During 1946, several "teaser" ads appeared in trade journals, accompanied in some cases by photographs of a prototype Willys sedan. Fortune magazine, catering then, as now, to the carriage trade, carried a description of the new car, supposedly intended for 1947 introduction.
This new Willys-that-was-not-to-be promised, thanks largely to the genius of Barney Roos, to be a very interesting automobile. It wasn't particularly long on good looks. Some observers, in fact, found it downright homely, which perhaps explains why Willys was quick to note that the front-end styling of the prototype was subject to change.
Company president Jim Mooney, a recent recruit from General Motors, defended the new model's conservative appearance in a statement that represented a sharp departure from the typical GM philosophy: "We'll not get out a trick or miracle car," Mooney declared in a shy, smooth voice. "It will be stylish without pretending to be fashionable. We think a car is too expensive an item to follow ever changing fashions....The average family can't take it very long if you go on creating false obsolescence in their cars."
There was nothing unusual about the dimensions of the proposed new Willys. A wheelbase of 104 inches was announced -- same as the prewar Americar. A standard tread was used, again like the Americar.
But there was to be a brand new engine, the first six cylinder to be offered by Willys-Overland since 1932 -- and at 148.5 cubic inches the smallest six then available in this country. Rated at 72 horsepower, the new mill was projected to weigh only five pounds more than the 63-horsepower Willys four.
One of Barney Roos's primary objectives in the design of the stillborn postwar Willys was to endow it with comfortable seating and an easy ride. Given the technology of the time, one would not have expected to find these qualities in a light (under 2,500 pound), short-wheelbase automobile.
Roos, in a departure from tradition, solved the problem by designing the little car with independent suspension all around, a concept that wouldn't come into widespread use for more than a generation. Up front he employed a system similar to the "Planar" suspension he had developed for Studebaker back in the 1930s. A German-style swing axle was used at the rear.
For seating comfort, the new Willys prototype used chair-height seats (three abreast in front, two in the rear), providing ample leg room. Floors were recessed, after the fashion of the 1948 "Step-down" Hudson, giving plenty of head room while retaining a low profile.
A two-door configuration was planned, supposedly because the 104-inch wheelbase was too short for four doors. The doors were unusually wide, and a pivot arrangement under the right-front seat made for easy entry and egress. Probably the real reason for the two-door layout had to do with minimizing tooling costs, since a coupe and even a convertible could be produced from the same stampings.
Of course, this intriguing, highly advanced little automobile was never produced. Perhaps Willys was having trouble, as Brooks Stevens has hinted, finding someone to build the bodies, given the constraints of the postwar world.
Or possibly it was just that the factory was busy beyond anyone's expectations, building the Jeep and its various derivatives. Maybe the industry-wide shortage of sheet steel had something to do with the matter. Whatever the reason, the car would soon be forgotten, and several years later Willys would release the handsome Aero-Willys.
For more information on Jeeps, see:
- History of Jeep
- Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
- Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews