Car Collector Corner: Willys Americar
Q: Greg, I've enjoyed your articles on the Willy Jeep recently, and wonder if you could write about the 1940 to 1942 Willys coupes? They are still popular today on the drag strips, and wonder what you have to say about these great cars. Albert K., email from Illinois.
A: Albert, those 1940-1942 Willys Coupes indeed are very popular nowadays, and several companies produce complete fiberglass bodies for use on the street or strip.
Although noted mostly for the Jeep military popularity, Willys was a respected car manufacturer and even finished second in sales to Ford back in the 1910 decade seven times. The car you mention started production in 1937 by Willys-Overland Motors and by 1940 morphed into a 1940 Ford look alike.
There were three models available to consumers in 1940, including the Speedway, DeLuxe and Plainsman in coupe or sedan varieties. There was also a DeLuxe four-door woody wagon.
In 1941, Ohio-based Willys re-named its car the Americar, which lasted until 1942. Sales numbers in the pre-war era 1941 totaled 22,000 and then 7,000 more at the start of the WWII car production slowdown. After the war, Willys bowed out of car production until the Willys Aero appeared in 1952.
Today, a 100-percent original 1937 to 1942 Willys is a very rare find, as the hot rodders scooped them up through the late 1950s and early 1960s for use on the nation's drag strips. Famous names like "Big" John Mazmanian, Jack Kulp, Stone Woods & Cook, K.S. Pitman and numerous others blitzed the drag strips in these Willys coupes (and even trucks), much to the delight of the fans. These teams utilized big-inch Oldsmobile and then Hemi V8 engines with superchargers, resulting in nine-second quarter miles times with speeds in the 140 zone. As a forerunner to the coming Funny Car boom in 1966, these Willys drag cars ran in a class called A/Gas Supercharged and were wild and wooly from start to finish.
Notable is the current use of the "Overland" name as an option on Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee classes, which is perhaps the last modern identity tied to the classic Willys and Jeep vehicles produced by Willys-Overland.
Thanks for your question on a very popular car.
Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto writer and welcomes reader questions on collector cars and auto nostalgia at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.