The automotive community lost a member on November 2, 2013 with Kjell “Mr. Q” Qvale’s passing at the age of 94. While a handful of people may remember him for the sports car that bore his name, Norwegian-born Qvale got his start in the automotive business decades prior, after his service as a pilot in the U.S. Navy. But his love for competition and speed began even before he served in the armed forces, with Qvale unofficially tying the world record for the 100-yard dash at the age of 20.
After the war, Qvale imported British sports cars into the U.S., after getting his start in the business by purchasing a Willys Jeep franchise in Alameda, Calif. His car-dealership empire was birthed in 1949 in San Francisco and eventually grew to span many different brands. Qvale also took an interest in motor racing, building a number of cars that ran in the Indianapolis 500 and Formula Junior racing. Qvale later purchased Jensen in England (He was one of the key figures in the creation of the Jensen-Healey) and began bringing Jensen cars to our shores. Qvale became the first distributor for Jaguar and was one of the founders of the San Francisco Auto Show and the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. His passion for racing gave him the concept of the Corkscrew signature corner of Laguna Seca.
Even in his later years he maintained the same thirst for speed that was evident in his early days.
“Every young man likes cars,” Kjell Qvale once said in an interview when he was asked why he liked them. “I’m no different from anyone else.”
Except that this young man, who was 80-years-old at the time, was living proof that the excitement that comes with sports cars is ageless.
“I got involved with an MG; once you get hooked, like I did with a TC in 1946, there’s no way out.”
With his impressive list of auto-related and entrepreneurial accomplishments, Kjell Qvale was trapped. Hopelessly, lovingly trapped in the confines of his passion. Who could ask for anything better than that?