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1948-1951 Willys Jeepster

1948 Willys Jeepster Introduction

The new 1948 Willys Jeepster was introduced to the public in July 1948. Willys chairman Ward Canaday had hoped to return to the passenger-car market with a mainstream sedan, but in the end he settled for a compromise; a car produced out of mostly truck components.

Although Willys bragged it was "advancing farther into the passenger car market" with the new car, it also admitted the tooling requirement was modest. That was because the Jeepster was based on the rear-wheel-drive Jeep station wagon chassis and shared many of the same parts. Wheelbase was 104 inches, same as the wagons.

1948 Willys Jeepster Go-Devil engine
The 1948 Willys Jeepster featured the Willys Jeep
"Go-Devil" engine, a sturdy 134.2-cid L-head
four-cylinder producing 63 bhp.

The Jeepster was designated Model VJ-2, though some sources list it as a Model 463-VJ-2. But although it shared many truck components, the Jeepster was an entirely different animal. Designer Brooks Stevens had somehow endowed it with a charming, sporty character.

Power was provided by the Willys Jeep "Go-Devil" engine, a sturdy 134.2-cid L-head four-cylinder producing 63 bhp. This engine was based on the old Whippet four, which years earlier had developed a reputation for being rough and unreliable.

However, in the late 1930s, Willys Chief Engineer Delmar "Barney" Roos and assistant Floyd Kishline redesigned much of the engine to improve durability and smoothness.

Water jackets were extended down the full length of the cylinder barrels, a counterweighted crankshaft and aluminum pistons were fitted, the cylinder head got a new combustion-chamber design for increased compression, a new timing chain with friction damping was provided, and larger intake valves were installed. The engine was transformed into the sturdy little wonder that powered the wartime Jeeps.

Hooked to this engine was a three-speed manual transmission with a then-current column shifter. Willys engineers and marketing people wisely chose to include overdrive as standard equipment. Combined with the standard 4.88:1 rear-axle ratio, this provided decent acceleration for the 2500-pound Jeepster, as well as a good cruising speed and excellent gas mileage.

The overdrive was of the automatic type; all one had to do to engage it once the control knob was set was lift off the gas pedal slightly. Pushing down hard on the gas pedal would disengage overdrive for quick passing maneuvers or climbing hills. Four-wheel drive was never offered; apparently it wasn't even considered by Willys.

Rear suspension was by conventional leaf springs, but the front featured Barney Roos' patented "Planadyne" suspension whereby both front wheels were independently sprung by a single transverse leaf spring. Road testers sometimes remarked that the Jeepster had a firmer ride than most cars.

The Jeepster's laminated fabric top was a hand-operated affair that unfolded easily enough. Once up, plastic side curtains could be slid into sockets to provide "all-weather" protection. On warm but windy days, the Jeepster could be driven with the top down and the curtains on.

Next, find out about the 1948 Jeepster's bevy of standard equipment.

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