The 1941 Willy's-Overland Motors Americar
Shown in this article is a beautifully restored 1941 Americar Coupe manufactured by Toledo Ohio based Willy's-Overland Motors from 1939 until 1942. The 41 Willys Americar was the last of the line prior to the United States entering World War Two. By order of President Franklin Roosevelt, all U.S. automakers were prohibited from producing civilian automobiles for the duration of the war. In the case of Willy's-Overland Motors, their Americar models never returned.
The 1941 Americar attributes were created after Joseph W. Frazer joined Willy's-Overland Motors as president in 1939. This was the Joseph Frazer who partnered in 1947 with Henry J. Kaiser in the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation The Americar was engineered by Barney Roos.
Americar Was the Last of a Line
The 1941 Willys Americar in this article is a sedan. Willy's Overland Motors did produce station wagons, coupes and pickup trucks based on the Americar model. The Americar came after the Willy's 77. The Willy's 77 was introduced in 1933, the same year that the company went into receivership, with it's economical four cylinder engine putting out 45 HP.
The Willy's-Overland Motors car model prior to the Willy's 77 was the Willy's Whippet. Willy's Whippet came out in 1926 as a replacement for the Overland brand. The Whippet had a four cylinder engine delivering about 35 HP. The Whippet engine was considered quite well designed for the 1920's. The cars were priced from about $525 to $800 which made them relatively inexpensive. At the same time, the Whippets were sturdy, economical to operate, dependable and fast. They were popular when they were introduced.
John N. Willys developed the Whippet to be a new brand for light, fast, economical, stylishly designed, and inexpensive cars. The Whippet had some good featured over it's cheaper Ford competitor. The Whippet had four wheel brakes, forced lubrication and a water pump. The car was both compact and roomy. With a wheelbase of 100 inches, the Whippet was a bit larger than the Ford Model T. The Whippet was the third best selling car in the United States in 1928.Thus, with the beginnings of the Willy's Whippet in the 1920's to the 1941 Americar, we have the Pre-World War II history of Willy's-Overland Motors non-military line of passenger cars. The next passenger cars would be Willy's in 1952.
The 41 Willys Americar had 22,000 units sold in 1941 and an additional 7,000 units in 1942. The car sold for a bit over $600. The Americar had a 104.0 inch wheelbase and was 170.0 inches in length. The car's weight was in the area of 2,300 pounds and had a 134.2 cid engine.
Three different models of the Americar were offered. They included the Speedway, DeLuxe and the Plainsman. The Speedway and Plainsman came as either a sedan or coupe. The DeLuxe also came as a four door woody wagon.
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Willy's-Overland Motors After World War II
Although the Americar model disappeared during and after World War Two, Willys-Overland Motors was the beneficiary of a lucrative military contract with the U.S. government during the war. To give you an idea of just how lucrative the government war contract was, in 1939 Willys-Overland had about $9 million in sales. In 1944 they had over $200 million in sales.
We all remember the famous Willys Jeep. The model was designated the Willys MB and had the well liked and very powerful "Go Devil" engine. The two automakers engaged in military passenger vehicle work during the war were Ford and Willys-Overland Motors.
After World War Two, Willy's developed the CJ model which was the civilian model of the Willys MB of the war years. After the war, Ford had sued Willys for use of the term "Jeep" but was unsuccessful. American Bantam who lost out on the government war contracts (only 2,600 American Bantams were built for the government) also sued Willys over the Jeep name. Most people believe that it was American Bantam that actually designed the jeep. Willys gained full right to the name after American Bantam went out of business in 1950. The first post war military Jeep was built in 1950.
In 1953, Henry J. Kaiser bought Willys-Overland and changed the name to Willys Motor Company. Eventually the company would become Kaiser-Jeep. The Willys name and product line were discontinued in 1965.
(Photos from author's collection)