G.W. Bodmer wasn't much of a new car salesman. During his 10-month career, he shuttled among a number of Woodbridge dealerships, getting fired from one and not wowing his supervisors elsewhere.

Yesterday it became apparent why. While his colleagues were pitching air conditioning, power windows and automatic transmissions, Bodmer, an undercover Prince William County police officer, was buying drugs as part of an investigation into use and distribution at three automobile dealerships.

As a result of Bodmer's work, police said they have charged 28 persons, mostly new car salesmen, with a variety of narcotics distribution and possession charges.

"Bodmer was not a very good salesman," said Frank Cowles Jr., owner of Cowles Ford where three employes were arrested. "I guess now we know why."

Police were still arresting the last of the suspects yesterday, according to Sgt. Michael H. Johnson, supervisor of the county's vice and narcotics unit. The suspects are charged with a total of 44 felonies and 15 misdemeanors, most of them related to the sale of cocaine and marijuana to the undercover officer. Most of those charged were employes of Cowles Ford, Lustine Toyota Dodge and Belvoir AMC-Jeep-Renault, the officer said.

Purchases ranged from $100 (one gram) to $2,000 (one ounce) worth of cocaine, Johnson said.

He said there was no organizational link among those charged, and no indication the dealerships were involved. "The only thing they had in common was that they worked at car dealerships," he said.

Some officers and dealers said the salesmen may have been tempted into drugs by the nature of their jobs. "The life style car salesmen lead: long work days, flashy existence, goes hand-in-hand with what we associate with cocaine use," Johnson said.

Cowles, a lawyer and former Alexandria police officer, agreed that "the nature of the business" may explain the problem. "This is a high-strung bunch of people, working long hours under a lot of pressure, and unfortunately the culture seems to inculcate this kind of thing in them," he said.

The investigation started last July, Johnson said, when the police department heard that drug use and drug dealing were prevalent in car dealerships along the Jefferson Davis Highway (Rte. 1) corridor.

Cowles said he had heard rumors of drug use and dealing at his dealership in January and had notified Prince William prosecutor Paul Ebert. The dealer said he called his employes together then and warned them that he would not tolerate illegal drug use.

The dealers did not learn of the investigation until arrests were made, Johnson said.

John Gunning, general manager of Lustine Toyota Dodge, said yesterday, "We don't condone illegal activities by our employes."

Assistant prosecutor William Hamblen said the investigation "was not over by any means" and that the operation was simply an indication that in Prince William County "people use cocaine just like everywhere else in this country."