Austin, TX — Being born in the back seat of a Chevrolet, growing up in humble circumstances in Chicago’s western suburbs and early run-ins with the law for hot-wiring Studebakers were no deterrent to John Weinberger’s amazing life, career, accomplishments, friendships and influence.
The vintage racer, founder and CEO of Chicago-area Continental Motors Group passed away Sept. 12 at the age of 88.
Starting as an apprentice mechanic in a Nash dealership, he went out on his own with a Gulf Oil station on Route 66 in the late 1950s, bought an early Triumph TR2 and specialized in foreign car service. He made his first big car deal by taking two crashed Porsche 356s — one crunched in the back, the other in the front — and welding them together into a single, saleable car.
Over the years and decades that followed, John parlayed the Gulf station into a Triumph, then British-Leyland, dealership and expanded — thanks to hard work and an excellent, friendly and trustworthy reputation — into a whole string of Continental Motors dealerships, with his Ferrari store as the crown jewel.
John started racing in a hot rod on drag strips, but soon enough switched to sports cars on road circuits and became a formidable and successful racer. He gave that up to concentrate on family and business responsibilities, but continued with the local SCCA region as race chairman at Road America, among other positions. The success of his dealerships and his hands-on involvement with the local sports car scene led to a return to racing in vintage events. John raced many wonderful cars over the years, but is best remembered for his immaculately prepared #76 Lotus 23, with which he won many, many races and was almost always “the car to beat” in its race group.
John also participated in vintage rallyes and tours with wife Lisa, and was always ready to lend a hand for a deserving idea, event or project, including Hugh Ruthven’s annual Ferrari book, model and memorabilia show, which was held at John’s dealership.
John was surely one of a kind as a racer, enthusiast, friend of the sport and aficionado. Unlike most dealers, he had a genuine passion for and understanding of the cars he loved, raced, drove and collected.
Services were held Monday (Sept. 21) at Circuit of the Americas. Read his obituary for information about memorials.
Thanks to Burt Levy for this tribute story.