Movie Star! 1954 Aero Willys Lark

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We cover Kaiser-Frazer cars here on BF with regularity but what about members from their 1953 acquisition known as Willys-Overland? Again, the Jeep part of Willys is a regular webpage occupant here but the Willys passenger car? Not too often. That being the case, today, I offer for your review a 1954 Aero Willys Lark sedan. This seldom-seen compact is located in Long Beach, California and is available, here on craigslist for $8,000.

With the exception of the Jeep, the Kaiser and Willys passenger cars were running out of steam by the time the previously mentioned ’53 acquisition occurred. The Aero Willys (’52-’55) was an attempt to make inroads in the compact car segment and was available in three different trim levels with the Eagle at the top, the Ace in the rocking chair, and the Lark, such as our subject car, bringing up the rear. Lark’s body styles included two and four-door sedans though the top drawer Eagle was produced in two-door hardtop form. After the Aero and Willys’ passenger cars, in general, were discontinued in 1955, the Aero was reincarnated in Brazil as a 1960 model. Total ’52 through ’55 Aero production surpassed 90K units.

Our subject car is considered by the seller to be a survivor – the original two-tone green finish is rather worn but it still presents well. The body appears to be free of rust and crash damage and the chrome and stainless trim still reflects some luster. The seller claims that this car “was a former movie car and has been in several films and TV shows“. As for examples, here it is in 2016’s Rules Don’t Apply and again in a current TV series, Secrets of Sulphur Springs.

Powering this compact sedan is a 90 HP, 161 CI, in-line six-cylinder “lightning” engine coupled to a three-speed manual transmission. The seller adds, “It features a completely new and refurbished carb-to-tank fuel system. The tank has been cleaned and new fuel lines added. The carb and mechanical dual-action fuel pump have been rebuilt. All electrical has been gone through and works quite well on its original 6V system“.  It is also mentioned that the transmission shifts properly and has an overdrive feature but it has not been engaged or tested.

The interior is apparently a bit rough as the seats are covered with what the seller refers to as blankets but they actually look like upholstery padding. Regardless, they’re covering up something. Other observations are the door panels which show signs of water intrusion. I selected this dash image because it and the instrument panel are just so 1954. Note the airplane-style heater, vent, and defroster levers – the NHTSA with their finger-waggin’ nanny state world would never allow such a design today. The added steering column-mounted auxiliary gauges look like they actually belong where they’re perched.

These were interesting little cars but there were just too many automotive players in ’54, and survival went to the fittest, as in the outfit that was most financially sound. I find these fallen flags to be a fascinating study of the times, and while an Aero Willys probably isn’t at the top of the average car enthusiast’s “gotta have one” list,  I’m sure there will be interest and inquiries made, wouldn’t you agree?

Auctions Ending Soon

Comments

  1. alphasudMember

    A local fellow that I know has one. His is a restomod done up in a maroon exterior and interior with a small block Chevy. If I were to describe the car in one word it would be cute. The small tail fins remind me of an early Cadillac. The first time he drove to breakfast I had no idea what it was. If you bought this car you would belong to a pretty exclusive club.
    To me it’s like Willys was marketing to women with this car. A smaller car being easier to drive and park than the mainstream offerings.

    Like 8
  2. Kenneth Carney

    They made good business cars too by virtue of their great gas mileage.
    Sadly for Willy’s, they missed the mark as folks in the ’50s were Brain
    washed into thinking that bigger was
    better back then. Small cars never
    really made it here until 1958 when the country slid into a recession. That’s when the public started snapping up VWs and Rambler Americans til the big 3 got into the
    small car game with the Corvair, Falcon, and Valiant. After ’55, they
    showed up in Brazil where they were
    sold through ’62. They were geared
    for quick acceleration and accelerate
    they did. Adding OD made ’em even
    faster. I do recall seeing one with a
    McColluch supercharger on the engine when I was very young. We
    visited a friend of Mom’s that had one
    laid up in a garage and I was spell bound by the strange device on the
    engine. His wife drove it until something went wrong with the supercharger and he had to park it.
    We never saw them again after Mom
    got transferred to Area W in ’62 helping to assemble atomic bombs
    for the Air Force. Nice car though.

    Like 7
  3. Lance

    A four door 6 cyl. economy car for $8000? …Ummm……No. But what do I know? A 1948 ratty REAL barn find Crosley convert . just recently sold for $5000. The world is going nutty.

    Like 1
    • RallyeMember

      Where was that sale? I was just looking at the auction process here thinking to sell the 1 0f 1 pontoon fender fiberglass body Crosley.

      Like 0
      • Jesse Jesse MortensenStaff

        Send it in Rallye and we will auction it for you!

        Like 0
      • RallyeMember

        Jesse

        I looked at the auctions sold $2k and under. Looks like it’s a good place to be a buyer and not so good for some sellers.

        Like 1
      • Jesse Jesse MortensenStaff

        @Rallye – All the cars under $2k were projects. We got market value for what they are.

        Like 1
      • RallyeMember

        Jesse
        Email me your phone number and best time to call.

        Like 0
      • RallyeMember

        Jesse

        I didn’t look at the bigger $ sales because that would require more info/research.
        Not all auction sales are market value!
        944 sold $821
        924 sold $1300
        B210 sold $600
        Nash Metropolitan Project Pair $350 (both had engines)

        If these were closer, even though I’ve vowed to sell several before I buy more, I’d have bought these.

        I’m sure I could flip them or part and scrap and make out.

        Years ago I went to an auction to look and see what other car collectible stuff went for. HONEST, wasn’t going to buy anything! Toys, literature, signs from a Buick collectors sale wanting to see sale prices.
        There were 2 long rows of late 40s/early50s Buick parts cars/projects. I watched the first 2 sell….Duh, those straight 8s are pretty heavy and these guys are buying for way less than scrap. I bought 3 or 4 Buicks and later several aluminum brake drums. The first Buick I bought was a 50(? the rarest) Roadmaster woody. Seller had bought from a boneyard out of state, used some parts. Rough, rusty and incomplete are understatements. I sold it to a place in AZ that specialized in Woodys. We were both very happy with the deal!

        Like 0
      • Jesse Jesse MortensenStaff

        @Rallye – Look closer. The ones that went cheap were parts cars or worse.

        Like 0
      • RallyeMember

        I did look close enough to say I’m sure I could flip them or part and scrap and make out if they were closer to me.

        Both Porsches would bring more as projects and a lot more selling parts here in the rust belt than they sold for.
        The B210 was loaded with new/rebuilt parts. Iknow a couple of semi local people that race these.
        The 2 Nash Metropolitans reminded me of when I bought cars and engines from junkyards to mostly sell engine parts to scca racers. Some had good cranks.

        Like 0
    • Frank

      My dad had a Aero coupe gasser back in the sixties, injected small block chevy

      Like 0
      • Jules Rensch

        Cool, did it win? Did he run it at Detroit?

        Like 0
  4. Jules Rensch

    Being from Toledo, I remember these cars rolling off the production line at the old Willys Overland factory.
    Although America was not ready…it seemed some manufacturers were ahead of their time building great smaller cars for the masses that never showed up. The Henry J (by Kaiser) the Jet (by Hudson) the Rambler (by Nash) the Scotsman (by Studebaker) all noble efforts to bring simple reliable transportation to an American audience who seemed only interested in horsepower, fins, and garish chromium!
    The city of Toledo, in an effort to save Kaiser-Willys, actually had a fleet of Kaiser/Willys police cars…some with superchargers….and so an most interesting phase of American automotive history disappeared. The Willys car as offered in this ad was renamed the Fielding and appeared in the movie “Johnny Dark” staring Tony Curtis.
    As kids, I remember us going down to the factory and test track to catch a glimpse of the movie star and his Fielding racing sports car!

    Like 6
    • Walt

      I lived near Willys Parkway in West Toledo when I was a boy. I share your memories. In fact, my dad had a 53 Willys Aero. It was a great car, well built and economical. Dad used to brag he could drive that Willys all week for less than two bucks.

      Like 8
      • Jules Rensch

        Great memories Walt! Thanx
        My dad owned and loved Willys station wagons, I learned so much by watching him and helping him maintain them! My uncle was a Jeepster fan, owning and restoring over a dozen of them. My other uncle had a Willys Americar….good memories, all around!

        Like 3
  5. MarveH

    I’ve been kicking around the idea of a 1950s daily driver for a while and something like this would fit the bill.
    I’d update to 12v electrics and maybe mothball the 6cyl for a built Ford 2.3 or 2.5 four cylinder, more power and better MPGs.

    Like 2
    • Jules Rensch

      MarveH, If ever you get the chance, do look into a Hudson Jet, roomy, well built and a hot car in it’s day!
      Tom McCahill, automotive writer & enthusiast said of the Jet ” a car that will blow the doors off of most cars”
      LOL
      They are rare, but somewhere, in an undisclosed location between Baltimore & San Francisco, there is a Hudson Jet waiting to be discovered!

      Like 2
  6. Bob C.

    If it rains, you’ll need wipers.

    Like 2
    • Rick

      Good eye there!

      Like 1
  7. chrlsful

    U go Jules (altho short, on quality w/main write up). Every 6v duz not need 12v replacement like every flat6 and OHV. This car drives’n stops as the modern, so ‘goferid’ Marve ! I’d use any of the ‘down sized’ (like the nash rambler wagon)
    https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2018/04/06/hemmings-find-of-the-day-1955-nash-rambler-cross-country
    (except for the roof dip in the back).

    Like 0
  8. Lou Rugani

    I remember the Willys television commercials, and the announcers’ pronunciation of the marque being “Willis”.

    Like 2
    • Jules Rensch

      Good memory Lou, that is the way that Mr. Willys pronounced his family name. His company was Willys Overland. A few years ago, we toured his old mansion located in the Old West End of Toledo. Now it is occupied by a couple who have no link to Willys.
      Many in my family worked at the original factory, they simple stated that they were employed at Overland!
      All the best!

      Like 2
      • Walt

        Jules,
        Have you ever seen an example of 1950 Jeepster Alcoa Coupe prototype? I saw it 45 years ago near Westgate, and again more recently here in Bedford Township area. It is dark blue. I did some research and talked with current owner, the son of a former Overland official. Google it for full story. It is fascinating.

        Like 2
  9. Jules Rensch

    Walt….terrific, and I thought I knew everything about Willys. That Alcoa Coupe looks great…..never saw one!
    https://macsmotorcitygarage.com/willys-overland-oddball-the-1950-alcoa-coupe/ Thanx, Jules

    Like 0
    • Walt

      I’m glad you like the story. By the way, the vehicle looks great in person. The picture in the article showing a man standing next to the Alcoa is the father of the current owner.

      Like 1

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