Published in Automotive News Nov. 17, 2014
Many dealers collect historic vehicles, and some even display vintage cars in their showrooms.
But one dealership in Hamilton, Ontario, has found a way to make a World War II-era Willys MB Jeep the centerpiece of its showroom -- without sucking up valuable indoor display space.
Bay King Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram entombed a 1943 Willys MB below the floor of its 29,000-square-foot dealership, which opened in September.
The 71-year-old Jeep, parked below a specially made pane of glass flooring, has become an attraction in its own right.
"We have people coming in who have no interest in buying a vehicle just to see it," said Kevin Sawka, Bay King's marketing manager.
The idea for the subterranean Jeep was nudged along, oddly, by a wine cellar, Sawka explained.
The dealership's owners, brothers Jamie and Lance Richter, had seen a similar World War II-era Jeep on display while visiting a dealership in Florida. They marveled at how people -- especially veterans -- would pose for pictures with the Jeep in the showroom.
The brothers had been preparing to build a dealership in Hamilton for several years. In February, with construction underway on the new store, the dealership located and bought the partially restored 1943 Willys MB from a private collector in Montreal, Sawka said.
"When we bought it, we thought of just putting it on display" in the middle of the dealership's 12-vehicle showroom, Sawka said. But a dinner party at a friend's home gave the Richter brothers notions of doing something a bit more elaborate.
"Their friend had a wine cellar in the basement, and a glass ceiling allowed people on the first floor to look down and see all the wine," Sawka said.
Inspired by what they had seen, the brothers quickly got to work.
Workers dug out and lined a box for the Jeep about 8 feet deep. A large boulder and rocks were added for an off-road touch. A ventilation system was installed to remove moisture.
When the box was completed, a tow truck gently lowered the Jeep inside.
Sawka said that new Jeeps represent about 10 to 15 percent of the roughly 60 new and 100 used vehicles that Bay King sells per month. But the entombed Willys may help sales as it brings more people in.
"Everyone that comes to the dealership is a little timid to walk over it," Sawka said. "It's such a conversation piece."