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Walter Voss — Jeep/Dodge/AMC Motorsports Leader

I first met Walter Voss at Jeep-Truck Engineering (JTE), when he was looking for a flunky to chase custom parts down for the race teams of Dodge and Jeep in 1988. Being in the PreProgram Engineering department, we had access to certain things that no other group had.

Since our executive engineer refused to allow us to work on any of the race work during normal hours, I decided that an “arrangement” could be made to assist Walter. On my own time, I became the de facto engineering support for the Class 1 SCORE team (Unlimited cars) for Jeep at night, while I was working on the T300 (what became the 1994 Dodge Ram) during the day.

walter voss

With the time difference between the left and right coasts, this was not nearly as hard as it sounded. Benefits (or drawbacks) included no pay, long hours, and lots of screaming when things were late or broke.

Walter was a genius judge of ability and character. He was the type of man to give you enough rope to hang not only yourself, but him and the team, if you failed. It did not happen often. Those that performed were rewarded hamdsomely — paid trips were common, to all the races with the formal teams (these were working excursions) around the world, from Paris-Dakar support, to Mexico and the southwestern US, to LeMans, to wherever Jeep made its name in racing. The few of us within the corp that dealt with Walter on a daily basis learned and all believed in one thing, one of the most overused catchphrases in management today, that is:

“Failure is NOT an option.”

..and we didn’t fail. And example of this attitude was the crossbreeding between Dodge and Jeep, fostered by the inventive mind that occupied Walter. In the 1989, 1990, and 1991 seasons Jeeps had made the Comanche pickup into the most feared vehicle on the Mickey Thompson Stadium Truck series. Unfortunately, it was out of production and was no longer allowed by the rules, so a replacement had to be found. The Toyotas of Ivan Stewart were the only real competition to the Comanches. The Dodges of Walker Evans were, to put it charitably, something less than desirable and non-competitive when compared to the Jeeps.

1992 Dodge adWalter came up with the idea to blend the two. Here is a financial guy, a “beancounter,” who said, “make it work and I don’t care how” (I am cleaning this up for Allpar—those that knew Walter knew how he was). Before he went to the teams involved, I pulled all the CATIA information together on the two trucks and started the mix-an-match with the approximate design needed to rebody the Commanches and make them look like a Dakota, all to even see if we could fake it. 48 hours later, I gave Walter the thumbs up-that was all that was needed for him. Walter then committed a ton of corporate money to have the Jeep vehicles modified. Amazing to me, all based on a single finger in the air. No “how do you,” no “you can’t do,” no “I want this,” ... just “get it done.”

dodge adThat does not mean I did not support him with “back door support” (off-books documentation from my own time, which he may or may not have shown to the teams) after the decision, because I did. The point is all this work was between he and I, as far as I know; he wanted it to be my brain against the rest of the world. Needless to say, this clinched me tighter to his wants, far more than mere money could have. Working with Walter was nothing if not an adventure.

The net result was that Dodge had won the Manufacturer’s Championship with a never before equalled string of wins, and no one was the wiser. That is, outside the involved team.

The memories of Walter Voss have all brought a smile to me and an easing of the shock to know we will never share his single malt, his generosity, or even his temper tamtrums. The world has become a far greyer place today.

At Chrysler Corporation and at American Motors before it was acquired by Chrysler, I was continuously involved in motorsports from 1982 until I retired. My responsibilities included selection of the series in which we would compete, hiring the teams, selecting drivers, acquiring sponsors, and representing the company on various governing boards.

We won numerous races, series and manufacturers championships in the SCCA Trans Am, World Challenge and Sport Truck Series, the Score Desert Series, the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series, and several IMSA Series with Dodge, Jeep and Eagle vehicles.

Served as Director-Administration of Renault Jeep Sport, a subsidiary of American Motors. RJS developed, built and sold the Sports Renault race car and from 1984 until 1986 and was the world’s largest producer of race cars.

Prior to being involved in racing I held management positions in finance and engineering at Chrysler and American Motors, including a 3 year assignment on the Finance Staff of Chrysler International S.A. in Geneva, Switzerland.

I was employed outside the automotive industry at various times during my career for periods totaling about 9 years. I was President and CEO of Vernors Inc., a large Detroit based soft drink firm, from 1969 until 1972. I also served as Vice President-Treasurer of Darcy, McManus & Masius, a national advertising agency.

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