Owner of Manhattan Toyota remembered for his love of cars
Darrell Sperber loved cars all his life.
“He bought his very first car — it was an abandoned car — when he was 14-years-old,” said his wife Pamela. “He had his parents file the necessary paperwork and bought parts and fixed it up so he could drive it when he turned 16.”
The owner and manager of Manhattan Beach Toyota passed away on Jan. 14 after losing his battle with leukemia. He was 68.
Sperber bought a stake in the dealership in 2007 with legendary Denver Bronco quarterback John Elway and moved to Manhattan Beach from Newport Beach the following year.
His family said he immediately fell in love with the town. Sperber subsequently acquired sole ownership of the dealership.
“Once he moved here, he said, ‘There’s nothing like Manhattan Beach,’” recalled Pamela, who joined him after retiring from her job as a first grade teacher in Newport Beach. “’The people are so friendly.’ He loved the small-town community — how everybody is there for you.”
Sperber became involved with several Manhattan Beach organizations, including Manhattan Beach Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Manhattan Beach. He loved Leadership Manhattan Beach so much that he sent some of his employees, including his son, Bradley, who is in charge of online sales at the dealership, and Bradley’s wife, Andrisa, who handles marketing and the webiste.
“His life motto was, ‘Give back as much as you take, if not more,’” said Bradley. “He always said, ‘Brad, you’re going to get a lot in life, so give back.’”
The Upland native earned a degree in engineering at Cal State Long Beach, where he met his wife. After graduating in 1969, he went to work for Collins Radio Company, which was bought by Rockwell. The couple married the following year.
Sperber’s father owned Euclid Loan and Jewelry, a pawnshop, in Ontario. When the father became sick in 1976, Sperber bought it. He had worked in the shop as a boy. He decided to retire in 1991, but that didn’t last long.
“After six months, he got really bored,” Bradley said.
He bought a Mitsubishi dealership in Norco, and then another in Pomona. In 2001, he bought property in Ontario and built a third Mitsubishi dealership. He sold them all in 2007 when the opportunity to buy a stake in what was known as John Elway’s Manhattan Beach Toyota. The owners included Elway, Mitchell Pierce and Jerry Williams.
“He always liked and respected Toyota,” said Pamela. “He thought it was a quality car. It was his dream to have a Toyota dealership.”
Sperber also served as the store’s general manager.
In 2012, the store made national news when a former sales manager, Timothy Sandquist, sued, alleging racial discrimination.
“Discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and ancestry flourishes and is deeply embedded in the dealership’s corporate culture,” Sandquist said in the complaint, adding that racial slurs were allegedly used toward Hispanic, African American, Asian and Middle Eastern employees.
The dealership, through their attorney James McDonald, denied the allegations.
“We believe that the allegations do not have merit and we plan a vigorous defense in court,” he said.
Bradley said that because the case is still open, he couldn’t comment on it.
In 2013, Sperber bought out his partners. He renamed the dealership Manhattan Beach Toyota and began a major renovation of the showroom, which is expected to be finished at the end of May.
“My father spent a lot of time on that project,” Bradley said. “It wasn’t about making money for Toyota, but about beautifying Manhattan Beach: planting more trees, making the community more environmentally friendly.”
Bradley his family plans to keep the dealership.
Sperber served on a Chamber of Commerce committee for the improvement of the Sepulveda corridor.
“He was concerned about Manhattan Beach growing, keeping up with the times, but also keeping its charm,” said Pamela.
Besides the black “supercharged” Toyota Tundra which he drove, Sperber collected classic cars, including a 1942 Woody and a 1934 Ford Victoria.
He particularly liked cars from the ‘30s and ‘40s, his wife said.
Sperber also loved fishing and sailing a 42-foot boat he owned with a couple of friends. The family would go to Catalina every summer and he would also go to Mexico with his friends to catch marlin.
“Even during winter, he would go fishing with his friends,” said Pamela. “We had a freezer full of fresh fish all the time.”
In addition to his wife, son and daughter-in-law, Sperber is survived by his daughter Ashley, her husband Rob Jacobson and their two children, as well as two brothers, Neil and Fred Sperber.
A memorial is planned for Mar. 1 at the Manhattan Beach Marriott from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The public is invited.
Sincer Sperber’s death, friends and former employees have called and visited, offering their condolences.
“They all seem to say one thing: He was a terrific boss, friend,” said Pamela. “He always took the time, made them feel like they were number one, like they were the most important thing at that moment.” ER
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