The automotive press certainly liked the 1948 Willy Jeepster. Barney Clark, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that "the Jeepster is unique among full-size American cars for its quick response . . . and agility in traffic."
In stopwatch tests, the Jeepster managed 0-30 mph in 5.3 seconds, 0-50 mph in 14.1 seconds, and 0-60 mph in 21.9 seconds, reasonable performance for that time.
Clark called the engine "surprisingly smooth, though there are certain speeds at which vibration is noted. . . . [I]n the whole lower speed range acceleration is instantaneous and extremely brisk. From 55 on up it is a good deal slower . . . and the car seems capable of something better than 75 miles per hour. The steering is a delight. Firm and solid, yet light, it requires less movement of the wheel than is common nowadays."
Critics applauded the 1948 Willys Jeepster's
smooth and solid ride.
Signifying the importance the company placed on its new passenger car, the front cover of the 1948 Willys-Overland annual report featured just one vehicle -- the Jeepster. Obviously, this was a product for which the company had high hopes.
However, it soon became apparent that sales weren't going to reach expectations. The problems were few, but significant. First of all, the public just didn't like the whole phaeton /plastic side-curtain idea. Convertibles with roll-up windows, many even with power tops, had long since become common and were, in fact, the reason why other car companies had stopped building phaetons.
Second, there was the matter of price. Although Jeepster's $1,765 price sounds good in today's context, back then, a buyer's choices included the Ford V-8 Super Deluxe convertible for $1,740 and the six-cylinder Chevy Fleetmaster convertible for $1,750. Both featured larger engines with more cylinders, and both offered the comforts most people were looking for back then.
A third problem was that the Willys-Overland sales organization simply wasn't up to the job. Too many bad years had thinned out the ranks of Willys dealers.
Finally, the market itself was changing. The sellers' market that had prevailed since the end of World War II was just starting to end. In 1948, the supply of cars was beginning to catch up with demand, and competition was returning to the marketplace.
For its part, Willys tried to train its sales staff in how to move the iron. A guidebook advised salespeople to focus on Jeepster selling points: four-cylinder economy, an easily accessible engine, ease of parking, etc. As an example of how to address the Jeepster's perceived shortcomings, sales personnel were told to "Sell all-weather protection -- not side curtains." However, nothing seemed to help.
Only 10,326 of the 1948 Jeepsters were produced and many of them remained unsold when the 1949 models debuted. Apparently, the unsold Jeepsters were retitled as 1949 models. Read on for more details on the 1949 Willys Jeepster.
For more information on cars, see: