When the United States entered World War II in 1941, the automotive industry quickly switched to over to making war machinery. While “war machinery” meant aircraft, tanks and guns for many, some manufacturers still made vehicles. Willys Corporation was one of them. From 1941 until 1945, Willys built some 360,000 vehicles for the war effort. This was fortunate for Willys for not only did they stay in business during the war, they accumulated automobile production knowledge during a time when most manufacturers were building other machinery.
The whole country wanted cars
After the war, war machinery production came to a halt and Detroit went back to building cars and trucks. It was a wonderful time for the car manufacturers. Not only did civilians want new cars, millions of returning GIs did too. Patrick Autobody of Schumburg, IL, a well-known collision repair center, says couldn’t build them fast enough.
Willys gets an early start
After a few years to get the assembly lines rolling again, Willys introduced the Jeepster VJ-2 to the public in July 1948. It was a car that was based on the Military jeeps that Willy’s had built so many of. The base price of $1,765 for the VJ-2 included many features that were an extra cost on competitor’s cars, such as whitewall tires, hubcaps with bright trim rings, bumper guards, dual horns, cigar lighter, wind wings and a continental spare tire with cover. It was a good looking car too.
Unfortunately, sales were slow. The Jeepster was an automobile that looked like a jeep so it 1948 Jeepsters were retitled as 1949 models. Willys soon realized that they needed to improve the Jeepster’s competitive position with modified styling. A Jeepster enthusiast we located at a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, RAM dealer, explained to us that styling was an issue but so was the price. Willys reacted quickly and released the 1949 models with a base price of just $1,495.
Plus, they added some power. Willy’s introduced a new six-cylinder engine in the VJ3-6 in 1949 and priced it at $1,530. The result was that Jeepster sales picked up for a while, but production for 1949 totaled only 2,960 units. Of these, 2,307 were equipped with the four-cylinder engine and 653 with the new six.
The last year
There were two series of 1950 Jeepsters. Jeepsters carrying the new four-cylinder engine and revamped styling, including the new grill with 5 horizontal chrome bars, were designated VJ-473, while six-cylinder models were VJ-673. The total 1950 Jeepster production was 5,845 units, of which 4,066 were four-cylinder models and 1,779 were sixes. Even though production increased a bit, sales remained quite below expectations.
The end of the line
Poor marketing efforts and weak advertising didn’t help to increase sales, so the decision was made to cease production of the Jeepster. Despite the 3 year production run from 1948 – 1950, the Jeepster never caught on with the general public. A total of just 19,131 Jeepsters were produced and sold. Today used Jeepsters are a hit with collectors because they are affordable, fun classics.