Tributes flowed from the WA business community yesterday for prominent car dealer Brian Gardner, who died aged 77 at his Applecross home early on Saturday.

Mr Gardner's son, John, said his father had suffered poor health for the past two years and died at 3am after heart failure at the Raffles apartment he shared with his wife of 37 years, Jean.

John Gardner said he and his siblings would carry on the Brian Gardner empire their father built from scratch, maintaining the principles of integrity and honesty he espoused in business.

A boating enthusiast who operated the Rottnest Hotel from 1984 to 2000, Mr Gardner became familiar to West Australians through his advertising catchcry "Don't pay through the nose".

Displaying business instincts soon after graduating from Hale School, the father of six had bought and sold two deli-newsagency businesses by the time he was 23 and started his first car dealership in 1958.

The family business now comprises Brian Gardner Motors, Honda North, Henley Saab and Goldy Holden with a fifth outlet in Wangara in the pipeline.

An "extremely persistent and disciplined" businessman, Mr Gardner had left the day-to-day running of the dealerships to his children in recent years but remained in daily contact over business matters, John Gardner said.

"In the last 10 or 12 years his greatest joy has been his 10 grandchildren," he said.

"He wasn't into golfing or fishing, his passion was his mates."

John Gardner said his father enjoyed a camaraderie with fellow Perth automotive industry heavyweights such as John Hughes and Alf Barbagallo and admired the values of his close friend, the late property tycoon Bill Wyllie.

Mr Gardner became familiar to Perth viewers through regular television commercials in the 1980s, a prominence which sat uncomfortably with him, John Gardner said.

"He hated being in the ads," he said. "For someone doing something like that, he was a very private person."

Mr Gardner at times sponsored the Perth and East Fremantle WAFL teams and supported charities including the Heart Foundation and Kids with Cancer.

Bronte Howson, managing director of Automotive Holdings Group, said Mr Gardner had been a mentor to him.

"He was one of the true characters of the automotive industry and was just a champion bloke," he said.

WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson said Mr Gardner was a highly successful and respected figure in WA business for many years.

Motor Trade Association WA chief executive Stephen Moir said Mr Gardner was an icon of the WA motoring industry.

The West Australian

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