MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By: Robert Tate
Photos courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 02.24.2016

file 20160224104617 1940 Willys cars
The 1940 Willys-Overland was a vehicle manufactured in Toledo, Ohio, and developed by John North Willys who was a native of Canandaigua, New York.

Willys started out as a bicycle dealer in Elmira eventually transitioning to autos. The Willys Automobile Co. got its start when Willys bought Overland Automobiles based in Indianapolis. After the purchase was completed, the company was renamed Willys-Overland. In 1939, Joseph W. Frazier left Chrysler to become president and general manager of the newly formed Willys Overland company and helped to usher in the 1940 Willys models.

The new models offered conventional styling and were met with a mixed reaction from the consumer market. They called it “Slip-Stream” design, a style that suggested the spirit of youth. Some automotive historians have said it was a style leader in a year when appearance and style was very important to the consumer, however others have stated that the new design fell a little flat with car buyers.

file 20160224104639 1940 Willys cars
The Willys-Overland models offered a great looking interior. All of its controls, were within easy reach for the driver including a starter button and choke control located on the dash that could be operated with one hand. Drivers also enjoyed the extra head and leg room offered by the new design.

Due to the correct positioning of the seats there was a minimum of driving fatigue. Front seats were easily adjustable either forward or backward to fit individual requirements for the passengers. The seat cushions were soft and form fitting. Both the seat and the back cushions were tilted to offer that correct angle for that comfortable riding at the time for its passengers.
file 20160224104657 1940 Willys cars
The upholstery was rich in appearance, which offered much resistance to wear. The Willys-Overland for 1940 was manufactured in three different lines of cars that were also manufactured on the same chassis. The models included a Willys-Overland 4-Door sedan, 2-Door sedan along with a Speedway Coupe and an Overland Speedway 2-Door sedan. Although the body design was essentially the same as the 1939 models, the front end design was updated. The 1940 Willys models were available for a low cost to the consumer; in fact it was one of the lowest priced models on the consumer market automobile list.
file 20160224104716 1940 Willys cars

The advertising campaign for the Willys models in 1940 said “It’s Americas Smartest Economy Car,” mainly because the models were available with a 4 cylinder engine. This along with other inexpensive equipment features, had set these models apart from other models in the market at that time.

Willys-Overland introduces trucks

That same year, Willys also introduced their line of very stylish truck models. The Willys half-ton cab pickup truck along with the Willys half-ton panel delivery vehicles was very popular among consumers. The models offered an opportunity for truck operators and fleet owners to help grow their business in the way of becoming more economical to operate.

file 20160224104738 1940 Willys cars

The loading space in the Willys panel Delivery truck was unusually large thus providing roomier models for those in the delivery business.

In conclusion, the Willys models for 1940 created a new standard for many Americans to travel at an affordable cost. It was the world’s safest and most economical full-size automobile at the time in addition to having a startlingly low price for thrifty buyers. Willys-Overland automobiles started at $495 which was a great price for the average consumer.

“The Willys for 1940 is presented to the public to meet the demand for a totally new low priced car, stylish and beautiful,” as stated in advertising campaigns.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. (Bibliography: Sklarek, Cliford. “The Restorer”Antique Motor News, March 1977; Holls, Dave & Lamm Michael. “A Century of Automotive Style 100 Years of American car design 1996;” Langworth M. Richard. “Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980” By the auto editors of consumer guide, 1984)

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