After 40 years in the used car business, Lloyd Coward still revels in the thought of a prospective customer sitting in rush hour traffic outside Coward's lot at Fourth Street and New York Avenue NW.
People waiting for the light to change roll down their car windows to scan the Cadillacs gleaming under the winter sun at Mr. Lloyd's used Cadillac lot.
Among the luxury cars is a small office in which Coward and his sales force wait for a potential customer to leave the traffic and come in for a closer look. Those who are interested but don't come in usually call the next day, he said.
"Washington, D.C., is a Cadillac city," Coward said. "When someone sees a car they like, they call and can tell you exactly where the car is, what color it is and whether the antenna is up or down."
People buy Cadillacs for several reasons, Coward said. For many, a Cadillac means luxury and status.
"Years ago if you had a Cadillac, people thought you were either rich or a gangster; today it's not that way," he said. "Some people trade in Cadillacs twice a year."
Coward said his lot has the largest selection of used Cadillacs in town.
Coward doesn't describe himself as a car buff. In 1951, he bought his first Cadillac, a 1949 model. These days he drives a 1985 model. He never uses the term "Caddy," he said, because "it takes away from the class of the car."
The oldest car on his lot is a 1979. The maintenance costs on older cars are too expensive, he said.
"I'm not a fanatic about Cadillacs," he said. "I like the business and the work, and I like to deal with people."
Coward's career began just after he got out of the service in 1946. He was on his way home to North Carolina when the train stopped in Washington. "I never got back on," he said.
He started out in car sales by buying one car, then driving it to North Carolina to sell.
"I sold cars that were high in demand down there," he said. "I would take one down, catch the bus back and maybe in a week I'd have another one."
In 1948, Coward established his first used car business, Lloyd's Auto Sales, on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Gallatin Street NW. There he sold the most popular makes at the time: used Fords and Chevrolets. By early 1950, Coward's business was doing well enough that he needed space larger than his 14-car lot. He found a spot at 24th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, sold his first lot and moved downtown.
Coward's business kept growing. He added four locations in the District, including the one he has now. Together, the five locations became the Metropolitan Auto Sales Corp.
Coward usually had a Lincoln Continental or a Cadillac on his lots, but it wasn't until 1960 that he began dealing almost exclusively in used Cadillacs at his Third and K streets location. His customers kept demanding the General Motors-made Cadillacs, so he filled the lot with them. Today, many of those customers still buy from Coward.
"Most of my business comes from referrals and repeat customers," he said. "I'm selling to sons and daughters of people I sold to 20 or 30 years ago."
James Koger said he has been loyal to Cadillacs and Coward since the early 1960s.
"I was passing by one of his lots and I went in," Koger said. "I've been going there ever since."
Koger said he has bought six other Cadillacs since his first red and white 1959 model, which he bought in the 1960s. "I'll be driving a Cadillac until my last ride," he said.
In the 1960s, used car dealing was more popular than it is today, and Coward competed with more than 400 such dealers in town. But during the late 1960s, vandalism drove many of the dealers to the suburbs, Coward said. He refused to leave because he preferred the city, but now Coward's lot is surrounded by a chain-link fence.
His clientele also has changed through the years. Several years ago, Coward said, about 80 percent of his business came from the District. Now most of his customers come from the suburbs. The lot averages about 250 car sales a year, he said.
Coward tries to dispel the idea that Cadillacs are gas guzzlers. "A lot of people think they are expensive to operate, but the engine is a lot smaller now so they get great gas mileage," he said.
During the gas crunch in the early 1970s, Coward said, his sales increased because he bought his cars cheaper and passed the savings on to his customers.
"Besides, people who want a Cadillac don't worry about the price of gas," he said.
Coward said that of all his customers, his wife Annamarie was the toughest. Several years ago, she insisted that she wanted a small car. But she changed her mind when she was hit by a taxi one day while driving her husband's Cadillac. The Cadillac absorbed the impact and she was an uninjured Cadillac convert.
Coward said he buys most of his cars from other dealers in the area and at car auctions.
"I've known him for 10 years," said Jack Newcomer, used car manager of Capitol Cadillac. "He has a good reputation and he stands by his cars."
Coward used to be a consumer advocate for local used car buyers. In 1961, after he was elected president of the Metropolitan Automobile Dealers Association of Washington, he set up a trailer at the New York Avenue lot where customers could come with their problems.
If a customer thought he or she was being cheated, Coward would act as arbiter.
"I did quite a bit of arbitrating, and it drove me crazy," Coward said.
The association no longer exists, but occasionally, someone who remembers him drops by for help.
At 69, he has outlived many of his salesmen and outlasted those who went on to open their own dealerships and later retired. Coward doesn't work the long hours he used to, but he has shunned retirement. When friends mention the subject, he says, "And do what, play golf all day? I'd rather work."
Business usually slows during the winter, but Coward said he has been busy this season. He said Mr. Lloyd's sold 30 Cadillacs in December.
Outside Coward's tiny office, the wind was picking up along with the rush hour traffic. Beside his desk, an electric heater glowed and hummed.
"I don't mind the snow too much, or the extreme cold weather," Coward said. "I know that if a person wants a Cadillac, they want to get to us almost as bad as we want to sell."