NOV. LCT: What operators can learn about building a steady client base from a leading fleet vehicle seller.
Andy Hotton started with the Ford Motor Company in 1936. The War interrupted his career with Ford but gave him an opportunity to gain a varied background in the manufacturing of automotive parts and in the design of specialty vehicles.
Hotton built his first limousine for the Ford Motor Company in 1963. It was a Ford Galaxie that was displayed at the New York Auto Show. In subsequent years, Hotton built a number of prototype limousines and custom vehicles for Ford. In 1970, Hotton started A.H.A (Andy Hotton Associates) to design and build Lincoln limousines for sale through Lincoln/Mercury dealerships.
Hotton sold A.H.A in 1976 to his partner, Mel Stein, who moved the company to Canada. Hotton then started Premier Engineering to manufacture limousine parts for coachbuilders. Although he is officially “retired,” Hotton is still active with Premier Engineering, and remains on the A.H.A board of directors.
Hotton reminisced for a few minutes with Limousine & Chauffeur at the Las Vegas show.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How did you get started in the automobile business?
Hotton: I went to the Ford Trade School in ‘36. Then I went to another school they had for management training. I worked in every department at Ford. Before the War, they put me in Lincoln/Mercury Sales to work with dealers.
After Pearl Harbor, I went to Willow Run because of my background in tooling and engineering I worked in tooling and went out to check all the Ford dealers who each had a bomber part to build. The dealers didn’t have cars to sell so we gave them bomber work to do.
After the war in Europe was over, we quit building B-24s and Ford put me back to building cars. That lasted seven days before I was drafted. After I got out of the Army, my appendix ruptured and I couldn’t go back to Ford right away so I started building speed equipment in ‘46 and ‘47.
My partner Don Sullivan and I started Hotton and Sullivan Engineering. We designed engines for Kaiser. We designed 4, 6, and 8 cylinder pancake engines, and V-8s. My friend Sullivan is now 82 years old and is still a consultant to Ford on racing engines.
I started making different components and doing prototype work. In the race program, we did a lot of design of manifolds, camshafts, and heads. We made dual exhaust kits and sold them by the thousands. It was a factory kit.
I did a lot of Lincoln stuff like a car for Kennedy’s wife. I also stretched some Lincolns. In ‘63, Ford asked me to build a limousine. I built a twenty-four inch stretch Ford limousine for them.
Limousine & Chauffeur: That was a Ford Galaxie wasn’t it?
Hotton: Yes. We did the tooling for it. They were going to build them for Hertz and we built about forty cars and then they said “Stop.” They built prototype Mark Ills. I did a lot of prototype work like the Mustang for Iacocca, and made a lot of parts. We did a lot of special stuff that I can’t talk about. I also built race cars and tested them at Daytona Beach.
The name of my company then was Dearborn Steel and Tubing Company. It’s still in business. I sold it and retired in 1970. Then Ford wanted a Lincoln limousine and said “Get off your butt.” So I started building Lincoln limousines again in ‘70 with a company called Andy Hotton Associates (A.H.A). In ‘76, I sold the company to my partner Mel Stein who moved it to Canada. I’m still on the Board of Directors of A.H.A.
Limousine & Chauffeur: When did A.H A start?
Hotton: I started A.H A in 1969 with a limousine program. We worked with 70 model cars.
Limousine & Chauffeur: When did you sell Dearborn Steel and Tubing?
Hotton: I sold that in 1969 and retired. I wanted to play with my own cars. I have a collection of old cars.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you remember about those early limousines?
Hotton: They were good cars. I had a 460 engine and did a lot of the work on the chassis. We had heavier spindles and bigger brakes. It was a really good car. I’m trying to find one to restore and put in our collection. Some of them are still in use. There’s a guy out in Omaha who’s still running a couple of them.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How large was your operation in ‘70 when you first got started?
Hotton: We had a good sized company. We had about three shops and thirty-five men. Ford put the cars through 50,000 mile durability tests for us.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Were you building limousines for livery services in the early ‘Seventies, or were they primarily for private buyers and the government?
Hotton: I built them for Fugazy in New York City. I sold him over 300 of those. But the dealers would buy them and the corporations would buy them. Ford was using them.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What years were you the owner/operator of A.H.A?
Hotton: 1970 through the end of ‘75. And I’m still on the board of directors. Now my son Randy and I have Premier Engineering where we manufacture limousine parts.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How did you get your design ideas for your first limousines? Did you look at other limousines as models?
Hotton: No. I designed the cars myself...utilizing what tooling that I could. With our Ford limousines, we tooled everything. I even made the roof from one piece which was stamped by Ford. We had special spindles, brakes, and drive shafts. Ford helped me develop all that. As matter of fact, the car they build today is based on some of the same principles that my company used.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What was the limousine industry like back then? Was Fugazy one of the only people in New York’s running stretches in the early Seventies?
Hotton: Well, everything was Cadillac in those days. All Cadillac limousines. Fugazy had a connection with Ford through Iacocca and he wanted Lincolns. I imagine that we must have built six hundred cars over a four-year period.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Was the Lincoln limousine Iacocca’s project? Was he directly involved?
Hotton: I worked right with the Lincoln-Mercury division. Iacocca was over with Ford at that time.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What features did your limousine have in the early ‘Seventies?
Hotton: It had a big door, jump seats, a partition, a console with a television and a lot of the things that limousines have today. It was 151-inch wheelbase.
Limousine & Chauffeur: When did the jump seats go away and the bench seat come in?
Hotton: In ’75 or ’76, I call that the “Moloney-type” car where you have that big space between the front and rear door. That’s when we came up with the bigger rear door.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Why do you call it the ‘Moloney-type”?
Hotton: Well, he was the first man with it.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Didn’t Carlos Allen build that kind of car?
Hotton: I guess he and I started about the same time... it was about ‘70. Everybody builds the same car now, with that big center panel and the rear facing bench seats.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Was your car sold through Ford dealerships?
Hotton: We sold strictly through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. All the cars that Fugazy bought were sold through the branch of Lincoln Mercury there in New York City. I built 112 limousines in ’73. That was quite a few.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you remember your production numbers starting with ‘70?
Hotton: In ’70, maybe 30 cars. In ’71, it went up but the biggest year was 73. I could’ve built more cars, you see. I had more orders than I could fill. 1974 was fine...but we had that gas thing hit in ’74 and ’75 and that put a real crimp in it. I did a lot of other work, like I built 900 Cougar convertibles for them, and I did a lot of things like that for Ford.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Did you build other custom cars?
Hotton: Yes. I’ve got a lot of special show cars. I built drag cars... the Comets and the Thunderbolts. I also made parts for race cars. Race cars were being built by people like Stroppe, Holman, and Moody. I made the intake manifolds, and the exhaust manifolds, and the headers, and that kind of thing. I’ve always been in the tailpipe business. That’s how Mel Stein (President of A.H.A Automotive Technologies) and I got acquainted - I sold Ford’s tailpipe plant to him when he was an officer of Gabriel of Canada.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Are you still involved with A.H.A in a design capacity?
Hotton: Strictly as a consultant.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do they bring in the ideas for the new models and pass them by you?
Hotton: Or vice versa. They’re a good outfit. They’ve got some real good men, especially in the design area.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How many coachbuilders do you supply?
Hotton: Pretty near every one of them. With some parts. The big coachbuilders, you know, go right to OEM parts and service and buy the parts except for the special stuff that I’ve tooled...like the moldings, and roof rails, and all of that stuff. We spent quite a bit of money tooling that stuff. I thought, “Hey the little coachbuilders are trying to do the same kind of work.”
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you remember any particularly unique limousines that you built over the years? Or any with special features?
Hotton: There were some special limousines built but I don’t know much about who bought them. That was all handled through Lincoln/Mercury.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Did you primarily build a standard car that went straight to the showroom floor?
Hotton: Yeah, the dealers would stock them. It was also in the Lincoln/Mercury Lease Program.
Limousine & Chauffeur: I had the impression that there was a lot of customizing done in that period.
Hotton: I did all kinds of things. I was in Ford’s back yard. I worked on the Lincoln-Mercury base car and all kinds of stuff like police cars and performance cars. We tried to come up with something that could improve performance. The ‘55 Chevrolet was a great performer and so, to compete with that, we came up with performance kits for the ‘56 Ford.
We did a lot of crazy things with limousines. Someone once wanted a platform for their German shepherd. I took the center post out of one so that somebody in a wheelchair could sit in there. We put in some bigger gas tanks and a lot of things like that. Prototype stuff, was busy all the time.
Limousine & Chauffeur: How do you feel about the limousines being built today?
Hotton: Everyone’s building nice limousines today. I worry about some of those real long ones, though. Some of them are getting too heavy. The brakes won’t take that kind of weight. The base car that Lincoln builds, when it has a trailer-tow package, can handle an extra 750 pounds. The Cadillac can also handle about that much.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Did you have to beef up the suspension, brakes, alternator, and those kinds of things on the base vehicles in the early ‘Seventies? Did they have a trailer tow package in those days.
Hotton: No, but I changed the springs and the shocks. I made a heavier spring that still gave the same ride.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you think brakes on extremely long limousines may not be adequate?
Hotton: I’m worried about that. You start adding 1200 pounds of stuff and you might have a problem.
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