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BEVERLY HILLS -- Earl A. Scheib, who built a car-painting empire with his

cut-rate "I'll paint any car" pitch, has died in his sleep at 85.

Scheib seized on the power of advertising to attract customers, expanding

his business from a single shop in Los Angeles that he opened in 1937 to

roughly 330 stores today across 40 states and Canada, said Irwin R. Buchalter,

Scheib's lawyer and longtime business associate.

"He opened, and the police showed up because so many people wanted their

cars painted," Buchalter said. "He was certainly a pioneer in the auto-painting

business, and we're going to miss him."

Over more than 50 years, the shops have painted 50 million cars, said

Buchalter, who credited Scheib's signature television commercials for part of

the success of the enterprise.

"He sounded very truthful about what he was selling," he said. "He never

stopped advertising, and last made a commercial last week."

Scheib, who died Saturday, had suffered from emphysema for several years and

appeared weak Friday night, friends and associates said.

He was also a horse-racing enthusiast.

He celebrated his birthday Friday at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia,

about 16 miles southeast of Los Angeles, collecting the $16,500 as the winner's

purse after "Cause I'm Leaving," a 4-year-old bay colt Scheib bred and owned,

won the fourth race.

"He was in the winner's circle and got a wonderful ovation," Buchalter said.

Scheib started in business with his first Earl Scheib Auto Painting shop at

Fairfax Avenue and Whitworth Drive, just southeast of Beverly Hills, recalled

Buchalter, 81, who knew Scheib for 55 years.

At the time, Scheib charged $19.95 for a paint job, said Buchalter, 81,

secretary of Beverly Hills-based Earl Scheib Inc. and a member of the company's

board.

"He predicted his (auto-painting) success and had a mind for business,"

Buchalter said.

During World War II, when paint was in short supply due to the war effort,

Scheib struggled, leasing a Standard gas station until war's end, Buchalter

said.

"He started with nothing and struggled in the gas station," he said. "After

the war, the auto-painting business took off like fire. People couldn't get

paint during war."

With paint off the rations list and back on the market in 1946, Scheib

opened a second automobile-painting shop and followed with shops in the

suburban San Fernando Valley, Buchalter said.

Many of the original operations are still in existence, he added.

Scheib opened his own paint factory in Illinois to supply the materials for

his shops, Buchalter said.

He also belonged to a group of business people and entertainers known as the

Vikings, according to Buchalter.

The Vikings, who ate lunch at Hollywood's famous Scandia restaurant, "had a

lot of fun and raised money for charity," he said.

Known as the chief Viking or grand master, Scheib tried unsuccessfully to

buy Scandia in 1989 before its closure, Buchalter said.

Scheib's primary interest outside business was horse breeding and racing,

and he owned more than 175 horses.

"If I remember correctly, someone talked him into going to the track, and

then he bought his first horse," Buchalter said. "Now he has hundreds."

He spent many days at the racetrack and at his 45-acre ranch in Chino, a

city about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, where he would often feed sugar cubes

to his horses.

"He just loved horses. He loved to come out to the ranch and talk to the

horses and feed them sugar," said Matt Griffin, Scheib's Green Thumb Farm

Stables ranch manager for nearly 40 years.

Griffin said Scheib's favorite horse was "Fran's Valentine,"

named for his wife, who was born on Valentine's Day and died several years

ago. The horse, a dark bay filly, is the leading California-bred filly of all

time with earnings of more than $1.4 million, Griffin said.

"He loved horses and racing and it was one thing he did live for," said

Dominick Manzi, one of Green Thumb's horse trainers for a dozen years.

"He just lived to win."

"Before he got sick, he was at the races every day and often at the farm and

barns," he recalled. "He stayed on top of everything to the day he died."

Scheib is survived by three sons, Philip, Donald and Albert Scheib, and

several grandchildren.

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