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1948-1951 Willys Jeepster

1949-1950 Willys Jeepster

To its credit, Willys-Overland took several steps to improve the Jeepster's competitive position. Price was believed to be the single greatest objection, so for the 1949 Willy Jeepster, Willys fielded a new Jeepster model with a much lower price tag.

The VJ-3 was tagged at $1,495, but some formerly standard features were now extra-cost options. The fancy "T"-shape grille trim, bumper guards, whitewall tires, wheel trim rings, and second horn were options now. Thankfully overdrive was still standard equipment.

1949 Willys Jeepster
Most 1949 Willys Jeepsters were four-cylinder
models, but a new VJ3-6-with a 148.5-cid L-head
six was added during the year.

Toward the middle of the year, an additional Jeepster model, the VJ3-6, powered by a new six-cylinder engine, was added to the lineup. It featured the smallest six on the market, an L-head of 148.5 cid producing 72 bhp, but it offered greater smoothness than the four. Willys priced the six-cylinder Jeepster at $1,530.

"The smartly styled Jeepster enjoyed renewed popularity this past summer as a result of improvements added to its comfort and convenience and substantially lowered price," claimed Jim Mooney, but he was whistling in the dark. Jeepster sales may have picked up for a while, but production for the year totaled only 2,960 units. Of these, 2,307 were equipped with the four-cylinder engine and 653 with the new six.

Clearly, things weren't going well. A carryover line of 1950 Jeepsters was announced in the fall of 1949, but they were destined to be only interim models.

1950 Willys Jeepster
The 1950 Willys Jeepster sported five horizontal
chrome bars, and the formerly blunt-faced
fenders gained some roundness.

In March 1950, all senior Jeep vehicles, Jeepster included, got a batch of revisions and improvements. On the mechanical side, Willys introduced its new "Hurricane" four-cylinder engine, based on the Go-Devil but featuring an F-head with the intake valves located m the head. This allowed for larger intake valves, improved breathing, and more power.

The Hurricane four produced 72 bhp at 4,000 rpm, a pretty good improvement over the Go-Devil. "There's magic under the hood of Willys' smart new Jeepster," ads proclaimed, "Hurricane power!"

Meanwhile, the Willys six-cylinder engine got a bore increase that hiked displacement to 161 cubic inches. Although it retained its flathead design, the increase in displacement boosted output to 75 bhp at 4,000 rpm.

Jeepsters also received new frontal styling, including rounded fenders with a handsome peak on the forward edge, and a stylish new vee-shaped grille with five horizontal chrome bars. A redesigned instrument panel debuted as well.

Because the new models arrived midyear, there were two series of 1950 Jeepsters. The earlier, first-series fours were designated VJ-3 463; the first-series sixes were VJ-3 663. Jeepsters carrying the new four-cylinder engine and revamped styling were designated VJ-473, while six-cylinder models were dubbed VJ-673.

Also shown that year was an aluminum-bodied Jeepster coupe prototype. Produced by Alcoa to test ideas in automobile body panels, the two-seat coupe's lightweight structure had a pleasing flair. Two different front-end styles were shown, so it's possible that two coupes were built.

Not that any of this did much good. Total 1950 Jeepster production was 5,845 units, of which 4,066 were four-cylinder models and 1,779 were sixes. And even though production nudged up a bit, sales remained in the basement.

Next, find out how the Jeepster weathered model year 1951.

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