Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dick Balch Quit Smashing Cars Decades Ago But People Still Remember Him

You're looking at the late 60s, early 70s version of Dick Balch, he of car dealer/ car smashing/ in car ads fame.

Dick Balch's sledgehammer antics made him quite famous in the Pacific Northwest, pretty much a Northwest icon, like J.P. Patches and Captain Puget and Ivar Haglund.

Dick Balch came back fresh to my memory this morning when I saw that someone had linked to a blogging I wrote awhile back about Dick Balch.

I met Dick Balch and his amusing wife, Melissa, in 2005, in Tacoma, where they now live in a cool house that belongs, style-wise, more in Taos, than Tacoma.

On the visit to Washington and Tacoma in 2005 I went out for dinner at an Indian place in Tacoma with Dick and Melissa. Dick is now, maybe, in his 70s, but he's like me, he acts like a teenager. I'd never enjoyed someone wreaking havoc in a restaurant as much as what I watched Dick Balch do. He had multiple waiters flustered, the manager flustered, me laughing. Hard. And then when it was all over Dick left a humongous tip that I think cost more than the dinner.

I recollect being at the Tacoma Dome, with Melissa, spent 2 days in her booth at some sort of collectibles deal. At the end of that event when it was time to pack stuff up, Dick showed up to help. I think that was the last time I saw him.

When I was in Tacoma in April of 2006, Melissa showed up where I was housesitting, asking if I wanted to go out to lunch. I declined because I'd been attacked, savagely, by one of the cats I was housesitting, due to the cat being startled by my sister's wicked poodles. The cat attack left me with a big gash on my upper lip, that had me not in going out to lunch mode.

Now that you are making me think about it, that was not the last time I saw Melissa Balch. She came over later that week when a friend from further north, in the Skagit Valley, came to Tacoma, via bus, to spend the day, then missed her bus home, which had her staying til midnight, with Melissa showing up at some point in time. I think that was the last I've seen Melissa.

Anyway, below is what Time Magazine had to say about Dick Balch, July 31, 1972...

In the painful recession that has gripped the Seattle area's aerospace-sensitive economy since 1969, many merchants have managed to survive only by using a hard-sell technique. The hardest of all belongs to a luxuriantly mustachioed suburban dealer of Chevrolets and Fiats named Dick Balch. He moves his wares with the help of a 12-lb. sledgehammer.

In ten-second TV spots, Balch has used the hammer to bash in the windshields, headlights and fenders of some 200 of his shiny new cars. His cockeyed routine often includes a devil's costume, a maniacal post-impact laugh and the question, "If you can't trust your car dealer, who can you trust?" This bang-up if nonsensical commercial has drawn attention as well as plenty of customers and has made Balch a local celebrity.

Psychologists may ponder the reason: perhaps people admire his gall, or perhaps they harbor fantasies themselves of working off frustrations by bashing in a car. Balch's agency was riding in the red before the commercials started two years ago; it showed a profit of $22,000 the first month they were broadcast, and sales have been climbing steadily.

In this year's first half, Balch sold 1,596 cars, grossing $4,500,000. The victims of his on-camera carnage are fixed at local body shops. When repaired, these autos can be sold as new goods, just like new cars that have been damaged in shipment. Repairs so far have cost Balch $60,000, but in some cases he is able to get higher prices for the hammered cars. "After all, you've got to pay more for a car that has been in show biz," says Balch with a devilish wink. He claims that many customers ask specifically for the repaired cars, and a few have even insisted on buying his props, dents and all.


Steve A said...

Not only Dick Balch, but Ralph Williams as well.

Funny you should write this. I was looking back at JP Patches and Wunda Wunda earlier this week, and we were all reminiscing about Ivar's on Broadway. That's the one that was shared with a Chinese restaurant.

Robert said...

I've been wondering whateverhappenedtoDickBalch for a long time (maybe a year, anyway, which at my age seems shorter than it used to be, but not as short as my memory). Finally I remembered to think about aforesaid Balch while i was near a computer (not knowing nothing about no smartfone). So i put his name into a browser (okay, i googled it). And up this popped.
When I was a student at Western about 1972-74 thereabouts, Balch was a featured speaker at the kollege, about which i mainly remember the laugh. I think it was supposed to be about how there are many paths to success in this world; at least, that's what I now assume, based on something or nothing at all. Then that laugh enters the consciousness (mine) and i can't remember anything after that.
At least i don't have to think about googling 'Dick Balch' anymore; at least until that laugh comes back, then i may have to repeat like it was Groundhog's Day. Maybe next time i'll be sophisticated enough that i won't even use Capital Letters for his name. There's always hope.
-- Speedo

Anonymous said...

I too remember and i was only about 10-12yrs old...then amazingly so when i was 17-18yrs old, i was asked if i wanted to party at Dick's house and that was one memorable night to say the least ..we needed to leave quickly.Hear he is Hawaii now.

Anonymous said...

Dick's crazy laugh is what I remember most. I had my car in his shop for service and he came walking over to me. I told him I didn't give autographs, so don't even ask. He laughed so hard I though he was going to fall over.