Willys-Overland Motor Company
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 Company. In 1913, 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, Ohio and assumed continued production of the Stearns-Knight luxury car as well.
John Willys acquired the Electric Auto-Lite Company in 1914 and in 1917 formed the Willys Corporation to act as his holding company. In 1916, they acquired the Russell Motor Car Company of Toronto,
Ontario, Canada, 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, the Chrysler Six.
In 1917 Ward M. Canaday who had been doing advertising for the company became a full-time employee of the corporation. In order to raise cash needed to pay off debts, all of the Willys Corporation
assets were 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 would build
Durant's low priced Star, while the Chrysler Six prototype would be improved and modified, becoming the 1923 Flint. Walter Chrysler moved on to Maxwell-Chalmers, where in January 1924 he launched
his own version of the six-cylinder Chrysler he had been working on, one still based partially on elements originally developed at Willys. (In 1925 the Maxwell car company would become the Chrysler Corporation).
In 1926, production of the Overland ended and was replaced by the Whippet brand of small cars. Following the stock-market crash of 1929 and the economic depression that soon followed, a number
of Willys automotive brands began to falter. Stearns-Knight was liquidated in 1929. Whippet production ended in 1931, its models replaced by the Willys Six and Eight. Production of the Willys-Knight ended in 1933.
At this point 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. They were forced to sell their Canadian subsidiary, itself in weak financial shape, and started a massive reorganization. In it, only the main assembly plant and some smaller
factories remained property of Willys-Overland. The rest were sold off to a new holding company that leased some of the properties back to W-O. The company was thus able to ride out the storm.
In 1936 the Willys-Overland Motor Company was reorganized as Willys-Overland Motors. In the 1920s and 1930s, Willys was an unremarkable automaker based in Toledo, Ohio, one of dozens in
the U.S. However In 1937 Willys came out with a redesigned four which featured a semi-streamlined body with a slanted windshield, headlamps integrally embedded into the fenders and a one-piece,
extremely rounded hood transversely hinged at the rear. It was one of several bidders when the War Department sought an automaker who could begin rapid production of a lightweight truck
based on a prototype designed by American Bantam.
In 1938 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. It took Barney Roos
two years to perfect his engine, by a whole complex of revisions.
Production of the Willys MB, better known as Jeep, began in 1941, shared between Willys, Ford and American Bantam which had
initiated the original Jeep body design. 8,598 units were produced that year, and 359,851 units were produced before the end of World War II. In total, 653,568 military Jeeps were eventually
manufactured. The origin 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. Whatever the source, the name stuck.
At the end of the war, Willys did not resume production of its
pre-war passenger car models, choosing instead to concentrate on Jeeps and Jeep-based vehicles. The first postwar Willys product was the CJ-2A. The CJ-2A was an MB stripped of obviously military
features, particularly the blackout lighting, and with the addition of a tailgate.
Willys initially struggled to find a market for the vehicle, with early
efforts to sell it primarily as an alternative to the farm tractor. Tractors were in short supply having been out of production during the war. Despite this, sales of the "Agri-Jeep" never took off,
mainly because it was too light to provide adequate draft.
However, the CJ-2A 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.
In 1946, 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.
Willys 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.
In 1948 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 1/2 ton vehicle.
Willys later produced the M38 Jeep for the U.S. Army, and
continued the CJ series of civilian Jeeps. Another variation of the Jeep was the Jeepster. A more civilian variation, it came with either a 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder engine but came only with
two-wheel drive to the rear.
In 1952 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 to Willys/Kaiser by the Murray Body company, who 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.
In 1953 Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland and changed the 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. In 1954, the CJ5 debuted
at the start of its three-decade run.
After the last Willys passenger car was built in 1955, Willys shipped the tooling for the Aero to Brazil, where it was built from 1960 to
1962, almost unchanged. A 1953 Aero Lark was located in the estate of the late Howard Hughes, after he died en route to the US from Mexico aboard a small private airplane. Brooks Stevens
restyled it for 1963, and the Aero continued to be built by Ford after they purchased Willys-Overland Brasil until the 1970s. The American company changed its name again in 1963 to Kaiser-Jeep
Corporation, at which time the Willys name disappeared.
Kaiser-Jeep 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 and servicing.
Renault 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. DaimlerChrysler, now Fiat, still produces Jeep
vehicles at a brand new Toledo Complex.
DaimlerChrysler would introduce the Overland name for a trim package on the 2003present Jeep Grand Cherokee. The badging is
a recreation of the Overland nameplate from the early twentieth century.
Overland Motors: The Overland Automobile "runabout" was
founded by Claude Cox, a graduate of Rose Polytechnic Institute, while he was employed by Standard Wheel Company of Terre Haute, Indiana, USA, in 1903. In 1905, Standard Wheel allowed Cox
to relocate the Overland Automobile Company to Indianapolis, Indiana, and he got a partner.
In 1908, Overland Motors was purchased by John North Willys. In 1912, it was renamed Willys-Overland.
One of the more unusual uses of an Overland was in 1911 when Milton Reeves used a 1910 model to create his eight wheel Reeves Octo-Auto. Overlands continued to be produced until 1926 when
the marque was succeeded by the Willys Whippet.
John North Willys
Was an American automotive pioneer and statesman. Born in Canandaigua, New York, as a young
man he began selling bicycles in his hometown and within a few years eventually expanded into manufacturing his own line of bicycles. In 1897 he married Isabel Van Wie and a few
years later entered the automobile retailing business in Elmira, New York. His very successful car dealership sold the Overland brand of automobiles. However, in 1907 supply
problems with the Indianapolis, Indiana Overland factory led to John Willys acquiring the company.
He proved an astute operator and quickly turned the company's sagging fortunes around. In 1909 he acquired the Marion Motor Car Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana and a few years
later shifted operations to a production facility bought from the bankrupt Pope Motor Car Co. in Toledo, Ohio.
After changing the name to the Willys-Overland Motor Company in 1912, the
next year John Willys acquired the Edwards Motor Co of New York which gave him a license to manufacture the patented Knight "sleeve valve" engine. Success saw his car company become
the second largest carmaker in the United States and in 1915 he built a seven-story headquarters in Toledo, Ohio that was the most modern of its day. Before the end of the decade, one-third
of the city of Toledo's workforce was employed either at Willys-Overland or at one of the numerous small businesses providing parts and supplies. His automobile empire offered the consumer
the choice of an Overland, Willys or Willys-Knight vehicle, each relative to a specific type of engine or price range. Through his holding company, in 1918 John Willys acquired the Moline
Plow Company of Moline, Illinois, which manufactured the "Universal" brand of farm tractor and a line of Stephens cars. The following year he acquired control of the Duesenberg
company primarily to get his hands on Duesenberg brothers' factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey where he planned to produce a new six-cylinder car.
Labor difficulties began to emerge at
the Willys-Overland Toledo plant that resulted in a violent strike in 1919, shutting down the plant for several months. Willys hired General Motors vice-president Walter Chrysler to run the
Willys-Overland operation at the then astonishing salary of $1 million a year. However, Chrysler tried to oust John Willys with an attempted takeover bid that backfired when the shareholders
resisted his move and Chrysler left in 1921 to go into business for himself.
Although very profitable, John Willys' businesses were highly leveraged, expanded and/or acquired through
massive borrowings. In 1921, Willys' nervous bankers forced him to consolidate in order to limit their exposure. To raise cash for debt reduction, the Willys-Overland plant in New Jersey was
sold at auction to William C. Durant as was Willys' "New Process Gear Company," in Syracuse, New York. With debt under control, Willys once again began expanding and in 1925 bought
the F.J. Stearns Co. of Cleveland, Ohio that made a line of luxury vehicles. In 1926 Willys introduced the "Whippet" model line that sold in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Labor difficulties began to emerge at the Willys-Overland Toledo plant that resulted in a violent strike in 1919, shutting down the plant for several months. Willys hired General Motors
vice-president Walter Chrysler to run the Willys-Overland operation at the then astonishing salary of $1 million a year. However, Chrysler tried to oust John Willys with an attempted takeover
bid that backfired when the shareholders resisted his move and Chrysler left in 1921 to go into business for himself.
Although very profitable, John Willys' businesses were highly
leveraged, expanded and/or acquired through massive borrowings. In 1921, Willys' nervous bankers forced him to consolidate in order to limit their exposure. To raise cash for debt reduction,
the Willys-Overland plant in New Jersey was sold at auction to William C. Durant as was Willys' "New Process Gear Company," in Syracuse, New York. With debt under control, Willys
once again began expanding and in 1925 bought the F.J. Stearns Co. of Cleveland, Ohio that made a line of luxury vehicles. In 1926 Willys introduced the "Whippet" model line that
sold in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Well respected in the business community, John Willys was a strong supporter of the United States Republican Party who had been an Ohio
delegate to the 1916 Republican National Convention. Following the election of Herbert Hoover to the Presidency of the United States, in March 1930 Willys was appointed the first U.S.
Ambassador to Poland, serving until May 1932.
The Great Depression of the 1930s saw numerous carmakers go out of business and the Willys enterprises went into bankruptcy reorganization
in 1933. The following year, John Willys and his wife of thirty-seven years divorced. He soon remarried but died in 1935 of a heart attack at his home in The Bronx, New York. John North
Willys is interred in the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
List of Willys vehicles
- Willys 77 (19331936)
- Willys Four
- Willys Six
- Willys Eight
- Willys-Knight (19141933)
- Willys Americar (19401942)
- Willys Sedan 1940-4D
also many early cars with model numbers
- Baby Overland
- Overland Whippet (19261931)
- Overland Four
- Overland 59t (19111912)
- Overland Six
- Overland 93
- Overland 39
also many early cars with model number
- Aero-Willys JT (1951)
- Aero-Willys Wing (1952)
- Aero-Willys Scout (1953)
- Aero-Willys Lark (19521954)
- Aero-Willys Ace (19521954)
- Aero-Willys Falcon (1953)
- Aero-Willys Eagle (19521954)
- Aero-Willys 2600 (19601969) or Ford Aero (19701971) (Brazil)
- Aero Willys Brooks Stevens΄ design (1963)
- Willys Dauphine (19591965), licensed from Renault. 23.887 produced (Brazil)
- Willys Gordini (19621968), licensed from Renault. 41.045 produced (Brazil)
- Aero-Willys (19601971) 99.621 produced. (Brazil)
- Willys Itamaraty (19661971) 17.216 produced. (Brazil)
- Willys Interlagos (19611966), licensed from Renault/Alpine. 822 produced. (Brazil)
- Willys Itamaraty Executivo (limousine) (19661969). 27 produced. (Brazil)
- Willys-Overland Crossley (United Kingdom)
- Willys MA (Original Jeep Concept)
- Willys MB (19411945) 335,531 produced.
- Willys CJ2 (19441945)
- Willys CJ2A (19461949)
- Willys Wagon (19461965) 300,000 produced.
- Willys CJ3A (19491953) 132,000 are produced.
- Willys Pickup (19471965) 200,000 are produced.
- Willys Jeep FC
- Willys Jeepster (19481950) 19,000 are produced.
- Willys M38 (19511952) 61,423 produced.
- Willys CJ3B (19521968) 155,000 are produced.
- Willys M38A1 (19521957)
- Willys CJ5 later Jeep CJ5 (19541983) 600,000 are produced.
- Rural Jeep (19581969) or Ford Rural (19701977) (Brazil)
- 1960 - 1977 Rural 1960 Brazilian re-styling
- Willys Corvo (Chile)