Possible Lightning Project: 1949 Willys Jeepster

1949-jeepster-project

Editor Note: This story comes from our newest team member, Jamie Palmer! He is quite the car guy so we are excited to have him on board. Please make him feel welcome as he has lots of good stories and knowledge to share. We are still looking for another aspiring journalist or two, so please email us if you are interested in joining the team.

Like most auto manufacturers after World War II, Willys jumped on the postwar auto sales boom. However, their initial civilian offering was, well, a little different. I’ve always wondered whether some member of management saw the MGTC’s that servicemen were bringing home and said “we can do that, but better!” The result was the Jeepster – a combination of Brooks Stevens design and Jeep CJ practicality, and you can buy one through this craigslist ad in Arizona.

jeepster-dash

Originally, this 1949 model would have been fitted with a “Go-Devil” 4-cylinder or a “Lightning” 6-cylinder engine, but the seller explains this example is sans engine and transmission, suggesting a small-block Chevy and a Powerglide instead. Personally, I think with any chance of reinstalling the original drivetrain gone, a nice domestic V-6 with a 5-speed would be a good fit, but that would be up to you. You could drive it cosmetically as-is, although I’ve heard of much more dilapidated Jeepsters being resurrected.

side-step

Parts availability looks pretty decent after a quick internet search. Good thing too because you are going to need to source a lot of the missing bits. Luckily these were fairly simple machines. One interesting feature of this car are the metal steps on the driver’s side in front of and on top of the rear fender. It looks like a pretty dangerous place to ride! Does anyone know what they were designed for?

bumper-spare

Four seat roadsters can be a lot of fun. I can easily see cruising along a beachfront in one of these.  Maybe wide whitewalls and some chrome center caps with steel wheels? You’d need the fifth one for the rear exposed spare to finish the look. It looks like all the important cosmetic parts are there and relatively solid, including fairly straight bumpers. Perhaps the Arizona climate has kept most of the rust at bay (apart from some surface rust)? After solving the missing title issue, would you refurbish it? Or would you merely install a drivetrain and drive it as-is?

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Comments

  1. Rick

    I’d find a late model V8 2wd truck chassis to put it on.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Rick, that makes a lot of sense, too. I wonder what the body weighs?

  2. jlschmidt

    The steps are a quick way to hop in the back seat, not unlike the smaller steps used for years to access the rumble seats on classic old roadsters. It was part of the “fun factor” built into these cars which were intended to lift American spirits in a post war era.
    The front seats were simply cushions attached to a metal frame that easily folded forward for more normal entry through the doors.
    In my former life as curator of a classic car collection, we had a restored 1949 Jeepster. It was a very popular burgundy with an all-white vinyl interior and wide whitewall tires. Just a fun-looking vehicle from the start. Open the hood and it was just a tough, durable four-banger Jeep.
    There is a national Jeepster club and quite a large branch of it in Nebraska.
    Jeep stopped production in the early 50s but brought back a similar Jeepster version in the 70s. It never caught on because the Wranglers and CJs were capturing audiences by then.
    I’d gladly take one of these over anything the company has to offer today. Better quality, more fun.

  3. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Thanks, jlschmidt, I was really wondering how that worked; that makes a lot of sense. I imagine it would be a lot of fun to drive around with a carload of folks!

  4. Robert J.

    The year model of this particular Jeepster. might add value to it however you can find good running Jeepsters of drivable quality for about $5000 in Northern California. Of course they will always need a top, front end alignment etc. you would be starting off with the running drivable rig. It’s going to take $10,000 to get this one running again I’d bet.

  5. Vince Habel

    I like the idea of a V6 or a small block Chevy. It would make a nice cruiser.

  6. Mike Z

    something funny with the nose on this one, someone’s idea of custom I guess

  7. jim s

    without a title this may just be parts but at the asking price it is the sellers not buyers job to get a title. might put it on a small 4×4 truck frame/drivetrain truck, maybe even a diesel motor. nice find.

  8. geomechs geomechs Member

    While I would make every effort to find a correct engine/transmission for this unit, I can understand why one would be tempted to make a substitute. Just don’t get carried away. Aside from that I like the car and wouldn’t mind having a project like that.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      These really look great all cleaned up! I saw one the other day all done up for off-roading. I wouldn’t go that route myself, but it even looked good. There are tons of Jeeps driving around, but this is the way to go if you want something a little different.

  9. Don Andreina

    Nice find. That rear step looks like it accommodated a ‘continental’ spare as well.

  10. Clay Bryant

    Had one of these years ago and are pretty basic to restore.Mine had an old set(in great shape) 6/70-15 tires on it that were pre-DOT and didn’t have the DOT numbers now required on all tires.Sold them at the NCRS(Corvette) meet at Cyprus Gardens for a thousand bucks to a guy that was wanting to “age” his 57 Corvette.Almost paid for the Jeepster.Somethings in life never seem to amaze me.

  11. jimmyrk3

    I’m glad to see others not jumping on the SBC bandwagon, even an Ecoboost v4 with over 250 horses would be plenty for this thing. A little research turned up a curb weight of less than 2600 lb for the Lighting, so swapping in a complete chassis would be easy.

  12. Chris Beebe

    My Dad worked at Brook Stevens way back then, head of the design department for many years, … and claims this ‘Jeepster’ was his concoction as he was an avid sports car guy.

    • ORacer

      Chris,

      If I can speak for a huge number of Road & Track followers, tell Pete Egan he is truly missed.

      Trust he is busy in his garage on projects and getting better playing the Blues with the Boys

  13. ORacer

    I have had a 1950 Willys Jeepster with the ‘Lightning Six’ (more of a ‘glow’ than lightning) for 10 years that I bought from a lady that owned it since 1955, her Dad bought it for her when she finished High School. It was always garaged, was repainted about 25 years ago and mechanically refreshed and remains a very nice driver. It is a keeper, we use it for local runs and it attracts a lot of attention where ever we go. If you are in a hurry, drive something else, they are not fast and when you park you will no doubt be approached by people wanting to know about your car or tell you about the one they had. That adds to the joy of owning my Jeepster.

    About this car, it has issues and the repair of rust and rot can consume a lot of the money used toward restoration. Parts are available but they are not particularly cheap, so a restoration of this car would not be reasonable unless you love the challenge and care less about the money. Without the original engine/trans it would make even less sense not to upgrade the power train with modern V6 or V8. Figure to add disc brakes to the front as the original drum brakes required planning ahead so to speak.

    With a production run of about 18,000 cars over 3 years, they are not hard to find or very expensive. This one might fit the phrase, ‘But the Best one you can afford’

  14. Cameron Bater UK

    What many people don’t realise is that although it was designed and all the tooling was made in America, very few that were used on the European front line were made there – rather tyhan ship them accross what (at that time) was a very dangerous ocean to be sailing they sent the tooling over to countries like England and we made them. It is therefore perfectly possible that the british motor companies (BMC/BLMC/Rover Group) kept the tooling thinking that they could make a better car for civilians out of a semi rugged frontline MOD car.

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