1948 Willys Jeepster Development

Though at first it seemd that production of the 1948 Willys Jeepster -- a civilian version of a World War II jeep -- would be stalled for lack of a willing body manufacturer, Willys-Overland's resourceful president, Charles Sorensen, soon devised a plan: a company that provided sheet-metal panels to the appliance industry would stamp out body parts for Willys.

The drawback was that the machinery couldn't do deep-draw fenders or complicated shapes. Whatever Willys built would have to be simple and slab-sided-in other words, trucks instead of cars.

1948 Willys Jeepster
Designer Brooks Stevens' concept, the 1948 Willys
Jeepster, was fitted with front doors and a
fixed-position windshield.

Willys had on retainer a designer named Brooks Stevens, a talented young man whose first love was sports cars. Stevens set to work designing a line of postwar vehicles for Willys that included the Jeep pickup, panel truck, and station wagon. Their appearance displayed an obvious kinship with the CJ and its revered wartime predecessor.

Almost as an afterthought, Stevens included a sketch of a sporty two-door car based on the same chassis, a boldly painted roadster with, as Stevens recalled, "a yellow and black color scheme that just screamed at you for attention."

The wagon models were scheduled for production in mid 1946, with trucks to follow for 1947. Not surprisingly, Willys chairman Ward Canaday also approved production of the sportster. He realized the postwar era would see an automobile sellers' market the likes of which were almost beyond comprehension, literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies to earn some serious money. With Stevens' roadster, Willys would at least have an entry in the passenger-car market.

Stevens envisioned the car as a two-seater. However, management realized that two-passenger cars have very limited market appeal so the concept was expanded to fit five passengers.

Before the Jeepster reached production, Sorensen had been booted upstairs as vice chairman under former General Motors man James Mooney, who became both president and chairman of the board.

In December 1947, Mooney talked about the upcoming new car, calling it "a dashing four-cylinder sports phaeton which has captured much of the elusive quality of Continental models," and claiming it had "aroused keen interest and enthusiasm in test samplings of opinion." Production was planned for the following spring.

The 1948 Willys Jeepster was introduced in July 1948. Learn about its introduction -- and features -- next.

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