SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Car dealer Brad Benson made the pitch to Florida pastor Terry Jones in one of his quirky radio ads: If you don’t burn a Quran, I’ll give you a new car.
He was surprised, though, when a representative for Jones called to collect the 2011 Hyundai Accent, retailing for $14,200.
“They said unless I was doing false advertising, they would like to arrange to pick up the car,” Benson recalled. At first he thought it was a hoax, so Benson asked Jones to send in a copy of his driver’s license. He did.
Jones, of Gainesville, Fla., told The Associated Press that the free car wasn’t the reason he called off the burning — and that he didn’t even hear about the offer until a few weeks after Sept. 11, when he had threatened to set the Muslim holy book on fire.
He said he plans to donate the car to an organization that helps abused Muslim women.
The pastor will have to pick up the car at Brad Benson Mitsubishi Hyundai in South Brunswick — known locally for Benson’s radio ads focusing more on current events than cars — so he can fill out paperwork. No date has been set for the handover.
Jones had threatened to burn the Quran over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near where terrorists brought down the World Trade Center nine years ago. Muslims revere the book as the word of God and view its destruction as sacrilege.
His plans drew opposition across the world. President Barack Obama appealed to him on television, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates called him personally. Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, said carrying out the plan would have endangered American troops.
Benson, a former New York Giants center, said he originally offered Jones use of a car for a year if he refused to burn a Quran ever.
“I just didn’t think that was a good thing for our country right now,” Benson said.
He’s now giving Jones the car outright because he doesn’t want to be connected to whatever the Florida pastor does with it.
“I don’t want to be involved in the politics of that,” Benson said.
Before he made his decision, Benson asked listeners to weigh in on whether he should honor his promise.
More than 2,600 people responded by phone and e-mail, and the vast majority, Benson said, urged him to keep his word.
One caller suggested painting sayings from various religious books — the Quran, the Talmud, the King James Bible — on the car.
“What you didn’t say was what the car was going to look like when you gave it to him,” the caller said.
Another caller told Benson to “be a man” and keep his promise. And some encouraged Benson to pick his own charity to get a car.
In 2003, Benson offered another newsmaker — Saddam Hussein — a new car if he fled Iraq. That commercial wasn’t as successful, and Benson pulled the ad after two days, replacing it with one apologizing for any offense that was taken.
The Quran commercial was part of a regular “idiot award” segment Benson has singled out others for, including Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson and Roger Clemens.
“We don’t have your typical car commercial,” Benson said.
But they are memorable — and effective. Three years ago, he was selling 60 cars a month, he said. Today, that number is between 500 and 600 — making him one of the state’s most successful dealers.