By Keith Nobles

John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of Standard Wheel Company in 1908 and in 1912 and renamed it Willys–Overland Motor Company. Willys built many interesting vehicles prior to World War II, but the war changed the very nature of the company. Amid competition from Ford, Willys and Bantum the army in June of 1941 decided that the version of the Jeep that would become the standard version would be the Willys model. The army assigned Willys a contract for 16,000 Jeeps at $739 per vehicle. Willys would go on to produce 363,000 Jeeps and Ford some 280,000 Jeeps during World War II.


When the war ended, Willys took the gamble that there would be a domestic civilian market for the little Jeep that the war had made famous and that gamble paid off. In the summer of 1945 Willys introduced the CJ2A into the civilian market for a retail price of $1090. 214,760 CJ2A’s were built from1945 until 1949.


Riding the success of the CJ2A, Willys expanded the concept to a four-wheel drive station wagon and pick-up truck using many of the same components as the CJ2A. Over 300,000 of the station wagons and 200,000 of the pick-up trucks were built from 1946 until 1964.


Willys had discovered a brand-new identity and market as the sole American automobile manufacturer to fully incorporate four-wheel drive vehicles into their line-up. Other manufacturers offered four-wheel as a novelty and, aside from the Dodge Power Wagon, four-wheel drive was an after-market modification.


The Willys pick-up was available in half ton, three-quarter ton and one-ton models, all with different wheelbases. They were also available in pick-up, cab-and-chassis and stake-bed variations.


The Willys truck originally used the same four-cylinder engine, the same T-90 three-speed transmission, the same transfer case and the same Dana 25 front axle as the CJ2A. In 1954 the engine was upgraded to a straight six.


In the late fifties and early sixties GM, Ford and Dodge started offering their much more modern pick-up trucks with factory four-wheel drive and the dated design of the Willys truck was less attractive. Additionally, Jeep (now owned by Kaiser) had introduced the Jeep Gladiator, their own modern truck, in 1962 for the 1963 model year and that was the practical end of the original Willys truck.


Willys trucks are now highly collectible. Just as with all Jeeps of that era, Willys trucks were highly susceptible to rust and rust doomed many of them to the junk yard. Additionally, many of the Willys trucks and station wagons were the recipient of engine swaps. Chevy V8’s were very popular choices to swap into the Willys trucks.


Exceptionally clean, original and rust-free examples are selling for upwards of $30,000.



Kaiser Willys


Willys Jeep Truck