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Roy Chapin was a gentleman

Roy Chapin Jr. was in the automobile business all his life. He was born into it and was interested in the industry until he passed away Aug. 5 at 85.

A few months ago, I received a handwritten note from Roy telling me how much he still enjoyed reading Automotive News and what a good job he thought we were doing. He reminisced a bit, and I found it to be a very touching and moving letter.

I was glad to hear from him. His son Bill had told me that his father was ailing.

I always liked Roy very much, as did everybody who worked with him. I'm told he was tough when he had to be, but to the outside world he was a gentleman at all times.

When I arrived in Detroit to run Automotive News, Roy had been running American Motors for quite a few years. AMC had its good years and bad years, but generally speaking, it was always struggling without the vast sums of money that a company needed to compete with the Big 3 in those days.

Roy really cut his teeth on the car business. His father started Hudson Motor Car Co. with enough money from the Hudson retailing family in Detroit that they named the car and the company Hudson.

Roy spent quite a bit of time in the international side of the business. He also understood the value of Jeep, which AMC bought from Kaiser. The Jeep was America's first sport-utility, and even in those days, Roy Chapin saw its potential.

Then in the late 1970s, AMC's leaders realized they simply couldn't continue alone, and they sold control of the company to Renault. It was a marriage that wasn't made in heaven, although perhaps the best part of it was the acquisition of Francois Castaing, who went on to become the top engineer at Chrysler.

When it became obvious that Renault couldn't continue to handle the burden, both financial and product, AMC was sold to Chrysler, mainly on the value of Jeep. A lot of folks didn't understand Jeep's value.

Roy Chapin may have been one of the last of a special breed of executives who can look back on the origins of the automobile industry. He saw it almost from the beginning.

When Chapin was born, there were hundreds of automobile companies in the United States. Today, only two American companies remain. As in so many industries, consolidation and the disappearance of many companies are a part of natural selection.

But Roy Chapin had a special part in that automotive heritage. He leaves a lasting legacy.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com
Tags: Keith Crain

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