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Martin "Hoot" McInerney, who owned several dealerships throughout Metro Detroit and was "an icon among dealers," died Monday at home, according to the A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home.

He was 86.

Mr. McInerney's showrooms included Star Lincoln Mercury in Southfield and McInerney Toyota in Mount Clemens.

He also sold other brands at dealerships from Michigan to Hawaii, including Ford, Chrysler and Cadillac.

His far reach earned him renown from professionals both locally and nationwide, friends said.

"He was an icon among dealers and respected in the community," said Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, who knew him for years.

Mr. McInerney also wasn't shy about sharing his views on auto industry trends or ideas for the annual auto show in Detroit.

"Anytime Hoot called you, he'd tell you straight up if he didn't like something," Alberts said. "You always knew where you stood with the guy. He was a forthright, honest and caring man."

That insight and prominence made Mr. McInerney a go-to guy for reporters and columnists writing about changes and developments in the auto industry.

Interviewed by The Detroit News in 2008 about consumer incentives, he said: "They'd like to give more, but they can't — there is already $6,000 on the hood of an F-150. I've put my own money and gas cards into deals. The dealers got to because the factory can't anymore."

In 1999, Mr. McInerney described how dealers from a bygone era handled the arrivals of new car models.

"The public introduction was a big production, a big party, in the late 1940s," McInerney told the News. "There'd be searchlights outside the dealerships all up and down Gratiot, Grand River, Michigan, Woodward and Jefferson. Shoppers and lookers would go from place to place, kicking tires and slamming doors like they were really serious about buying.

"We'd have contests and fill up a car with tennis balls or something else and give it away to the customer who guessed the right number. There'd be balloons and clowns and music — anything to one-up the dealer down the street.

"We hung brown wrapping paper all over the showroom windows for three or four days before the big night while we unwrapped the new cars," McInerney continued. "People would stop out at the curb and come over and try to find a gap in the paper where they could see what the new models looked like. Most of the time they looked just like the old ones, and that was the tough part.

"We were selling mystery ... intrigue. I learned a long time ago that, in this business, when you don't have the steak, you have to sell the sizzle."

Mr. McInerney had previously served as a Marine and was a veteran of the Korean War.

He grew up on the east side of Detroit and is said to have met with Pope John Paul II, President Gerald Ford and singer Frank Sinatra, and played golf with Bob Hope, according to a Detroit News article from 2005.

Mr. McInerney also was involved with various charities and groups, friends said.

He supported the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund of Detroit and in 2003 received the Goodfellow of the Year Award, according to Detroit News archives.

In 2009, he was a presenting sponsor of the Keeping Kids in the Game, a benefit for Children's Hospital of Michigan, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, Fundacion Chamos Venezolanos in former Detroit Tiger Carlos Guillen's native Venezuela, and the Detroit Tigers Foundation.

Alberts said the auto dealer also had ties to the Rainbow Connection, a Michigan-based nonprofit that fulfills the wishes of youths with life-threatening illnesses.

Once, upon learning that a terminally ill youngster's health had worsened while having his wish granted out of state, Mr. McInerney "had his plane bring the young man home," Alberts said. "He was that kind of guy. … He was well-known and well-respected, but most of his good deeds he never said much about."

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Patricia; daughters Linda Belgrave, Karen Leonhard and Janice; sons Robert and James; brother John "Jack"; and sister Joanne Persico. He was predeceased by a sister, Mary Cischke.

There will be a brief visitation at 10 a.m. Friday followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. at St. Hugo of the Hills Church at 2215 Opdyke in Bloomfield Hills.

Donations can be made to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in his honor.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2401

Twitter.com/MikeMartinez_DN

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