who led the Ford Motor Co. during the 1980s, have homes here, too. Other retired Ford executives include Ross Roberts and Gordon McKenzie, both sales and marketing big shots in their day.

Former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Bob Eaton, who retired shortly after Chrysler's takeover by Daimler-Benz AG in 1998, also resides here. Like GM's Roger Smith, he keeps a low profile. Smith did not return calls from Ward's.

Since retiring, Eaton, widely criticized for selling Chrysler and walking away with a reported $100 million, avoids the media.

Others who reportedly have places here include J.T. Battenberg III, Delphi Corp. president, chairman and CEO; former Chrysler President Tom Stallkamp; retired Fanuc Robotics America, Inc. President Eric Middlestadt; Mike Losh, who once served as GM's chief financial officer; and Tim Leuliette, president, chairman and CEO of Metaldyne Corp.

Most of the retirees head to northern cottages during the summer when temperatures here hover in the 90s, and some retain homes in the Bloomfield Hills area as well.

Vaughan is among four retired GM execs living here who were interviewed recently by Ward's. The others are Bill Hoglund, who almost made it to the top before retiring in 1995; Chuck Brady, who ran GM's proving grounds and retired in 1988; and Steve Malone, Pontiac's longtime chief engineer, who retired in 1980.

All belong to the 120-member Gulfshores GM Retired Executives Club, which helps keep them in touch with each other and corporate types back in Detroit. Recent visiting speakers included Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman and product development chief, and Gary Cowger, president of GM North America.

What is the magnet that draws so many current and former automotive industry executives to Naples?

With a mean annual temperature of 77° F (25° C) abundant sun and some of Florida's finest restaurants, shops, golf courses, houses and condominiums — plus seven miles (11 km) of sandy beach on the Gulf and even an historic downtown — it's not hard to figure out.

What's more, if they are ailing, they can get first-rate care at the upscale Cleveland Clinic regional hospital that opened here four years ago.

Naples has not always been known as it is today: “The Palm Beach of Western Florida.” Settled originally by the Caloosa Indians, the first Caucasian settlers arrived in the 1860s attracted by the climate and fish and game. Originally mostly swampland, Naples remained accessible mainly by boat until roads and the railroad arrived early in the last century.

Named for the famed Italian city, Naples spurted when the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) linking Tampa and Miami opened in 1926. It remains today as an often-clogged, north-south road connecting Naples with its neighbors.

The city's airport is close by, making it handy for those commuting north by air. Interstate 75, one of the nation's primary north-south freeways, passes just east of Naples and runs directly through Detroit, making it a 1,350-mile (2,172-km) nonstop trip.

The wealth in the area is striking. Many of the elaborate homes and condominiums express a Mediterranean influence and are splashed with pastel hues in yellow, tan, green, blue and pink. There are pillars and colonnades and red tile roofs. And there are gated communities by the score, usually with private golf courses.

A condominium priced at $5.9 million is not unusual. One ocean-front home reportedly sold for $30 million recently.

Naples' population is officially listed at 20,976, but unbridled growth has spawned a regional population of at least 100,000.

Bill Hoglund

Now 69, Hoglund and his wife, Bev, have lived in Naples for more than seven years. He tried a condo initially, but now has a luxurious home in an ungated neighborhood in the Pelican Bay area.

Considered an outspoken maverick at buttoned-down GM, Hoglund made it to executive vice president and seemingly had a shot at the top. But poor health (leukemia and asthma), from which he has recovered, played a role in his decision to retire at age 61 in 1995.

But he also was clearly disillusioned. “I was exiled to the components group and they isolated me,” he says. “When I turned 60, I said it was time to go.”

Hoglund joined GM on the finance side in 1958 after picking up an MBA from the University of Michigan to go with a bachelor's degree from Princeton University. Moving up rapidly, he was elected a GM vice president and Pontiac general manager in 1980, making his mark during a 4-year stint at Pontiac where he introduced a series of sporty cars including the 6000STE performance sedan and the plastic-body, spaceframe Fiero 2-seater.

While at Pontiac he became GM's leading advocate of statistical process control and lean manufacturing techniques developed by quality guru W. Edwards Deming. When GM reorganized in 1984 and combined Pontiac with Chevrolet and GM of Canada to form the since disbanded CPC Group, “Pontiac basically disappeared,” he says.

Fiero took off quickly following its 1983 introduction, selling 110,000 in its first year, but Hoglund says it needed a V-6, not the 108-hp, fire-prone “Iron Duke” 4-banger it got because “we couldn't get a V-6 approved.” The Fiero was dropped in 1988.

“Roger (Smith) never liked the Fiero,” he says. “He basically canned the product.” For the much-maligned Pontiac Aztek SUV, Hoglund has few words: “Whoever did Aztek should be shot.”

Hoglund moved on from Pontiac to take charge of the newly formed Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac (BOC) Group, and was among 10 key people to organize Saturn in 1985. He ran the subsidiary for 14 months.

Hoglund plays golf three times a week at the Club on Pelican Bay and carries an 18 handicap. He also is president of the Forum Club, which convenes 10 times annually and attracts major speakers such as Lutz and Cowger, and he is also involved on several corporate and foundation boards and is active in Habitat for Humanity.

“I felt good about my career at GM,” he says. “If the products perform and GM can overcome the media's aversion to Big Three products, we should do well. Labor relations are good and lean manufacturing is working.”

Cliff Vaughan

A native of Norwood, OH, a Cincinnati suburb, Vaughan had mixed emotions about retiring three years early as GMC's general manager. “I'm glad I got out,” he says. “We were making money and the new CKs (trucks) were coming, and we'd completed our Truck Center in Pontiac (a conference room there is named for him).”

But he also misses the business. “When you retire and go to Florida or Arizona, you're just another Joe. You have some ego (while working) because everybody caters to you, and the next day you're a nobody.”

When he retired eight years ago, Vaughan first moved to Hilton Head, SC. He arrived here in 1999 and considered a high-rise condo but settled instead for a single-family villa in the Bonita Bay South gated community.

He enrolled in the GM Institute in Flint, MI, in 1952 and got his degree in 1956. Choosing GMI “is the greatest thing I ever did,” he says.

By the mid-1970s he was director of reliability at GM's St. Louis assembly plant. Then his career took off, with some unusual twists. He spent 1978-1983 as director of manufacturing at GM's Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Germany during a time when GM was building new plants in Spain, Austria and Belgium.

He arrived back in Detroit just as GM was reorganizing in 1984, “and I didn't have a job.” Soon he was assigned 10 plants in the newly created BOC Group, moved up to corporate vice president and managing director of GM do Brasil Ltda. (1983-1987), and then spent two years heading GM's Electromotive Div.

His last job was running GMC from 1991-1996. Over the years, he worked with or for numerous famous GM executives including Elliot (Pete) Estes and Ed Cole, both of whom eventually became GM presidents, and the legendary John Z. DeLorean. “John could've run GM if he'd changed his ways,” says Vaughan.

Chuck Brady

Now a youthful 81, Charles (Chuck) Brady says he didn't really want to retire in 1988 after a 43-year GM career.

His last job was vice president of current manufacturing staffs, a job that among other responsibilities included overseeing all of GM's proving grounds and the corporation's 17 aircraft and lone helicopter. “It was tough walking down the hall that last day. Most people you know are people in the business,” he says.

Brady, who has lived here in the sprawling Vineyards gated community since 1991, still keeps in touch.

He plays golf four times a week (handicap: 21) and is active in the Forum Club headed by Hoglund.

Each August he journeys to the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, MI, to join with GM's board of directors in viewing upcoming new models. Although he served in a variety of capacities, Brady's forte was in testing, durability and performance.

He joined GM in 1948 fresh out of Michigan State University and was stationed at GM's desert test facilities and proving ground in Mesa, AZ, after it opened in 1951, and directed that operation from 1963-1965. Next he directed the Milford facility, during which time he also led GM's drive to develop performance criteria for radial tires.

In the 1970s he became vice president responsible for all new-car project centers then being organized to apply the team approach to developing new vehicles. One was the compact front-drive X-car series, which soon came under fire by the federal government for having allegedly unsafe brakes. “I spent months in Washington on that one,” he recalls.

Steve Malone

Still spry at 87, Malone retired 25 years ago after a 43-year GM career mainly at Pontiac where he was chief engineer from 1969 to 1980.

Living a “quiet life” in the Quail Creek gated complex near I-75 northeast of downtown Naples, Malone retired first to South Carolina before moving here in 1992.

“I didn't know GM people were here,” he says.

Until a few years ago he'd drive back to Michigan each summer. “I haven't seen snow in 15 years,” he says with no obvious displeasure.

He knew Pete Estes, who was named Pontiac's chief engineer in 1956, and was invited to join the division as chassis engineer. When Estes was promoted, DeLorean replaced him. “He was all right; we got along good,” says Malone of DeLorean. “He was full of ideas, half of which didn't work. I had to bail him out. He never bothered about the details.” Contrary to popular thought, Malone says DeLorean didn't develop the original Pontiac GTO in a vacuum. “Several people had a hand in it,” he says. DeLorean also claimed Pontiac's “wide track” stance as his idea, but again Malone disputes that. “He took credit for a lot of things he didn't do.”

Why was the GTO so special? “GM had a 455-hp (V-8) and an A-car (intermediate), but no one had ever put the two together,” says Malone. It went on to become a performance icon.

Malone moved from chassis to body engineering and assistant chief engineer under DeLorean, then got the top engineering slot in 1965. “I knew I'd have to retire, and at first I missed it — but not anymore,” he says. A Cadillac DeVille sits in his driveway these days. “I haven't had a Pontiac in years,” he shrugs.