The 60s: The Gasser wars were still being fought on the dragstrips when this 4
The 70s: The evolution from drag car to street car continues: Ron and Fran Coleman
The 80s: This Chrisman-built 41 sedan, shot by Gray Baskerville in 1984, shows
The 90s: Rob Idas Ice Screamer, captured at the Street Rod Nats in 1993, took
What is it about Willys that makes them so popular? Theres not much logic behind it: the models most sought after by rodders today were in production for barely a decade and were considered cheap economy cars at the time. Willys were largely ignored by the rodding community until the late 50s when they began to fill the gas coupe and later supercharged gas coupe drag-racing classes. After that, customizers followed the racers lead and stuffed ridiculously big engines and fat rear tires into the compact Willys sheetmetala practice that continues to this day.
For those of you who are Willys fans, particularly those of you who may be fairly new to the Willys experience, weve compiled this guide to all things Willys.
A Brief History
The earliest Willys to be popular with roddersModel 77was introduced in 1932. Yet the companys history goes back to 1907 when New York car dealer John North Willys bought the floundering Overland company. He renamed it Willys-Overland and sold cars under the Overland, Willys-Knight, and Whippet names. In the teens, the four-cylinder Overland was a big sellersecond only to the Model Tbut the company experienced financial, sales, and manufacturing problems in the 20s and again after the stock market crash in 1929.
J.N. Willys tried to keep his company afloat during the Depression by concentrating its sales and manufacturing efforts on the low-priced Model 77. Sitting on a 100-inch wheelbase, the 77 was available in coupe and sedan body styles (a panel delivery came and went in 1934); was powered by a 134ci, 48hp four-banger; and sold for under $500. Designers tinkered with the cars front-end styling over the years, but the 77 went virtually unchanged between 1933 and 1936.
New Willys-Overland management ordered a complete restyle of the 77 for the 37 model year. The Model 37 was mechanically similar to its predecessor but offered rounded sheetmetalwhich was not a big hit in its day. In 1939, the Overland nameplate was resurrected for the Model 39 series of cars that were longer, wider, and more powerful (with 61hpoooo!) than the Model 37s. In 1940, the Overland Model 39 became the Willys Model 440, with front-end styling that made the car look like a ¾-scale 40 Ford. For 1941, the Willys grew even longer, got 2 more horsepower, and acquired a new, patriotic nameAmericarwhich stuck until production ceased in 1942. By then, Willys-Overland was building jeeps for the war effort and never fully recovered as a maker of passenger cars .
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