Tampa's Ernie Haire Ford was sold at auction Monday morning to a Tampa Saab and Jaguar dealer with roots in Michigan.
Elder Automotive Group said it plans to keep about 80 percent of Haire's 100 employees when it takes over the dealership on N Florida Avenue in October.
The new name will probably be Ford of Tampa Bay. It's Elder's fourth Ford dealership and its first in Florida.
"The Haire family has done a great job. We're inheriting a lot of great customers," said Richard Elder, who co-owns the Troy, Mich., business with his brother and mother. "We'll try to keep as many employees in place as possible."
Founded in 1970, Haire was for many years one of the state's most prolific Ford dealers. The company filed for bankruptcy in November, a victim of the automotive slump and a $6.9 million class action lawsuit for overcharging customers for window etching.
Elder bid the most for Haire during an hourlong bankruptcy auction Monday in the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa.
Though the formal bid was $3.5 million — the amount needed to cover debts from unsecured creditors — Elder expects to pay close to $8 million for the dealership. Elder edged out two other bidders: Northgate Lincoln-Mercury and Crown Automotive.
Through months of bankruptcy hearings, creditors made $36 million in claims against Haire, most of which have been paid. Thanks to the auction, the dealership expects to pay off most of its remaining debts before going out of business. That pleased Haire treasurer Todd Hodges.
"It was better than we expected," Hodges said. "It was a very spirited auction."
Elder is buying Haire's franchise, equipment and remaining cars outright. It will acquire the land through a multiyear lease-to-own deal.
The $400 million company with 12 dealerships is one of Michigan's largest auto retailers.