Willys was a brand name used by Willys-Overland Motors, an American
automobile company best known for its design and production of
military Jeeps (MBs) and civilian versions (CJs) during the 20th
In 1908, John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of
Standard Wheel Company and in 1912 renamed it Willys-Overland
Motor Company. From 1912 to 1918, Willys was the second-largest
producer of automobiles in the United States after Ford Motor
Willys acquired a license to build the Charles Knight's sleeve-valve
engine which it used in cars bearing the Willys-Knight nameplate.
In the mid-1920s, Willys also acquired the F.B. Stearns Company
of Cleveland and assumed continued production of the Stearns-Knight
luxury car, as well.
acquired the Electric Auto-Lite Company in 1914 and in 1917 formed
the Willys Corporation to act as his holding company. In 1916,
it acquired the Russell Motor Car Company of Toronto, Ontario,
by 1917 New Process Gear, and in 1919 acquired the Duesenberg
Motors Company plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The New Jersey
plant was replaced by a new, larger facility and was to be the
site of production for a new Willys Six, but the 1920 recession
brought the Willys Corporation to its knees. The bankers hired
Walter P. Chrysler to sort out the mess and the first model to
go was the Willys Six, deemed an engineering disaster. Chrysler
had auto engineers Owen Skelton, Carl Breer, and Fred Zeder begin
work on a new car, which was often referred to as the Chrysler
Ward M. Canaday, who had been doing advertising for the company,
became a full-time employee.
cash needed to pay off debts, many of the Willys Corporation assets
were put on the auction block. The Elizabeth plant and the Chrysler
Six prototype were sold to William C. Durant, then in the process
of building a new, third empire. The plant built Durant's low-priced
Star, while the Chrysler Six prototype was improved and modified,
becoming the 1923 Flint.
Chrysler and the three engineers who had been working on the Chrysler
Six all moved on to Maxwell-Chalmers where they continued their
work, ultimately launching the six-cylinder Chrysler in January
1924. (In 1925, the Maxwell car company became the Chrysler Corporation.)
production of the Overland ended and the marque was replaced by
the Whippet brand of small cars. In the economic depression of
the 1930s, a number of Willys automotive brands faltered. Stearns-Knight
was liquidated in 1929. Whippet production ended in 1931; its
models were replaced by the Willys Six and Eight. Production of
the Willys-Knight ended in 1933.
time, Willys decided to clear the boards and produce two new models
the 4-cylinder Willys 77 and the 6-cylinder Willys 99
but the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy again, so only the
77 went into production. It was forced to sell its Canadian subsidiary,
itself in weak financial shape, and started a massive reorganization.
Just the main assembly plant and some smaller factories remained
the property of Willys-Overland. The other assets were sold off
to a new holding company that leased some of the properties back
to W-O. The parent company was thus able to ride out the storm.
In 1936, the Willys-Overland Motor Company was reorganized as
Willys redesigned 4-cylinder model. It gained a semistreamlined
body with a slanted windshield, headlamps integrally embedded
into the fenders, and a one-piece, rounded hood transversely hinged
at the rear.
the Model 39 featured Lockheed hydraulic brakes, a two-inch increase
in wheelbase to 102 inches and an improved 134 DID four-cylinder
engine with power increased from 48 to 61 hp. The Model 39 was
marketed as an Overland and as a Willys Overland rather than as
the company built a factory that built vehicles located at what
is now 6201 Randolph Street, Commerce City, California. During
the war, the factory built aircraft assemblies for Hudson Bombers.
When the war ended, the factory resumed automobile production
and was one of two locations to build the first CJ2A, as well
as the Willys Aero. The factory was closed in 1954. The location
is now occupied by Prologis Eaves Distribution Center.
War II and the Jeep
Willys-Overland was one of several bidders when the War Department
sought an automaker that could begin rapid production of a lightweight
truck based on a design by American Bantam.
Joseph W. Frazer had joined Willys from Chrysler as chief executive.
He saw a need to improve the firm's 4-cylinder engine to handle
the punishment to which the Jeep would be subjected. This objective
was brilliantly achieved by ex-Studebaker chief engineer Delmar
"Barney" Roos, who wanted
"an engine that could develop 15 horsepower at 4,400 r.p.m.
and run for 150 hours without failure. What he started with was
an engine that developed 48 horsepower at 3,400 r.p.m., and could
run continuously for only two to four hours ... It took Barney
Roos two years to perfect his engine, by a whole complex of revisions
that included closer tolerances, tougher alloys, aluminum pistons,
and a flywheel reduced in weight from fifty-seven to thirty-one
of the Willys MB, better known as Jeep, began in 1941, shared
between Willys, Ford, and American Bantam. 8,598 units were produced
that year, and 359,851 units were produced before the end of World
War II. Willys-Overland ranked 48th among United States corporations
in the value of World War II military production contracts. In
total, 653,568 military Jeeps were manufactured.
of the Jeep
of the name "Jeep" has been debated for many years.
Some people believe "Jeep" is a phonetic pronunciation
of the abbreviation GP, from "General Purpose", that
was used as part of the official Army nomenclature. The first
documented use of the word "Jeep" was the name of a
character Eugene the Jeep in the Popeye comic strip, known for
his supernatural abilities (e.g., walking through walls). It was
also the name of a small tractor made by Minneapolis-Moline[citation
needed] before World War II. Whatever the source, the name stuck
and, after the war, Willys filed a successful trademark claim
for the name.
the war, Willys did not resume production of its passenger-car
models, choosing instead to concentrate on Jeeps and Jeep-based
vehicles. The first postwar Willys product was the CJ-2A, an MB
stripped of obviously military features, particularly the blackout
lighting, and with the addition of a tailgate.
initially struggled to find a market for the vehicle, first attempting
to sell it primarily as an alternative to the farm tractor. Tractors
were in short supply, having been out of production during the
war. However, sales of the "Agri-Jeep" never took off,
mainly because it was too light to provide adequate draft.
was among the first civilian vehicles of any kind to be equipped
with four-wheel drive from the factory, and it gained popularity
among farmers, ranchers, hunters, and others who needed a lightweight
vehicle for use on unimproved roads and trails.
a year after the introduction of the CJ-2A, Willys produced the
Willys "Jeep" Utility Wagon based on the same engine
and transmission, with clear styling influence from the CJ-2A
Jeep. The next year came a "Jeep" Utility Truck with
four-wheel drive. In 1948, the wagon was available in four-wheel
drive, making it the ancestor of all sport utility vehicles.
planned to re-enter the passenger car market in 1947 with the
Willys 6-70 sedan. Its name came from the fact it was powered
by a 6-cylinder engine that produced 70 hp. The 6-70 was touted
as the 'first stock car' in America that offered independent suspension
on all four wheels, but it never entered production.
under a contract from the US Army, Willys produced a small one-man
four-wheeled utility vehicle called the Jungle Burden Carrier
which evolved into the M274 Utility ½-ton vehicle.
later produced the M38 Jeep for the U.S. Army, and continued the
CJ series of civilian Jeeps. One variation was the Jeepster, which
came with a 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder engine, but only with two-wheel
drive to the rear.
Willys re-entered the car market with a new compact car, the Willys
Aero. At first available only as a two-door sedan, it was available
with either an L-head or F-head six-cylinder engine. Export markets
could get the Aero with a four-cylinder engine. A four-door sedan
and a two-door hardtop were added for 1953 along with taxi models.
The Aero cars were called Lark, Wing, Falcon, Ace, or Eagle depending
on year, engine, and trim level, except for a small production
run in its final year (1955) with models called Custom and Bermuda.
The bodies for the Willys Aero were supplied by the Murray Body
company, which also made the bodies for the short-lived Hudson
Jet. Also in 1952, CJ3B Jeeps went into production. By 1968, over
155,000 were sold.
Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland and changed the company's
name to Willys Motor Company. The same year, production of the
Kaiser car was moved from Willow Run, Michigan, to the Willys
plant at Toledo, Ohio. Although Jeep production was steady, sales
of the Willys and Kaiser cars continued to fall. Willys established
an assembly plant in Brazil in 1953, after the government prohibited
the import of assembled vehicles as part of an import substitution
program. In 1954, the CJ5 debuted there at the start of its three-decade
the last Willys passenger car was built in 1955, Willys shipped
the Aero's tooling to Brazil, where it was built from 1960 to
1962, almost unchanged. Brooks Stevens restyled the Aero for 1963,
and it was built by Ford (which bought the Willys factory) until
the company changed its name in 1963 to Kaiser-Jeep Corporation;
the Willys name disappeared thereafter.
established its Brazilian operations in 1953, just before the
Kaiser-Frazer takeover. The tooling for the Aero went to Brazil,
where it entered production in 1960. In 1956-1957, Brazil's Executive
Group for the Automotive Industry (GEIA) had approved Willys-Overland
for production of the Aero, the Willys MB Jeep, a truck version
of the Jeep called the Rural, and the French Renault Dauphine
small car. Also, an abortive plan was made to create a company
called Chrysler-Willys do Brasil SA to build the 1956 Plymouth
Savoy and a Dodge truck there, in the hope of taking advantage
of Willys' "Brazilian-made" credentials. Willys went
through considerable effort to appear as a Brazilian company,
even selling a large portion of their company to Brazilian stockholders
to forestall a possible nationalist backlash, and to become eligible
for various government incentives.
tail-engined Dauphine was a result of Kaiser's Renault connection,
and was produced by Willys do Brasil from 1959 until 1968. Willys-Overland
was one of the first companies to enter the Brazilian passenger
automobile market, and their early entry originally paid off,
with sales spiking in 1954 when Willys became the number-one selling
car. Being distributed by the family of Getúlio Vargas'
closest advisor Osvaldo Aranha also helped, and Willys-Overland
reached a 52% share of Brazilian passenger car production in 1959.
Willys held a market share of around 30% in Brazil from 1960 until
1966, its last full year as an independent, mostly Brazilian-owned
entered the Brazilian market in the hope of offsetting their shrinking
market and losses at home. However, unlike in the case of the
Argentinian Kaiser operations, which were essentially developed
around hand-me-downs, Willys built a very modern plant from the
ground up in Brazil. The original promise was to build cars for
export back to the United States, but such a situation never materialized.
However, by late 1961, Brazilian-built Willys Jeeps began to be
exported to Chile. Willys expanded into Brazil's impoverished
northeast in the early 1960s, when they built an assembly plant
for the Jeep and Rural in the state of Pernambuco.
Willys started building the French Alpine A108 as the Willys Interlagos.
It was produced until 1966 and was the first Brazilian-made sports
car. It was also the car in which many Brazilian racers cut their
teeth, including greats such as Emerson Fittipaldi. Willys also
designed and showed a larger sports car called the "Capeta"
(Devil) in 1964, powered by the 2.6-litre six-cylinder Aero engine.
In 1965, Willys Overland do Brasil and Renault began collaborating
on a new front-wheel drive car, called "Project M" and
meant to replace the aging Dauphine. Developed in parallel with
the Renault 12, which it antedated, the car eventually saw light
as the Ford Corcel. Early Corcels had "Willys" stamping
in the glass, and the Corcel line (which continued in production
until 1997 as the Ford Pampa) always showed its French origins
in its characteristic three-bolt wheels. In 1967, Ford took a
controlling interest in Kaiser and thereby gained control of Willys-Overland
Itamaraty continued in production until the early 1970s, in latter
years wearing "Ford" badges. Dauphine production ended
in 1968, but the Willys Rural/Pickup and its derivatives were
built as the Ford F-75 until 1983. The only visual difference
is that the post-1970 cars have a tailgate with "Ford"
rather than "Jeep" stamped in it. The military version
of the Jeep Pickup was called the F-85.
was sold to American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970 when Kaiser
Industries decided to leave the automobile business. After the
sale, AMC used engines it had developed for its other cars in
Jeep models to improve performance and standardize production
purchased a major stake in AMC in 1979 and took over operation
of the company, producing the CJ series until 1986. Chrysler purchased
AMC in 1987 after the CJ had already been replaced with the Jeep
Wrangler (also known as the YJ and later TJ), which had little
in common with the CJ series other than outward appearance. The
Jeep marque, owned by DaimlerChrysler and later Fiat, produces
Jeep vehicles at a new Toledo Complex.
introduced the Overland name for a trim package on the 2003 Jeep
Grand Cherokee. The badging is a recreation of the Overland nameplate
from the early twentieth century.
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