Garage Find: 1951 Willys-Overland Jeepster

To give you an idea of the credentials of the designer of the 1949-51 Willys-Overland Jeepster, Brooks Stevens designed the 1949 Harley Hydra-Glide, with some of the designs from that bike still used in today’s Harleys. Stevens persuaded the Miller Brewing Company to use clear bottles instead of traditional brown (think of what a big change that was), designed the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, passenger trains with beautiful upper observation decks, the Studebaker Hawk, the Excalibur, and was the originator of the well-used term ”planned obsolescence”.  So why, then, do prices of other cars of the post-WWI era keep soaring while Jeepsters don’t, and why were only 19,131 original Jeepsters made?  Thanks so much to Ikey Heyman for tipping us off to this Jeepster, which you can find here on craigslist in Flat Rock, Michigan with an asking price of $7,000.

After WWII, people loved the Willys-Overland Civilian Jeep (“CJ”), especially farmers, hunters, and others with a need for a tough, all-terrain, utilitarian workhorse.  Willys missed the mark on knowing its market for Jeepster because the 2,468-pound car was under-powered, was decidedly not weatherproof, and did not have 4wd.  Willys decided to end Jeepster production in 1950 and had a pile of inventory leftover so they just branded the leftovers as 1951s—sort of a Phantom Phaeton?  And every Jeepster had a Continental kit for carrying the spare.

Jeepster was originally designed with the Go-Devil 134.2 c.i. 63 hp powerplant based on Willys’ WWI military Jeep engine, feeding a three-speed manual transmission with 4:88 rear end gears.  Even though in the later model year Jeepster offered a “Lightning” six-cylinder engine option at 161 c.i. and 75 hp, our car pictured here is likely powered by the Hurricane F4-134 4-cylinder engine. Over the years, several Jeepster postings have popped up with small block 327 and 350 transplants, among others–plenty of room for shoehorning a V-8 in Jeepster’s engine bay.

Despite the Craigslist ad stating this Jeepster has an “automatic transmission,” from the photos it appears that the standard three-on-the-tree is what comes with this car. Can’t help but marvel at the simplicity of the instrument cluster.  Much to the chagrin of car buyers in the early 50s, Jeepster did not have crank-up windows; rather, plastic curtains were provided that attach to the roof and to snaps on the body.  No one will accuse Jeepster of being a technologically advanced marvel of its time.

Yeah, this is a weird photo of the Jeepster back seat–it’s to make a point: OK, so she’s underpowered, slow on the freeway, can’t do anything off-roading, and is ill-equipped compared to Chevy and Ford offerings of the same time period. Curiously, Willys-Overland’s president at the time had to resort to a manufacturer of appliance sheet metal parts to make Jeepster body panels because no other body makers were interested.  Jeepster’s a bit boxy because the appliance manufacturer wasn’t capable of making complex curves of 1950s car bodies.  All that in mind, what possessed Willys-Overland to green-light this machine, then?  Had to be what this odd seat photo suggests: it wasn’t a work machine or a touring car but wasn’t America due for something a little fun and slightly frivolous after the War?  Jeepster is the metal personification of simplicity and carefree. Jeepster and VW Thing share a common thread: cars designed primarily for sunny, fun-filled beach or lake vacation days. It’s a “fashion-car” of sorts: a fling, a flyer, a holiday, put it away until next year sort of thing.  But American car buyers in the ’50s were apparently not in that much of a good mood to go out and buy a “seasonal” car, so Jeepster as a funster experiment was a flop. The current collector car market precisely reflects that subtle rejection of Jeepster’s theory of a fun-first, utility-not so much kind of car.  With everything so dad-gummed serious these days, though, this funster car is a bargain at thrice the price. Man, what that empty back seat needs is some towels, a picnic lunch, and a map to the nearest white sand beach.

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Comments

  1. Fred W

    According to the ad, this is a running vehicle (with a jump start). For 7K, a lot of potential fun. Just keep it off the interstate.

    Like 2
  2. charlie

    A friend had one as a “summer car” at their “cottage” on the Maine coast with the Buick V6. It was a very nice car on a nice day to go to the grocery store, or the beach, or a trailhead in. It would travel on the Interstate at 65 mph but you got blown about and certainly was not comfortable from that standpoint, at speed.

    This one looks pretty good.

  3. Dan B.

    Nice Jeepster. Any potential buyer may want to head over to http://www.OldWillysForum.com. Lots of great tech info and helpful Willys folks over there.

  4. BobH Member

    Jeep guys would know that the 134 is a ‘flathead’. That’s not what I see in the picture.

    Like 2
    • Terrty J

      That Jeep F head was an interesting little guy. The 134 was based on the old Jeep flathead “Go Devil” engine, but was updated with and overhead valve rocker arm type head for the intake valves only. The exhaust valves stayed in the block like the original flathead engine. :-) Terry J

      Like 1
  5. Greg Glubka

    It was called an “F” head, not flat…

  6. Foster Busby Member

    there were two versions–134 flathead and a 134 overhead valve

    Like 1
  7. Richard

    This looks to me like a great deal. Jeepster experts please advise

  8. John Member

    Had a 1950 Jeepster W/the 6 and overdrrive, restored it, plenty of parts from “The Jeepster Man”, fun car, should have never sold it(gave it away really), used common replacement mechinical parts. Had the step pad for getting in the back seat, one on the fender and one in front of it. Always had comments on it. It was a regular vehicle down here with tons of exotic cars. Onlytook it out in dry weather as wasn’t very dry even W/top and side curtains up.

    Like 1
  9. Terrty J

    That little engine is interesting. Based on the earlier 134 Flathead 4 engine, it was upgraded to a rocker arm type overhead valve set up ON THE INTAKE VALVES only. The exhaust valves stayed in the block like the original flathead engine. :-) Terry J

    Like 1
  10. Ron

    This would make a great off road vehicle with one ton axles, a transfer case and an LS engine, that’s what it really need to make it fun again…

  11. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Good deal on price – not sure on location for shipment. There’s a few of these out there so there isn’t much demand.

    One of my fave songs from the 80’s – “She’s a million miles away” from the Valley Girl movie sound track as well,

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