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Automobiles still had running boards when Robert Bernstein began his career as a liveried chauffeur back in 1948. In those days, a one-way trip between Manhattan and Brooklyn earned a fare of one dollar and Bernstein was grateful for any work he could find.
Times have changed since then, along with cars and fares, not to mention Bernstein’s circumstances. Although he has always operated his company, Andrea Limousine, as a one-man, one-car enterprise, Bernstein has cultivated a loyal and exclusive clientele which has included presidents, gentry, tycoons, and screen stars.
While he once had to hustle around the clock to make ends meet, Bernstein now only works as much as suits him. In fact, he could live handsomely for the rest of his days without driving another mile but, at age 70, he prefers to stay behind the wheel.
A former resort owner with a degree in chemistry, young Bob Bernstein was an unlikely candidate for his profession. He landed his first job by happenstance when he answered an ad for someone to drive children on a school route.
Later, weddings became his bread and butter. He managed to secure much of this type of business by mailing his card to marriage license applicants who were listed in the local newspaper. Today, Bernstein does no advertising whatsoever. Word of mouth has sufficed for years.
Bernstein’s first steady private customer was Mr. B.M. Reeves, “The Olive Oil King,” Reeves paid Bernstein $125 a week to drive him to and from work, and to drive Mrs. Reeves wherever she needed to go.
The Reeves were the first in a long succession of well-heeled and often famous Andrea clients. Among Bernstein’s regulars was Bernie Cornfield, the inventor of overseas mutual funds and a “real character” who was known to stroll through airports with a wild animal on a leash.
Ralph Stolken, a football star turned financier was another regular, as was actor David Janssen. While working for CBS, Bernstein drove Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon. Bette Davis was a steady customer in the 1970’s, until she moved to Los Angeles.
Bernstein has driven for so many Texas mayors when they visit New York that he has been made an honorary citizen of the state. “I think I have probably met more mayors than the governor,” he says.
Perhaps even more remarkable than their notoriety or wealth is the loyalty of Bernstein’s clients. One customer, a successful decorator, still calls Bernstein after 37 years.
The Italian Baron Enrico Di Portanova has used Andrea, when he’s in New York, for 15 years and referred his friend Baron Maximilian De Clara who is now also a regular customer. Di Portanova has even bought several Allen stretches limousines from Bernstein.
If you ask Bob Bernstein to what he attributes his success, he cites hard work and “memorable cars, thanks in large part of Carlos Allen (of Allen Coachworks in Laredo, TX).” Bernstein bought his first Allen limousine in 1974 and has owned 15 consecutive Allen stretches since – culminating in a 1986 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit.
The Rolls was recently used in the filming of the movie “Arthur II.” Bernstein has since sold it and repurchased his 1980 Allen double-cut Seville, which is, he says, “still a stunning car,” and obviously one of his all time favorites.
Like Bernstein’s Rolls, the Seville is unique among limousines. It is still the only Seville limousine with a roof completely finished in metal. It was the first limousine to be built with a raised roof, a feature which has since become a signature of Allen vehicles. “Carlos used to try out all of his experiments on me,” says Bernstein, who was evidently a willing guinea pig.