What do you get when a “gearhead” sales and marketing pro moves to the Truckee Meadows from the “Motor City” to head up the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority? A customized 1951 Willys Jeep four-wheel drive Station Wagon that will represent the region – and promote the wide variety of attractions, festivals, activities and events available in the Reno/Sparks/North Lake Tahoe area – to crowds at conventions, tradeshows and high profile events in Northern Nevada, California and further afield.
“Everybody loves checking out a classic car… especially one that is beautifully hand-lettered and pinstriped, upholstered in Pendleton Indian blanket material and topped off with a hand-made, aluminum roof rack system packed with everything from skis and snowshoes to a kayak, golf clubs, fishing rods and a slalom water ski,” according to Christopher Baum, President and CEO of the RSCVA and creator of the vehicle. “It’s the perfect conversation starter to attract attention and help educate prospective visitors on the incredible diversity of things to do throughout Northern Nevada!”
Baum had great success designing and building a custom 1932 Ford hot rod powered by a new Chrysler hemi during his previous role as Senior Vice President of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, and thought that a similar classic vehicle project – carefully chosen to represent the region’s active, high desert lifestyle – would be equally effective for Reno Tahoe USA.
“I found a partially restored 1951 four-wheel drive Willys station wagon on the Internet, that already had a modern Buick V-6 swapped in for more power, and liked the fact that – although you seldom see one on the street anymore – the classic Jeep front end makes it instantly identifiable to most people,” said Baum.
Baum had the wagon shipped to the RSCVA and then set out to find some of the best local hot rodders and artists to help make his vision a reality.
Said Baum, “With the world-famous National Automobile Museum here, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Reno area is full of automotive talent, and I was quickly able to assemble a team of wonderful partners.”
Local companies that came on-board to help build the RSCVA’s new promotional vehicle:
Lane Walker, Solo Signs – Since the “Washoe Willys” is actually a clever Marketing Program in disguise, the professional presentation of the RSCVA brand logo, URL and some appropriate slogans was a top priority.
“I wanted someone who was a master at old school pinstriping and hand lettering,” said Baum. “And,” he added, “I quickly found just that in Lane Walker of Solo Signs in Reno. He’s been in the business since 1977 and has had his own shop since 1990, so his artistic services are obviously in demand. And his talent with a brush is really unbelievable.”
Matt Villafuerte, Twisted Stitch Upholstery – The Willys has two bench seats for the driver and passengers and Baum knew just what he wanted to do to make the car stand out with the crowds.
“I love Pendleton Indian blankets and had upholstered the Detroit hot rod with them to great effect,” said Baum. “I found the perfect pattern for the Willys’ color scheme on Pendleton’s website, ordered a bolt of fabric and then handed it to Matt, a talented guy who definitely knows his way around a heavy duty sewing machine. The wagon’s seats needed to be totally rebuilt before the heavy wool fabric went on, but Matt was definitely up to the task and the end result is fantastic.”
Jeff Robinson and Pete Gebhardt, Reno Speedworks – Baum wanted to display sporting gear representative of the wide variety employed in our region, but he didn’t want to use a stock roof rack.
“I love Airstream trailers and got the idea of having a craftsman fabricate a roof rack system that looks like something that company might have sold back in the 1960s,” Baum continued, “Since vintage stuff always looks cooler on display. A friend introduced me to Pete Gebhardt, and once I learned that he had spent 25 years pounding metal for Jack Roush, Ray Evernham and other top NASCAR team owners, we hired him. As a bonus, finding Pete introduced me to the rest of the gang at Reno Speedworks downtown, and their co-owner, Jeff Robinson, was able to change the Willys’ gearing to something more street-able, fabricate a front license bracket and perform a myriad of other tasks to ready the car for its debut. Pete’s retro aluminum roof rack turned out fantastic and Jeff’s wrenching gives us the confidence to hit the open road… in a vehicle built when Eisenhower was still president!”
James Herr and Bob Scott, Summit Racing – Sparks is fortunate to have a distribution center and retail store for one of the world’s foremost purveyors of high performance and custom automotive parts and accessories, and Summit’s support for the RSCVA’s new promo vehicle was immediate.
“James and Bob at Summit have been terrific, helping us choose appropriate wheels and tires for the Willys, as well as tracking down a custom air cleaner and valve covers for the offbeat Buick engine,” according to Baum. “They’re proud to be located in our region and we are delighted to have them as a sponsor on this fun build.”
Special Events Coalition – Although its individual contributions to the Washoe Willys were small (literally!), the members of this organization played an important role in giving the vehicle its unique personality: decals/stickers for most of the region’s festivals and special events – from the Nugget Rib Cook Off to the Reno Air Races, Hot August Nights and Reno Rodeo – cover the rear windows and slab sides of the aluminum roof rack, creating a colorful, and impressive, record of all there is to do and see in Reno/Sparks/North Lake Tahoe.
“Add the Nevada Museum of Art, UNR, Scheels, Reno Aces, Cabela’s and several other cool permanent attractions, and it’s hard to imagine a visitor whose passions wouldn’t be stirred by SOMETHING here!”, according to Baum.
The RSCVA’s new promotional vehicle is tentatively scheduled to make appearances, subject to commitments outside the Reno/Sparks/North Lake Tahoe region, at the following events: Reno-Tahoe Open, Hot August Nights, Toyota Silver State Showdown, Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff, The Great Reno Balloon Race, National Championship Air Races, Street Vibrations Fall Rally, Eldorado Great Italian Festival and the Sparks Hometowne Christmas Parade.
Washoe Willys Photo Gallery