James. F. Thornton passed away Monday, June 2, 2014, surrounded by his loving family. He was born February 26, 1937, to Agnes Barnett Thornton and Ira R. Thornton of Richmond, Missouri. His early education began at Woodson Elementary, where he joined the Boy Scouts of America and achieved their highest rank of Eagle Scout. Continuing his education at Richmond High School, he lettered in basketball, track, and football. Excelling athletically and academically, Jim was the leading ground gainer his senior year and valedictorian of his class.
Jim's main hobby was mechanical things, primarily cars. His modified cars were always the fastest ones in town, earning admiration from fellow students and attention of the local law enforcement. Most summers were spent repairing and driving heavy equipment for his dad's company, Thornton Construction Company. He served as Crew Chief for a Dodge racing team in a mid-continent racing association one summer, where he met Chrysler representatives, who made it possible for him to buy a Dodge 500 off the production line. This frankly sealed his new-found passion of drag racing.
Jim attended the University of Missouri, following in the footsteps of his father, brother, uncles, and many cousins. He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta social fraternity and graduated from the school of engineering in 1960 summa cum laude and a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Jim was on the road to a career in the automotive industry and moving forward in the pursuit of fast cars on quarter-mile tracks.
While in Columbia, he met his future wife, Margaret (Marg) Ann Randolph, a Stephens College student. hey were married during his last semester at the University. Upon graduation from Mizzou in 1960, Jim joined Chrysler and the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, a work/study program leading to a Masters Degree in Automotive Engineering. Within days, Jim became acquainted with The Ramchargers, a loose confederation of engineers that were drag racing a Hemi powered '49 Plymouth C/Altered record holder. That car became obsolete in '61 due to a rules change and Jim led the effort to secure sponsorship for a Super Stock car. Dodge came through with a car and engine. At the Nationals in Indianapolis, that car defeated every car in the sport worth beating and launched Chrysler's serious participation in Super Stock drag racing. Jim led the Ramchargers efforts racing Dodges until 1967. Between 1961 and 1967 the Ramchargers were one of the most innovative and formidable teams in drag racing, winning the National Championship five times. Jim was instrumental in designing a different class of race cars, where the wheel base was shortened resulting in a strange appearance. This was the birth of the Funny Car. Jim proved to be the most creative and highly motivated to win than anyone in the field. As a driver, Jim won far too many races to count. His success on the racetrack led to a promotion at work with Chrysler, elevating Jim to Race Vehicle Design Manager in the race group.
In 1969 Jim joined Rupp Industries, in Mansfield, Ohio, as the Chief Engineer of the Snowmobile Racing group. There he was responsible for the development of high performance snowmobiles. In 1972 he joined the Jeep Corporation as Chief Engineer of Vehicle Development and ultimately became Director of Vehicle Engineering. During his tenure at Jeep he was involved in defending Jeep in product liability cases. He gave numerous depositions and testified at trial many times. The lawyers and legal staff were very complimentary of his performance in the court room. After retiring from Jeep Corporation in 1986, Jim, Richard Kamm and Kenneth Kamm formed Applied Technologies, Inc. in Toledo specializing in Automotive and Aerospace product design and analysis. The company grew from the 3 principals to over 90 designers and engineers doing work for Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and many tier one companies. Jim's knowledge of accounting principles and computer systems were instrumental in setting up the new business. The business was sold in 2004.
In addition to his busy career, Jim was able to see one of his dreams come to fruition. Along with his sons John and David, they started DJ's Car Wash in 1978. The car wash provided an excellent outlet for his expertise as a problem solver, while at the same time allowing him to work side by side with his sons. In the ensuing years Jim and John, supported by Margaret and Laurie, worked very hard to build and expand the business from one to three locations. A highlight of Jim and John's ingenuity was the development of an anti-freeze product that would allow foaming brushes to be used in all temperatures. This is a process that is now used by car washes across the country daily. As technology became available Jim was instrumental in upgrading the car washes. He and John installed computers to operate the automatic bays. At the age of 65, Jim began a pet project of learning the operating code. He enjoyed this immensely and spent many hours rewriting the programs to be more efficient and provide what the business needed.
With Marg, he raised four children, helping them with their studies and coaching Little League. Jim's strong work ethic and calm leadership through the years were an inspiration and he was a remarkable role model for his children. He was a quiet, reserved man who could always be counted on to provide advice and counsel to anyone in need. His kindness and compassion were evident as he cared for his wife during her long illness.
In retirement, Jim enjoyed working at the carwash, doing Sudoku puzzles, and "holding" down his La-Z-Boy cheering for his favorite NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch. One of Jim's daily rituals was having breakfast at IHOP with his special waitress, Marilyn. He was still a diehard Lions football fan, though they were sometimes painful for him to watch! Jim was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and a faithful Republican. For anyone willing to participate, he loved a good debate.
A finer gentleman and truer role model we have never known...
He was preceded in death by his parents; wife, Marg, and grandson, John Jacob Thornton. He is survived by his brother, John R (Janna) Thornton; his children, John R. (Laurie), David A., Jama A. Millar and Renee S. (Steve) Rathke; his grandchildren, Ryan (Heidi) Thornton, Rebecca (William) Sinkey, Gabrielle Thornton, David J. Thornton, Nicholas Thornton, Jasmin Luedtke, Cory Millar, Blake Millar and Brianna Millar; his great-grandchild, Hudson Thornton.
The family would like to express their gratitude and love to Rosa Munoz for her enduring support and help in caring for Margaret and Jim for many years; she is very much a part of our family. We would also like to thank Dr. Moshir Jacob, Dr. Rex Mowat and their staff for their expertise and concern for Jim during his illness. A special thanks is extended to the staff at The Hickman Cancer Center for their compassionate care. Last but not least, the family will be forever grateful for Dad's angels: Sarah, Linda, Evan, Kelsey and Heather.
Visitation will be on Thursday, June 5, 2014, from 3:00-8:00 p.m. at the Walker Funeral Home, 5155 Sylvania Ave. (west of Corey Rd.) where services will be held Friday at 10:00 a.m. Interment will follow at Resurrection Cemetery. Contributions in Jim's memory may be made to Hospice of Northwest Ohio, 30000 E. River Rd. Perrysburg, OH 43551.
Walker Funeral Home & Crematory
5155 West Sylvania Avenue
Toledo, OH 43623
Published in Toledo Blade from June 4 to June 5, 2014