Earl A. Scheib, whose commitment to painting cars at rock-bottom prices led to a chain of more than 200 shops in about 40 states and whose television commercials made him an icon of Southern California's car culture, died Saturday. He was 85.
Scheib was found dead in his Beverly Hills home by his housekeeper. He had apparently died in his sleep early Saturday morning, said Jerry LuVisi, a longtime employee of Scheib's Green Thumb Stables in Chino. She attributed the death to probable heart failure and said Scheib had suffered from emphysema for two years.
LuVisi said Scheib, who raised and raced thoroughbreds for more than three decades, had been present at Santa Anita Park racetrack Friday when his horse, Cause I'm Leaving, placed first in the fourth race. Because his birthday was Feb. 29, he traditionally celebrated it on Feb. 28, she said, and had done so Friday.
"Everybody loved him," LuVisi said. "He was very gruff to speak with, but he had a heart of gold. He was a beautiful person."
Hardly a resident of Southern California was unaware of Scheib's folksy, "Hi, I'm Earl Scheib" television commercials, in which he promised to paint any car for a price that steadily edged up over the years from $29.95 to $119.95.
Although car owners in some locales consider repainting a car an abomination, Scheib had correctly decided in the 1930s that Southern Californians would welcome an affordable way to spiff up their much-loved vehicles.
Scheib, who also saw the possibilities in affordable ads on late-night TV, starred in his commercials and prompted imitations by others in the automotive field.
His commercials made him an enduring symbol of Southern Californians' devotion to automobiles. They also made Earl Scheib a pseudonym for low-cost jobs in a variety of fields.
Scheib and his company, headquartered in Beverly Hills, were continually hounded by county district attorneys and the Federal Trade Commission, who doubted the veracity of his claims. Only a few colors were available for the special price, they said, and the price was not special because it was the everyday cost, not a markdown from anything higher.
"It is my sincere opinion," Scheib wrote The Times after one debacle with the FTC in 1963, "that $29.95 is a special price as we have not raised our price in 27 years, still giving the public their choice of any color."
He changed a word here or there as various authorities cracked down on his popular advertisements. But he said the minor changes would not affect his sales, and they did not.
Scheib's enterprise, as it spread coast to coast, nicely provided luxuries such as his 45-acre Chino horse farm.
Among his horses was Fran's Valentine, the leading California-bred filly of all time with earnings of nearly $1.4 million.
Scheib, whose wife died in 1984, is survived by three sons, Phil of Washington state, and twins Don and Al, of Los Angeles. Funeral arrangements are pending.