Over five decades of selling cars, Ted Weinberg sold a lot of them. But he made even more friends.

“He treated people the way he wanted to be treated,” said Allan Ackerman, one of many salesmen who attribute their success to Weinberg’s tutelage. “No one ever felt that he was out to take advantage of them. He took care of his customers.”

He had retired from sales but not from the business. He started offering a free service in which he would accompany would-be car buyers as they shopped, focusing especially on senior citizens — many of whom had bought cars from him over the years — who were worried that a fast-talking dealer might coerce them into spending more money than they intended.

“I’m playing for the other team now,” he told the Star Tribune in May.

He staunchly refused to take any money for his auto buying service. An expression of gratitude was payment enough, he said.

“When I close a deal, people say ‘thank you,’ ” he said. “To me, that means that I’m doing my job.”

Weinberg, 81, died in his sleep Thursday. Other than reporting that he felt fatigued the day before, there were no indications that he was having any health issues, family and friends said.

Ackerman, a sales consultant at Morrie’s Hyundai, met Weinberg 31 years ago when he went into a dealership where Weinberg was the general manager.

“He sold me a car, and then he offered me a job,” Ackerman said. “I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about cars.’ And he laughed and said, ‘I don’t, either.’ ”

What Weinberg did know was people. He originally intended to become a psychologist, but those plans were waylaid when he was drafted into the Army. When his hitch was over, he got a job selling cars in a long-since-closed Buick dealership in St. Paul, where he quickly realized that there’s a lot of crossover between psychology and sales.

“To Ted, it was always about the people,” said Joe Itman, the fleet and commercial manager at Shakopee Chevrolet, who also was tutored by Weinberg when he was starting out.

“Ted was a very kind person,” he said. “He cared about people. He listened to them — really listened to them — to find out their needs and wants. Just being around him made us better salespeople. We’d look at him and say, ‘That’s the way I want to be.’ ”

He was extremely proud of the number of repeat buyers and referrals he got.

“There’s a lot of turnover in the car business,” Ackerman said. “A lot of young people come in and sell cars to their family and friends, but then they run out of leads. Ted taught me that the way to be in the business for the long run is to treat people right so that they become your friends and keep coming back to you.”

Matching the buyer with the proper car was more important than getting a commission on a sale. If Weinberg had buyers for whom his model of cars didn’t work, he’d send them to a competitor who could serve them better, Ackerman said.

“He was straight up with everyone,” he said. “He was that kind of a guy. He taught me that if I do the right thing, I could have a long career in the car business.”

Weinberg was in the process of writing a how-to book for car salesmen.

“I enjoy helping people find the right car for their needs,” he wrote. “I enjoy the personal satisfaction of a happy car buyer.”

He is survived by his wife, Maradee; children Debra, Laura, Jeff and Andrew; stepchildren Harry and Holly, and 13 grandchildren.

Services are Thursday at Bet Shalom Congregation, 13613 Orchard Road, Minnetonka. Visitation is at 10 a.m., and a memorial service is at 11.