Ernie von Schledorn was driving home with a granddaughter two years ago at lunchtime when they came upon a minor traffic accident. Von Schledorn slowly pulled his Cadillac up to a police officer at the scene and with a smile said, “Who do you know wants to buy a car?”
That question was the tagline for a famed advertising campaign that became part of Milwaukee’s culture.
Ernest “Ernie” von Schledorn, a legendary car dealer and German immigrant who arrived in Milwaukee with $14 in his pocket, died Friday. He was 88.
He hitchhiked to Milwaukee in 1952, and five years later sold more Buicks than any salesman in the country.
“Ernie probably was the hardest working, most focused guy you will ever meet,” said Morry Silverman, group general manager of the von Schledorn dealerships in Menomonee Falls and Lomira.
His passion was selling cars.
“And did it better than anybody I know, and I’ve been around a pretty long time myself,” said Silverman, who came to work for von Schledorn in 1985.
In 1959, two years after being the country’s top Buick salesman, von Schledorn struck out on his own, opening a used-car business at 400 E. Capitol Drive. The business was successful enough that in 1966 he could buy a Pontiac-Buick dealership in Menomonee Falls.
Other dealerships would follow.