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Walter Voss - Jeep/Dodge/AMC Motorsports Leader

by Bob Sheaves, former AMC/JTE engineer

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.jpg


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.

dodge-1992-ad.jpg
Walter 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-ad.jpg
That 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.

Geoff Voss provided these words from Walter Voss:

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.

Walter Voss died at age 75 on August 4, 2006, in the Detroit area. "Mr. Voss was a 1953 graduate of the University of Michigan, where he was a member of SAE Fraternity. ... Memorials to the American Kidney Fund appreciated."


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