John F. Weinberger, Naperville, Illinois and Austin, Texas, passed away September 12, 2020 at his home in Austin at the age of 88. John was born in Illinois April 18, 1932 in the backseat of a Chevy, which set the stage for his lifelong passion for cars. John was the consummate car, racing, and driving fanatic with a special aura felt by all who knew him.
John's car passion also charted the course of his career, as he progressed from his humble beginnings as an apprentice garage mechanic to becoming the founder and CEO of one of the largest privately held companies in the Chicago area and one of the Top 150 dealership groups in the nation. The dealerships are located in the western suburbs of Chicago and employs over 700 people, many who have worked for the Continental Motors Group for over half their lives.
John and his younger brother Herm were partners for over 50 years. Together, they worked for the A.M. Zelke Nash dealership in Berwyn, IL before establishing Continental Motors in 1962 to specialize in the sales and service of imported cars. John specialized in sales and service while Herm focused on parts and body work in Lyons, IL. The brothers' stellar reputation among Chicago foreign car enthusiasts came to the attention of Triumph Motor Cars. They were offered the opportunity to become an authorized Triumph dealer. They also represented Jaguar, MG, and Toyota. Rapid growth dictated a move to Countryside, IL as a great place to establish a new facility. Other franchises added in the 70's/early 80's were Honda, Datsun (now Nissan), and Ferrari. John served several terms as a dedicated and respected board member of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, the Illinois Automobile Trade Association, and the American Import Auto Dealers Association.
According to his son Jay, "I didn't have to look further than my own father to find a mentor." John was the ideal mentor for both of his sons, Jay and Joel. Each of them continues to successfully operate the dealership group along with their cousin, Cheryl Nelson.
John's youngest son Joel stated "I feel so fortunate that my father and I could share our love of cars both on and off the racetrack, and I'm extra grateful of the automotive business legacy he founded and welcomed me into with open arms."
Eileen, a longtime Continental AutoSports employee, stated that "John's love of Continental is shared by all employees. He truly cared about his people and led by example. His respect for each of us made his team so strong. He had confidence in our abilities which allowed him to enjoy well-deserved time off. We love him, he will always have a special place in our hearts."
As a young man, John enjoyed racing cars and earned numerous podium finishes during the 1960's while competing in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events. He continued his winning ways by racing vintage cars to the age of 84. His racing success led to his induction into the Road Racers Drivers Club, where he joins an exclusive group of famous racers. He was a past board member of the SCCA and active member of various vintage racing clubs.
Hugh Ruthven, fellow vintage racer and friend for over 40 years, said "John wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. A bunch of guys were standing around my Bandini Formula Junior, trying to bleed the brakes. John grabbed a wrench and a few seconds later he hopped in the car to test his handiwork. He easily moved from car guy to gregarious host, starting a monthly lunch bunch of guys more than 15 years ago which, he purposely included men of various professions and political persuasions because he enjoyed the give-and-take of the conversations. John always looked at situations positively, even finding a way to stay jovial after grueling chemotherapy. He was a great leader and human being. I will miss his insights, integrity and companionship." John also formed a lunch bunch in Austin, TX.
He met his wife Lisa at a tollbooth as both were driving down the Illinois Tollway. As a research/marketing specialist, Lisa recognized him from a trade association directory. John didn't have exact change that day, and she offered him the coins and her phone number. A few years later, they had their wedding ceremony at that same tollbooth in Oak Brook, IL. For over 30 years, they participated in many vintage car races, rallies, and auctions around the world. During that time, John excelled as a savvy collector of rare and unusual vintage cars. According to Lisa, "we packed 100 years of living into the years we had together. He was the perfect soulmate of a husband who was adventurous, fun-loving, and passionate about cars. I do have faith that our lives were meant to merge."
John & Lisa dedicated much of their lives to social responsibility which will continue through their private foundation. They initiated the Continental Motors Group "Driven to Care" car giveaway program. To date, the Continental dealerships have donated 72 refurbished cars to individuals who triumphed over various challenges. He also mentored and provided scholarships to graduating high school students interested in a career involving the preservation and restoration of vintage cars. He enjoyed meeting recipients face-to-face learning how having a car or a career with cars transformed their lives. He also inspired his family dealership group to collectively donate to the construction of a new local cancer institute.
In addition to his loving wife Lisa, he is survived by previous wives Ramona (Lowy) and Joan Weinberger, sons Jay (Julie), Joel (Shannon), Bob (Linda) Forrest, and many grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins. He will especially be missed by his pooches Chica and Alie. He was preceded in death by his brothers Joseph L. (Weinberger) Kreft (Charles Smith), Herman G. Weinberger (Shirley), Ed Weinberger and his parents John and Elisabeth Weinberger.
A special thanks to all his caregivers, MD Anderson, Texas Oncology & Amita Health Cancer Institute who helped him live a quality life til he "crossed the finish line".
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to The Footprints Foundation, ? of Continental AutoSports, 420 E. Ogden Ave., Hinsdale, IL 60521. The foundation funds high school graduates to further their education in vintage automotive preservation & restoration and technical training along with supporting a variety of charities in both Illinois, Texas, as well as internationally.
Arrangements are being handled by Weed Corley Fish Funeral Home. Details at dignitymemorial.com
. Services will be held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on September 21 @ 4 p.m. A private burial will take place in Hinsdale, IL and a celebration of life will be held at a later date.
Published by Chicago Tribune on Sep. 15, 2020.