Driveway Outtakes: Jeep Willys Wagon And VW Beetle – Unlikely Global Players

Here’s a shot my friend Argiearts sent me some time ago, a pair of oldies sitting in a ritzy gated community in San Salvador. A nice duo in relatively good condition, that wouldn’t seem too extraordinary on their own, but that together seem to tell a story. Here, in the metal, is the origin of two global players in the early stages of their ascendance. They were basic, austere, and rudimentary; and yet found an ever-growing group of buyers. Back in the day, who would have thought that these two outcasts would have such a future?

Our driveway Beetle has suffered some odd parts swapping, but I’m pretty sure it’s a ’70s model. If so, it’s in the waning days of the Beetle era, when many pundits of the day were warning of inevitable doom. It almost came to be for a while, and VW’s last-minute switch to water-cooled FWD was a mix of despair, effort, and luck. VW has since then gone through a Wagnerian Opera of sorts to reach the heights of the automotive world.

Meanwhile, in the US, Jeep (First Willys-Overland, then Kaiser Jeep) was a small player creating niche products. When AMC CEO Roy D. Chapin looked into acquiring Jeep in the late ’60s, he sent AMC’s Purchasing Director Gerald C. Meyers to assess Jeep’s situation. After evaluation, Meyers’ counsel was to not proceed with the purchase. In his opinion, Jeep’s operations were ‘hopeless.’

Not that it mattered, Chapin had already made up his mind. There were two main factors in his decision; first, he had been a close friend of Jeep’s owner, Henry Kaiser. Second, Chapin knew of Jeep’s international reach and growth.

After brushing him aside, Chapin placed Meyers in charge of overseeing Jeep’s renewal and eventually, he became AMC’s CEO. In this shot, Meyers is in the passenger seat and looks mighty pleased with Jeep’s operations.

In any case, is curious to see in one driveway two rather crucial models. One was the beginning of a global company, and the other was the beginning of a global trend. Kind of an odd coincidence to find them together, but as I said, stranger things have happened.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon – The First Modern Station Wagon And SUV