James F. Holden, a lawyer who won the right for Willys-Overland Motors Inc. to become the first vehicle maker to use the Jeep brand trademark, died Dec. 20 in Hilton Head, S.C. He was 89.
American Bantam built the first vehicle that would be called a Jeep. Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Co. had wartime contracts to build the vehicles, but it took a lawsuit for Willys-Overland to gain exclusive rights to use the Jeep name. Holden was general counsel for Willys-Overland at the time.
The Jeep name went to Kaiser-Frazer when it acquired Willys-Overland in 1953, then to American Motors, then to Chrysler Corp. and, finally, to DaimlerChrysler AG. Holden - no relation to former Chrysler group President James Holden - retired from American Motors in the mid-1980s.
Holden's stepson Walter Borda said Holden also was known as an expert in U.S. government automotive procurement practice law. Borda credits Holden with supporting efforts to supply the U.S. military and allies with Jeeps for 40 years following World War II.
General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz, who was a Chrysler Corp. executive when that company acquired Jeep, praised Holden's loyalty to the Jeep brand.
"Jeep remains a strong American icon today, a brand that inspires us at GM to do our best to compete with it,'' Lutz said in a note that was read at Holden's Jan. 17 memorial service. "Holden's legacy is intact there and will be so as long as there is a Jeep brand, which will likely be as long as there is an automotive industry.''