What's the oldest auto dealership in America? It could be Normandin Chrysler Plymouth Jeep in San Jose, CA.

That store's roots date to 1875, two decades before the advent of the American auto industry.

The business dates to the horse-and-buggy days. Indeed, founder Amable Normandin, a blacksmith and sleigh maker from Montreal, opened it as a buggy-making shop.

In 1906, the company expanded to include the sale of horseless carriages. The first franchise, Franklin, came along in 1915. An original Franklin car is in the showroom today. An original Normandin buggy, built in 1882, graces the roof of the modern building.

The dealership over the years sold - and outlasted - a number of car makes, including Hupmobiles, Saxons and Hillmans.

In 1933, the store obtained a DeSoto-Plymouth franchise from Chrysler Corp. The Chrysler line replaced ill-fated DeSoto in 1958.

A fifth generation of Normandins now run the dealership, which is at its fourth location on a 10-acre spread on the Capitol Expressway Auto Mall.

Of course, they didn't have expressways or auto malls back in 1875. But they certainly had the entrepreneurial spirit that led to the founding of such a venerable dealership.

That spirit seems to be a constant throughout the life of the business, now housed in a thoroughly modern building.

For instance, second-generation owner Louis Normandin sold all his stock before the stock market crash of 1929 and reinvested it elsewhere, such as real estate.

Fourth-generation owner Lon Normandin, during Chrysler Corp.'s dark financial days of the early 1980s, was among a select group of Chrysler dealers who traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to support the automaker's recovery plan.

Lon is now chairman of the board. His two sons are the current generation of Normandins running the dealership, Mark as president and general manager, Paul as general sales manager.

They represent that new breed of dealers who are both well educated and well experienced. Both brothers hold college degrees in business. Both have held a cross-section of jobs at the store.

Mark has two boys and a girl, Paul a baby son. Wonder if those kids will be running the dealership some day?

Two dealers for every car? Three hundred of the fastest Ford Mustangs ever made were shipped to dealers last month.

"We're only building 300 - that's it," Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT) Engineering Manager John Coletti says of the powerful Mustang Cobra R.

There are nearly 600 SVT dealers in the country. So how did Ford allot 300 vehicles to dealers if the number of SVT dealers is almost twice the number of cars produced?

"We held a drawing," says the 385-hp car's marketing manager, Tom Scarpello. "Only the SVT dealers could participate. Dealers could only get one each."

Ford kept the Mustang Cobra R's production volume low on purpose, in part to create a mystique.

"This car elevates the whole idea of Mustang - but I would have done a lot more," says Mr. Scarpello, ever the marketing manager. "The last time a car like this came out was five years ago."

Developed specifically for racing, the 2000 model's top speed is 175 mph. The sticker price is $54,995. For that price, you think you'd get air conditioning. Think again. That would have drained a little power from the engine.

"We wanted to get every bit of horsepower we could," says Mr. Coletti.

What the...? Although many elements of American culture have spread throughout the world, certain things are better left at home.

Like one of the new Chrysler PT Cruiser commericals.

It features a little girl who's learning to talk as her mom takes her for a stroll. The tot puts words to various sights along the way.

Then she sees the funky all-new PT Cruiser, and says, "What the...?

Most Americans pretty much know what's unsaid.

But most people from other countries don't know. That's what DaimlerChrysler Marketing Vice President Bud Liebler tells me.

And that's why that particular ad will only air in America even though DC is marketing the PT Cruiser as a global product.

Things go better with... A "News Wrapup" story in the March 2000 edition of Ward's Dealer Business told how Ford Motor Co. is testing a new sign the automaker ultimately wants to install at all of its 4,200 dealerships.

The story mentioned that the Ford blue oval is the second most recognizable corporate icon in the world.

I received a call from Tom Cook, who's editorial director of Intertec Corp. publications, including this one. In other words, he's my boss.

He wondered what is the world's first most recognizable icon. That piece of information was, alas, conspicuously absent from the story.

Mr. Cook was gentlemanly and diplomatic in his inquiry.

"It would have been fun to have the article say what's the world's most recognizable icon," he said.

His point is well taken on a more serious journalistic level as well - a story shouldn't raise questions that go unanswered.

So what's the answer to his question?

You're right if you said Coca-Cola.

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: steve_finlay@intertec.com