A poster in Jim Tarbox's office at his North Kingstown Chrysler Jeep dealership declares: "Challenge: The harder the course, the more rewarding the triumph."
It's a fitting slogan for Tarbox, whose business is suddenly in peril after Chrysler ended its franchise agreements with his two dealerships in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as part of its bankruptcy and restructuring plan.
Tarbox's family name has been synonymous with car sales in the area for years, but his public pushback has given him national attention.
He wept openly in bankruptcy court last month, saying he thought the rejection of his dealerships must have been a mistake. Tarbox has appealed a bankruptcy judge's ruling that terminated his franchises and those of more than 700 other dealers.
And he's protested Chrysler's actions to federal lawmakers.
"They've taken not only my businesses, but everything I've worked for, all my wealth and my rights," Tarbox said. "They're taking it all away from me and giving it to someone else up to the road.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to rectify this injustice. It's wrong," he said.
Tarbox bought the dealership from his father, Nick, in 2001 for $1.5 million, after working there since he graduated college in 1989. Tarbox's brother, Ed, owns Toyota and Hyundai dealerships in Rhode Island.
Jim Tarbox said he's confused by the criteria Chrysler used to determine which franchises to close. Though his Attleboro, Mass., dealership posted a loss in 2008, he said he made up for it with a profit at the North Kingstown business and netted $100,000.
Tarbox said he sells about 750 Jeeps a year and has awards for sales and services displayed in cases at the dealership.
Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham said while Tarbox performed above his minimum sales requirement, the fact he sold only Jeeps made his dealership less attractive under the new plans. She said awards weren't considered during the decision-making process.
"The factors we used to choose which dealers would go forward with the new company's dealer network are documented," she said, "and Tarbox did not meet the test of the comparative analysis in the Providence market."
As part of his attempts to restore his businesses, Tarbox met in Washington with U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and Patrick Kennedy, who have asked President Barack Obama's auto task force for the criteria Chrysler used and if they were applied consistently to all dealerships.
Bob Capalbo, owner of America Chrysler Dodge and Jeep in Westerly, is one of the six surviving Chrysler dealerships in Rhode Island. He has known the Tarboxes for more than a decade and said he'd be just as upset if his franchise were terminated.
"They've been great competitors of ours and a very, very good dealership," Capalbo said. "To be terminated without any compensation didn't seem right."
Tarbox and his lawyers believe his franchises were rejected as retaliation for his opposition to Chrysler's request to establish another Jeep dealership in nearby West Warwick. Rhode Island franchise law allows dealers to protest a manufacturer placing a franchise within 20 miles of its location.
Chrysler eventually withdrew the request, but Tarbox said the bankruptcy decision gave the company to opportunity to finally reject his franchise because of his protest rather than gauging his dealership on performance.
An e-mail between Chrysler officials, read during bankruptcy testimony, said Tarbox was an outstanding performer but a "belligerent and combative dealer" who protested another Jeep franchise in the area and did not operate in "good faith."
Tarbox plans to return to Washington with other car dealers to lobby for legislation that would help the rejected owners. A bill co-sponsored by Langevin would include restoring the economic rights of General Motors and Chrysler car dealers as they were before each company's bankruptcy.
In the meantime, Tarbox is selling used cars. The North Kingstown native, who has three daughters, has closed the Attleboro dealership and is using funds from one dealership to pay for the debts on two.
"If I was 75 years old and my kids were already in college, I probably would have just left it alone," Tarbox said. "But the fact of the matter is I'm 42 years old, and I have enormous amounts of responsibility to the bank that lent me the money to buy these businesses and an enormous responsibility to my family and my children."
During the appeals process, Nick Tarbox recalls fights Jim had as a high school wrestler. Tarbox said his son's complexion often turned beet red from effort on the mat, though he didn't usually win.
"The other guy would always have the best of him but he wouldn't give up," Nick Tarbox said. "I don't think his record was very good, but he gave it all he had."