2022 Marks the 75th Anniversary of Willis Automotive (1947 – 1997)

September 12th, 2022 by

In the late summer of 1947, Charles Betts Sr, a Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors as an Advertising and Merchandising Manager, went out on his own and opened Betts Cadillac in Downtown Des Moines.

By 1965 Charles(Chuck) Betts Jr took over as the dealer principal, with Rich Willis joining the company in 1972 while a student at Simpson College. Rich’s father owned Willis Chevrolet Buick in Deleware, and Rich planned to work for Betts Cadillac while going to school and then go back to work for his family dealership.

Chuck quickly learned that Rich had the knowledge and passion for the automobile industry and kept giving him new opportunities to explore. Rich started washing cars and promptly moved to a service attendant to selling cars on the weekends. During those first five years, Rich worked in about every department to learn everything he could about the automotive industry. And to this day, that is an opportunity he passes along to his employees, as many people at Willis Automotive have started out washing cars or being a lot attendant and now are managers of their departments.

During all that, Rich graduated in 1974, got married in 1976, and had his first son Jason in 1978 and his second son, Matt, in 1982. He knew that Des Moines and Betts Automotive were where he belonged.

Rich partnered with his mentor, Mr. Betts, in 1988, and in 1990 Lexus was added, creating Betts Lexus. We began remodeling the Valley Bank Regency Building, across the street from our Cadillac store, to become our Lexus dealership.

In 1996, both downtown facilities were sold to the City of Des Moines for expansion by our neighbors – Meredith Publishing, and we moved into our new facilities on 2121 NW 100th Street in the spring of 1996.