Blaming "a leaky roof," a Silver Spring Ford and Isuzu dealership says it has closed its doors after 16 months in business, putting about 50 people out of work.

Auto dealer Anton Schmidt, owner of Anton Ford-Isuzu, told his employes Monday he was closing the dealership in the Montgomery Auto Park immediately.

A spokesman for Schmidt said the firm has struggled for months to sell and service cars in an environment the employe described as "a swamp."

Despite "extraordinary personal efforts" to keep business going, "the roof of these dealerships' buildings continue to leak extensively . . . making both sales and service activities impossible," Schmidt said in a letter to his employes.

Schmidt said he intends to seek "an appropriate legal resolution" of his dispute with the building's landlord, who was not identified.

The unexpected closing shocked Ford Motor Co. executives, one of whom said yesterday that the company "was genuinely surprised" that the dealership decided to close.

"This wasn't a Ford Motor Co. action," said the Ford spokesman, who requested anonymity. "We didn't have anything to do with their closing. It wasn't a bankruptcy action or anything like that."

Neither Schmidt nor his lawyer, Robert Rohrbaugh, could be reached for comment yesterday. But a representative, who also requested anonymity, denied that Anton Ford-Isuzu was floundering financially.

"That had nothing to do with it," she said. But, she acknowledged, "There were days when we could do no business at all because of water on the floors. . . . When you're unable to do business, it doesn't enhance your financial situation."

Schmidt has two other area dealerships, Anton Motors in Rockville, a Mercedes and Toyota franchise, and Anton Datsun-BMW in Manassas. Both of the surviving Anton dealerships are enjoying strong sales, the representative said.

There are 25 Ford dealerships in the metropolitan area, 15 of them in Maryland. One of the Ford dealerships, Logan Ford of Springfield, closed last year after its owner died.

Ford Motor Co. officials said yesterday that Anton Ford customers "will not be left in the lurch" because of the dealership closing. Arrangements are being made to handle servicing needs and to meet other obligations, a spokesman said.