Roy D. Chapin Jr., a true “gentleman” who grew up in the auto industry, died last month at the age of 85.

Mr. Chapin's father was a founder of Hudson Motor Car Co. in the early 1900s and, after graduating from Yale University in 1938 he joined Hudson. In 1954 Hudson merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corp. to form American Motors Corp., and he stayed on as treasurer.

Under first George Mason and then George Romney, Mr. Chapin moved up to vice president and, later, executive vice president. In 1967 he began a 10-year stint as AMC chairman and CEO.

As the smallest U.S. automaker, AMC constantly faced financial pressures. Mr. Chapin's Wall Street contacts helped keep it afloat. But growing competition from Japanese small cars began taking their toll, and in 1979 he turned to France's Renault SA for help.

Renault eventually took control and built its cars at AMC's Kenosha, WI, and Brampton, Ont., plants. Chrysler Corp. purchased AMC in 1987.

By that time Mr. Chapin had retired to his ranch in California.

Knowledgeable, warm and accessible, he was a patrician with a common touch. One of his biggest accomplishments was the purchase of then-ailing Jeep from Henry J. Kaiser in 1970 for $75 million. AMC's engineers and designers quickly overhauled Jeep and expanded its lineup, creating a valuable asset that attracted Renault, Chrysler and ultimately DaimlerBenz AG.