Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into the thick of World War II, the jeep's service with the Allied forces was making it almost legendary. This fact was not lost upon the astute Ward Canaday, Willys-Overland's chairman and principal stockholder. The fresh new image that Willys had been vainly seeking with the Americar was being handed to the company on the proverbial silver platter.
Looking ahead, Canaday began to visualize the jeep in the postwar world and to share that vision with the public. To get the ball rolling, he hired a well-known artist, I. B. Hazelton, to do a series of 24 paintings depicting the jeep in a variety of settings.
In many of the pictures, the jeep was shown in the midst of battle. In other cases, the artist displayed the jeep in a number of non-combatant roles ranging from snowplow to fire-fighter to farmer's jack-of-all-trades. Advertisements based on these paintings were so effective that Life magazine displayed some of them in a feature article.
Another famous advertisement of the period presented the Americar as "the jeep in civvies." Willys got in a spot of trouble over that one, for in truth the only thing the Americar had in common with the jeep was its engine. But nobody could question the ad's effectiveness.
Although Willys was eventually forced to pull the ads, the damage was done: Even though Willys was not the sole producer of jeeps, America began to think of them as "the jeep company."
Still, the most effective advertising the jeep received during the war years came at no cost to its manufacturer, in the form of news releases. A human interest story from overseas, for instance, was accompanied by photographs showing some GI's with their jeep, helping an English farmer by pulling his mowing machine, rake, and loader.
On the other side of the world, wide coverage was given to the jeep's role in laying underground cables linking widely separated airfields in Australia. The implications for possible postwar civilian uses of the jeep were too obvious to require editorial comment.
In December 1943, George W. Ritter, vice president and general counsel of Willys-Overland, was asked by Alabama Congressman Carter Manasco to provide advance information regarding the little quarter-tonner's possible conversion to civilian life. Ritter was only too happy to oblige.
One might logically have expected that such a request would have come from a representative of Willys's home state of Ohio, rather than someone from the deep South. However, Congressman Manasco happened to chair the committee that was dealing with postwar pre-planning.
In a lengthy and detailed reply, Ritter stated that although his company was highly enthusiastic about the postwar potential of the jeep, to be fully suitable for civilian use the military model would require considerable modification. Among the recommendations he outlined for the Manasco Committee were the following:
- Inclusion of a power takeoff, in order to supply power for a belt pulley attachment. Thus the jeep could be efficiently operated as a stationary power unit.
- More suitable gear ratios for both transmission and transfer case, in order to permit both low-speed pulling of heavy loads and highway speeds as high as 60 miles per hour.
- More effective cooling, for continuous low-gear operation.
- A larger-diameter clutch, to cope with increased starting loads and other circumstances creating excessive strain.
Ritter went on to point out that an adequate network of service facilities would be required if the jeep was to be fully practicable for civilian use. Implicit here was the admission that Willys-Overland's prewar dealer organization was sparse, ill-equipped, and certainly not trained in matters pertaining to the jeep. What was needed was a brand new dealer network, with well-trained personnel and an adequate stock of spare parts.
Continue to the next page to learn more about the postwar roles jeeps filled.
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1945 Willys CJ-2A Jeep
Popular Science magazine announced in the August 1943 issue, "Cash Prizes for your ideas on Peacetime Jobs for Jeeps." The money involved was almost ludicrous, even by the standards of the time. First prize was $100; second, $50; third, $25; and five prizes of $5 each.
Even so, there were nearly 1200 entries. "So numerous and so meritorious were the ideas submitted," declared the editors, "that Popular Science increased the number of prizes from eight to 11 and included 11 honorable mentions."
Based on the replies they received, the editors concluded that "the jeep's reward for its part in winning the war is likely to be, for the most part, a lifetime of work down on the farm."
More than a third of the respondents, including the winner of the $100 First Prize, "thought the proper postwar place for the jeep was on the farm, where its chores would take in about everything now performed by man, beast, or machine."
Winner of the top award was R. W. Radelet, of Vancouver, British Columbia, who submitted an elaborate drawing of jeeps per forming a variety of tasks in a rural setting: pulling implements such as the mower, rake, harrow, or plow; serving as a stationary power source; acting as a light delivery vehicle or as personnel transport; and even serving as the base for an extension platform from which trees might be sprayed.
State agricultural departments and colleges and universities from coast to coast showed a keen interest in the peacetime possibilities of the versatile little machine. Washington State University even published a 20-page monograph describing various farm uses for the military version.
Other experiments took place in a variety of forest, farm, government, and industrial settings. Again, it was a cost free publicity bonanza for Willys-Overland as the company prepared for the conversion to a peacetime economy.
Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945, was followed on May 2 by the surrender of Germany. Now the full force of the Allied war effort could be turned against Japan. Although few people were then aware of the existence of the atomic bomb (and even those few probably failed to fully appreciate its enormous destructive potential), it was obvious that the end of the war was within sight.
On July 31 the government contract with Ford ended, and the jeep reverted exclusively to Willys-Overland. Thirteen days earlier the company had dramatically announced its first peacetime model, the CJ-2A.
A demonstration was held that day, for the benefit of the press. Charles Sorensen, vice chairman by then of the Willys-Overland board of directors, hosted the event at his New Hudson, Michigan, research farm.
The CJ-2A was easy enough to distinguish from the MB. Headlights were seven inches in diameter, instead of six. There was a tailgate at the rear, and the spare tire was moved to the right side. An automatic windshield wiper replaced the hand-operated number on the passenger's side. There was even a remote gas filler. (On the military model, the tank was located-like that of the Model T Ford-under the seat; and the driver was forced to debark in order to take on fuel.)
Other, less obvious modifications were basically those suggested by George Ritter to the Manasco Committee, back in 1943. Gear ratios were changed in order to facilitate low-speed lugging, as well as to increase highway speed.
Combustion chambers were redesigned for greater pulling power, and radiator shrouding was improved in the interest of better cooling. The frame was reinforced for greater rigidity. The clutch was strengthened, and a higher-capacity generator was used.
Several concessions were made to the driver's comfort, something Ritter had evidently overlooked: Springs were softened a bit, more effective shock absorbers were fitted, and new and more comfortable seats were installed. Though the jeep still did not offer a car-like ride, it was certainly better than the MB.
Read on to find out how jeeps were put to use on the nation's farms.
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Farm Use of the Jeep
Like its Army counterpart, the civilian jeep was a bare bones vehicle; but a number of desirable options were available at very reasonable prices:
By far the most expensive "extra" was a hydraulic lift, priced at $225. Perhaps the most critical accessory was the belt-driven governor. Controlled from the instrument panel, this device permitted the regulation of engine speeds from 1,000 to 2,600 rpm in increments of 200 revolutions.
These improvements and additions made the jeep all the more suitable to civilian uses. According to Popular Science, "tests with the new model indicate a sustained drawbar pull of 1,200 pounds may be achieved, with reserve for grades and irregular soil conditions. On the highway the jeep will pull a trailed load of 5,500 pounds with adequate reserve power for steep grades."
Power still came from Barney Roos's durable L-head "Go-Devil" engine. The wheelbase was 80 inches, and the CJ-2A was as simple to service and repair as the wartime MB had been. Best of all, for those lucky enough to be able to buy one in 1945, the jeep was a bargain at $1,090 -- plus $46.53 federal excise tax.
The civilian edition was an unqualified success, incorporating all of the modifications outlined by George Ritter to Congressman Manasco's committee -- and more. A. Wade Wells described it as "The first vehicle to combine the basic functions of the tractor, light truck, passenger conveyance, and independent power unit," adding that "the new jeep not only operated all sorts of agricultural implements but performed innumerable farm tasks in which stationary power was required.
"As a utility car, it sped across cow pastures, up hills and down gullies with the same effortless ease its military prototype had displayed on the battlefield. It plowed, hauled grain, pulled the disk and harrow, filled a silo, threshed wheat, and, in general, performed virtually every farm task requiring either mobility or power.
"It was no test model of the peacetime jeep which was presented in New Hudson in the demonstration before the press," Wells continued. "The vehicles which observers watched and operated represented patient and diligent research, the end product of countless experiments not only with the military jeep but with the car improved for agricultural and industrial use.
"For example, in Florida, models of the peacetime jeep had been used to harvest oranges and grapefruit. In this case, its convenient size enabled it to pass between two tows of trees with low-hanging limbs under which larger trucks could not go.
"In Arkansas, the improved jeep proved highly effective in the rice fields, taking in its stride the dikes and levees which cross the fields in irrigated lanes.
"In Washington and Oregon, forest rangers found the civilian jeep ideal for rough terrain otherwise inaccessible, and an ideal conveyance for crews of men, tools, and other supplies.
"On a New York farm, the peacetime jeep maintained equilibrium in difficult hillside plowing. Here, the 4-wheel drive with the front wheels pulling resulted in the necessary increased surface traction."
At the Doughoregan Manor farm in Maryland, a prime location for factory-sponsored tests, Wells observed a jeep attached to a three-section, heavy-duty, spring-tooth harrow. A team of two heavy draft horses would have been required to pull the implement.
Yet the jeep was able to do the job, operating at a speed of four miles per hour, 10 hours a day, without overheating the engine. Indeed, the farm manager found that the ability of the jeep engine to provide high torque at low rpm's actually exceeded that of the tractor, especially in driving slow-motion machinery such as water pumps.
One of the better features of the postwar jeep was an optional governor fitted to the engine, so that sudden changes in the load, such as might result from wheel spin, could not cause the engine revolutions to go beyond an acceptable limit.
Keep reading to learn how the jeep fared outside the agricultural sector.
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The jeep's usefulness was not restricted to the farm. On the golf course, it pulled gang mowers at a brisk speed, resulting in a substantial savings in man hours. Its pumping ability made it a favorite with rural firefighters. An air compressor fitted at the back made it suitable for spraying paint. Like its wartime counterpart, it could tow aircraft into position and perform other airport tasks. And an optional winch extended its usefulness even further.
By November 1945, Austria's Steyr autoplant was turning out "winterized" jeeps -- military jobs fitted with a Steyr-devised enclosure to protect their occupants from the weather. Production was 25 per day.
Meanwhile, Willys-Overland was occupied pulling off what Motor Trend has described as "the commercial coup of the decade and perhaps the century by simply registering the [Jeep] name as a trademark of the Willys-Overland Corporation."
The CJ-2A remained in production until 1949, by which time the base price had risen to $1,270 -- about the same as a Chevrolet half-ton pickup. But early that year the second postwar Jeep appeared: the CJ-3A. (By this time, the name "Jeep" had become a registered trademark of Willys-Overland, so henceforth the name will be capitalized.)
Virtually identical in appearance to the CJ-2A and offered at the same price, the 3A may be distinguished by its one-piece windshield. More important, however, were revisions which strengthened the transmission and transfer case.
Passenger accommodations were altered slightly, providing more leg and knee room in front at the expense of the back seat passengers; and the overall height of the vehicle (windshield up) was increased from 64 to 66 3/8 inches.
A sales slump occurred in 1949, and once again -- as in prewar days -- Willys was losing money: $900,000, to be specific, between October 1949 and March 1950. Evidently, the primary cause of the problem was a drop in farm income, for sales of both CJs and trucks fell sharply during this period while those of the Station Wagon increased by nearly one-third.
By this time, many of the Jeeps being used by the U. S. military were showing their age, and the Army asked Willys-Overland to design a new vehicle to meet its current needs. The result, the replacement for the wartime MB, was the Model MC. Basically, it was a military version of the then-current civilian CJ-3A.
Known in the Army as the M38, the MC was identical in size to the civilian unit, but it incorporated a number of changes for military purposes. Body and chassis parts were heavier, for instance, and waterproofed 24-volt electrics replaced the CJ-3A's 6-volt system. A unique vent tube arrangement connected the engine, transmission, transfer case, and fuel tank to the air cleaner, permitting these components to be vented even if the Jeep were completely submerged.
More than 60,000 MCs were built for the armed forces between 1949 and 1952. It was during this time -- on June 25, 1950 -- that North Korean Communist forces invaded South Korea, presumably on the mistaken assumption that the United States and its allies had no particular interest in that part of the world.
American reaction, however, was one of outrage. President Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur's Eighth Army, then stationed in Japan as an occupying force, to the port of Pusan, on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Action was authorized by the United Nations Security Council, and once again the United States found itself at war.
Read on to learn how Jeeps were used in the Korean War.
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Jeep's Role in the Korean War
Predictably, Jeeps were once again in the thick of battle. Television fans will recall that the little quarter-tonners appeared as "supporting actors" in nearly every episode of the popular series M*A*S*H. However, the Jeep's tactical role in Korea was not always identical to the part it played in World War II.
Though the mostly mountainous terrain of North Korea might have logically influenced the Army to minimize the use of the Jeep, this did not turn out to be the case. New support roles directly related to combat became standard requirements.
In October 1950, the Jeep led the strategic withdrawal from the North when the Chinese entered the war. And once the fighting began along the 38th parallel (the line dividing North Korea and South Korea), the Jeep started to play all kinds of new combat and support roles.
Some Jeeps were equipped with communications gear that allowed them to be employed in forward positions, directing air strikes and observation airplanes. With the heavy movement of refugees from the north, the military police also began to rely more on the versatile Jeep. It could be operated on the paved streets of cities and towns or on the dirt roads of the countryside. The Jeep in Korea proved to be popular as a principal means of transportation for both officers and enlisted men.
The design created by Willys before World War II was still going strong in the postwar years. However, as WWII drew to a close, other postwar plans were being formulated at Willys-Overland. A steady and modestly profitable market had been anticipated for the Jeep Universal. Yet, it was plain to see that for the company to remain viable, the product line would have to be broadened.
With Brooks Stevens in charge of the design team, plans got under way for a postwar passenger car. Those plans were shelved when Joseph Frazer was replaced by Charles Sorensen as company president, then revived under Jim Mooney's leadership, and finally torpedoed when Ward Canaday took the helm once more.
The truth is, Willys might not have been able to produce that postwar sedan, even if Canaday and the board of directors had wanted to. Body manufacturers in the immediate postwar years had all the contracts they could handle.
Brooks Stevens solved the problem neatly and in the process brought forth a whole new concept in automotive design: the all-steel station wagon. Laid out in such a way as to require so little "draw" that even a refrigerator manufacturer could produce the stamping, the Willys Jeep Station Wagon proved to be one of the most influential automobiles ever built, as you'll see by continuing on to the next page.
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Willys Jeep Station Wagon
Mounted on the same 104-inch wheel-base as the prewar Willys Americar, though with substantial modifications to the chassis, the Jeep wagon had none of its predecessor's pretensions to streamlining or graceful styling. Purely functional in design, it was tall and angular. Its simple, flat grille and square fenders were-by no coincidence-very nearly carbon copies of its familiar military forbear.
It had an austere look about it, and only one color scheme was offered at first: deep burgundy on the hood and fenders, with the body done in cream with reddish-brown paneling. The latter cleverly suggested, without actually imitating, the mahogany-and-birch cabinet-shop bodies typically found on the station wagons of that era.
The wagon was dreadfully underpowered. It outweighed the Americar by some 600 pounds; and since it was powered by the same 63-horsepower engine as the prewar sedan, performance suffered badly. Overdrive, offered initially as an option, soon became standard equipment. A good thing, for the car really needed the flexibility of four forward speeds.
But in practical terms, the Jeep Station Wagon had a lot going for it:
- Despite its modest 14 1/2-foot length it provided seating for seven.
- With the rear seats removed, 96 cubic feet of cargo capacity was available.
- Its inside height -- nearly 50 inches -- permitted the hauling of tall items.
- The all-steel construction did away with the persistent maintenance problems that were the bane of owners of wood-bodied station wagons.
- The Jeep wagon's price was several hundred dollars lower than that of any other station wagon on the market at the time of its introduction, unless one includes the tiny Crosley.
- Perhaps most important of all, the Jeep Station Wagon was simple, dependable, economical, and tough.
Independent front suspension was featured, a first for a Willys-Overland product. Designed by chief engineer Barney Roos, it closely resembled the "planar" suspension that Roos had developed for Studebaker in the mid-Thirties, utilizing a seven-leaf transverse spring in lieu of the more conventional coils. Willys called it "Planadyne."
A two-door configuration was used, with the seventh passenger seated sideways just inside the tailgate. All seats save that of the driver's were removable, permitting the vehicle to serve equally well as a truck or passenger car. The entire floor was flat from the driver's seat back, further enhancing the wagon's utility.
Mechanical components were conventional enough. An 8 1/2-inch Auburn clutch and a T-96 Warner Gear transmission were used. The whooped bevel rear axle came from Spicer, the cam and twin-lever steering from Ross. Hydraulic brakes were by Bendix, and six-volt electrics were by Electric Auto-Lite.
A Willys-Overland advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post proclaimed, "No sedan can match a Station Wagon for all-around usefulness. And no other Station Wagon is so practical for every use as the Jeep Station Wagon -- the first with an all-steel body and top for greater safety and longer service." The ad went on to declare the wagon to be "wonderfully smooth riding on country roads as well as city streets."
Initially, the Jeep Station Wagon was built only in two-wheel-drive form. It sold relatively well: 6,534 units during the last half of 1946, 27,515 in 1947. It's safe to assume that Willys could have sold as many examples as they could manage to build in that postwar "seller's market." But raw materials, especially sheet steel, were in short supply, tending to hobble the aspirations of all the automakers.
Somehow, possibly because of the postwar shortages, a rumor made the rounds that the Station Wagon and other Jeep vehicles were cobbled together, using parts left over from the wartime Jeeps. Brooks Stevens, while affirming that the Jeep "look" had been retained, responded scornfully, "Anyone in their right mind knew that couldn't be. The tread was different, the wheelbase was different, everything about it was different." Read on to find out more about the Jeep Station Sedan.
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1948-1949 Willys Jeep Station Sedan
A luxury version of the Jeep was added for 1948. Known as the Station Sedan, it was finished better than the Wagon both inside and out, though the same body shell was used. Solid body colors were featured in lieu of the Wagon two-tone paneled effect, and basket-weave trim was added along the sides. One British writer suggested that the Station Sedan "looked rather like a country hearse." However, most observers found its unique trim attractive.
Perhaps the year's best news was the introduction, in the Station Sedan, of Barney Roos's brand new six-cylinder engine. A conventionally-designed L-head, displacing 148.5 cubic inches, this powerplant was rated at 72 horsepower, an 11 percent advantage over the four-banger. Torque was similarly increased, from 105 pounds-feet in the four to 117 in the new six. Obviously, performance was enhanced considerably.
Driving one of these older Willys wagons was a unique experience. One sat up high -- seats were placed a foot and a half off the floor. Visibility in all directions was excellent. Seat cushions were a little mushy in the earlier models, but zig-zag springs, introduced in 1949, overcame that problem, and the later seats gave excellent support. At the same time, the seating was rearranged for better posture and increased leg room. And the ride, though hardly equal to that of a sedan, was more comfortable than one might expect.
Even in the four-cylinder wagons, acceleration was adequate up to about 40 miles per hour; beyond that, it flattened out. The six, of course, did much better in that respect. In hilly country, the six-cylinder car acquitted itself very well, while the four-banger lagged behind.
Clutch action was smooth and light, and the remote shift linkage was better than most. Steering was quick, light, and reasonably precise. However, the Willys heeled over dreadfully in hard cornering. Yet, there was little loss of control. The little wagon was really rather fun to drive, though to deal with it daily in heavy commuter traffic would doubtless be exhausting for the average driver.
As well, crosswinds were terrifying to the driver of the Jeep Station Wagon. At times, the vehicle favored abrupt lane changes, with or without the driver's permission. In addition, the brakes -- not the strongest point on the wartime jeep -- were not all that competent on the wagons, either.
Stopping distances were far from comfortable, and a lot of pedal pressure was required to get the job done. On the other hand, the wagon did seem to hold in a straight line, even in a panic stop; and Barney Roos's unusual front suspension acted to discourage "nosedive."
There was good news again in 1949 -- especially for people who had to slog their way through mud and snow. Four-wheel drive became available in the Jeep Station Wagon that July. It was reported in Automotive Industries that the four-wheel-drive version had first been built the previous year, on special order from the U.S. Army. Now, it was available to the general public. As with other four-wheel-drive Jeep products, it used a live front axle and longitudinal leaf springs in lieu of the Planadyne mechanism.
Power for the 4 x 4 wagon came from the little flathead four, which -- since the six was by then available -- appears in retrospect to have been a mistake in judgment. But the new model filled an important need for many people. A 4 x 2 six-cylinder Station Wagon was also produced, offering the power of the Station Sedan, minus some of the amenities, at a slightly lower price. Sales, which had faltered during 1948, climbed back to within reach of their 1947 level.
Meanwhile, commencing in 1947 a panel delivery was offered. Sometimes misleadingly called a "sedan delivery," it used the same body stamping as the Station Wagon but minus the windows. Doors were fitted at the rear in lieu of the wagon's tailgate, and seating was provided only for the driver.
Follow the development of the Jeep Station Wagon and Station Sedan on the next page.
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1950 Willys Jeep Station Wagon and Station Sedan
Nineteen-fifty brought new front-end styling, the first such change of any consequence since the original Jeep Station Wagon was introduced in 1946. The front fender tips came to a peak -- a potential hazard to pedestrians, but nobody thought in such terms in those days.
The grille was given a modified "V" shape, and five bright metal horizontal bars were added to the nine vertical ribs. There was even a small chrome-plated ornament on the tip of the hood. Such changes were modest enough, but they added a rather attractive touch to the vehicle.
The upscale Station Sedan, never a big seller, was deleted from the 1950 line. But at midyear, the F-head four-cylinder engine became available to buyers of the four-wheel-drive wagon, supplying a welcome dose of vitamins. Sales of the various wagons were up just slightly for the year.
Given the business-like image projected by the Jeep, not to mention its sturdy construction, it was to be expected that Willys-Overland would market a light truck. Once World War II was over they did, and it was released in 1946.
The light truck market was not an unfamiliar field -- the company had a long history of participation in the commercial vehicle market. As far back as 1910, there had been a pair of delivery trucks built on the Overland passenger car chassis.
In 1912, John North Willys purchased a controlling interest in both the Gramm Motor Truck Company of Lima, Ohio, and the Garford Automobile Company of Elyria, Ohio, producer of one-ton and larger trucks. A 3/4-ton utility truck bearing the Willys name appeared the following year; however, it was in reality a Gramm product.
In 1915 John Willys disposed of his interest in both the Garford and Gramm firms, though the trucks continued to be handled by Willys-Overland dealers. The manufacture by Willys-Overland of light-duty vehicles was continued, however.
In 1920 the 27-horsepower Light Four series took Overland trucks into the lowest-price field, with the chassis costing only $450. Four years later, a slightly larger 30-horse-power engine was used, and the price was reduced to $395.
Nineteen twenty-seven saw the advent of the company's Whippet light trucks, powered by the 134.2 cubic inch flathead four that would ultimately become the basis for the engine used in the World War II jeep. A six-cylinder companion was also available in both truck and passenger car lines.
The four-cylinder engine disappeared along with the Whippet nameplate in 1932, but the four-banger was resurrected the following year for use in the diminutive Willys 77. A panel delivery was offered that season in addition to the passenger car. In 1935 the line was augmented by a cab pickup.
A stake truck was added in 1938, followed the next year by a walk-in panel delivery. Until World War II brought civilian production to a halt, Willys trucks continued to be available in chassis, pickup, and cab-over-engine panel delivery configurations. The commercials accounted for just over 7 percent of Willys-Overland's production in those days. To learn about Willys trucks from the postwar period, continue on to the next page.
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Postwar Willys Trucks
The first of the postwar Willys trucks was the half-ton panel delivery, introduced in 1946. Built on the 104-inch, 2 x 2 chassis of the Jeep Station Wagon, it used the wagon's body stamping. Power came from the same "Go-Devil" four-cylinder engine that had given such distinguished service during the war.
For 1947, a series of one-ton, 4 x 4 trucks was added. Available in pickup, platform stake, chassis and cab, or bare chassis form, these trucks used a 118-inch wheelbase and weighed as much as 3,431 pounds.
For purposes of comparison, the Utility Jeep tipped the scales at just 2,074 pounds, while the Panel Delivery came in at 2,587. So the power-to-weight ratio of the 4 x 4s was not, to say the least, anything to get excited about. By 1949, 3/4-ton 4 x 2 trucks, using the 118-inch chassis, were added to the line.
In 1950 the trucks were restyled, again along the lines of the wagon. A pointed grille with five horizontal trim bars gave the Jeep trucks just a suggestion of style. The following year the 72-horsepower, F-head "Hurricane" engine took the place of the previous 63-horsepower flathead.
Truck production for 1951 came to 22,282 units, well over a quarter of Willys-Overland's total output. Available accessories included a power takeoff, pulley drive, and a speed governor for the engine.
These trucks were not particularly cheap. The 4 x 2 pickup, for example, cost $73 more than a 3/4-ton Chevrolet. But the Jeep trucks had a lot going for them, not the least of which was their reputation for toughness. And there literally was no competition in those days for the four-wheel-drive models.
Willys began to move its trucks upscale, and by 1952 the panel had become known by the more prestigious name of Sedan Delivery. Some dress-up items, such as chromed front and rear bumpers, chromed wheel discs, and even white sidewall tires, had joined the options list.
In 1948, with the wagons, Universals, and trucks selling well, Willys hoped to capture another section of the market. This market niche was created by American GIs returning home from Europe, where they had come to love little English sports cars.
The MG TA and TB (built from 1936 to 1939) were just this type of car, and when the GIs returned home they found that no American manufacturer was building a car like the MG. In fact, many soldiers who had purchased MGs during and after the war brought them home with them.
Willys hoped to play on this popularity by producing another vehicle with the flavor of a Jeep and an MG. This vehicle would be a cross between a Jeep and a sports car, and it would be called the Jeepster.
True, it wasn't a genuine sports car. No American firm of any consequence was building sports cars in those days. But it was an open car -- the first American phaeton in a decade -- and it certainly had a sporty flair. Better yet, its squared-off styling was distinctly reminiscent of the Jeep. Move on to the next page to get more information on the Jeepster.
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1948 Willys Jeepster
Designed by Brooks Stevens, the Jeepster first appeared on April 3, 1948. The name had been coined more than five years earlier by Joe Frazer, then president of Willys-Overland. The Jeepster represented an effort to broaden the Willys product line, tapping into a market that was more youth-oriented than that of the Station Wagon, more urbane than that of the Jeep Universal.
The phaeton was developed at remarkably little cost to its builders. The driveline came right off the Willys parts shelf: the familiar "Go-Devil" four-cylinder engine; clutch, transmission, overdrive, differential, suspension, steering, and brakes were all from the Jeep Station Wagon, though the wagon's frame was stiffened for this application by the addition of an X-member.
Thus, tooling costs were minimal, as far as the chassis was concerned. With a 500-pound weight advantage, the Jeepster could be expected to perform in much more sprightly fashion than the wagon -- though it obviously wasn't going to blow anybody's doors off.
Development of the body was almost equally economical. The front end of the Station Wagon was borrowed, almost in its entirety. Rear fenders came from the Jeep truck. There was no fixed glass apart from the windshield and vent wings.
There were just two doors. (The first prototype, in fact, had no doors at all.) A canvas top and side curtains provided protection from the elements. Body stampings were simple, requiring very little draw. All in all, the capital investment was almost negligible.
Remarkably little fanfare accompanied the Jeepster's introduction. A product as unique as this one might have been expected to reap a publicity bonanza for Willys-Overland, but for reasons that remain obscure the company let that opportunity go.
There was, however, at least one very effective magazine advertisement. In its colorful prose -- and even in its use of ellipses -- the ad recalled the work, in an earlier generation, of the legendary Ned Jordan:
"Wherever there's fun, there you will find the people this car was made for . . . people with a flair for the unusual; who combine smartness, unerring good taste and a sharp sense of value."
Not as many people found the Jeepster as appealing as Willys-Overland had hoped. For a car with sporting pretensions, the Jeepster's performance left something to be desired.
In response to criticism, in January 1949 the 72-horsepower F-head four was substituted for the original flat-head engine, providing an 11 percent horsepower increase. The following July, Barney Roos's new "Lightning Six" became available, as well.
A new, slightly vee'd grille with five bright horizontal bars was featured for 1950, and later that year performance was further enhanced when the six-cylinder engine was bored to 161 cid, raising the horsepower from 70 to 75.
But sales of the Jeepster, somewhat disappointing from the outset, faltered badly in 1949 and made only a partial recovery the following year. Jeepsters were catalogued for the 1951 model year, but these were actually leftover 1950 cars. Production of the little phaeton had already been halted; only 19,132 had been built over a period of less than three years.
Perhaps the Jeepster was a concept whose time had not yet come. In recent times, the car has become a much sought-after collector's item and is the only Willys to have been designated a Milestone car. So of course the question remains: Why was it not more successful in its own time? Several reasons:
- There was the question of its identity. The Jeepster clearly wasn't a sports car; yet it wasn't really a family car, either. Thus it may simply have fallen between two stools.
- The day of the open car was long gone by the time the Jeepster was introduced. The American love affair with the ragtop was still intense, but people wanted the comfort of roll-up windows.
- After 1948, the Jeepster's modestly successful first season, the postwar "seller's market" waned rapidly. Competition returned to the marketplace.
- Some people were disappointed at the company's failure to offer a four-wheel- drive version.
- And as Brooks Stevens has noted, the price was high. A four-cylinder Jeepster cost nearly a hundred dollars more than a deluxe Chevrolet club coupe. True, the Chevy wasn't a convertible. But then, neither was the Jeepster.
During this time, Willys had been enjoying a period of considerable prosperity. Business Week reported that production for 1948 came to 138,000 units, compared to a wartime top of 107,000 during 1944.However, the company's cash reserves were slim. At the time the United States entered the war in December 1941, Willys-Overland's working capital had amounted to less than $2 million. And even at war's end, only $20 million had been available for retooling and expansion.Then as the Korean War turned the postwar economic boom to bust, Willys was in no position to endure harsh economic times. Yet, with several highly saleable models, a good export market, and a sound dealer network, they were a highly attractive proposition for a larger corporation. Read on to find out what became of Willys' Americar.For more information on Jeeps, see:
A Postwar Americar?
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.