Would any war movie or TV show (e.g. Nash) set in the 21st century be complete without at least one Willys Jeep strolling around, possibly being shot at?
By now, most people know that the seemingly evergreen Jeep got its start in World War II, where it served as transportation for soldiers, military officers and their gear. In fact, while virtually all the other car manufacturers had to shut down so that their resources could be used for the Allied war effort, Willys Corporation, the company responsible for the Willys Jeep, was kept in operation 24/7 and built some 360,000 vehicles by the end of the war.
After the war was over, every car manufacturers was eager to get back into making civilian vehicles. After all, there was huge pent-up demand among civilians, who had to wait the duration of the entire war (5 years) to buy a new car. Factor in all the returning GIs and you had many people wanting cars and trucks.
Accordingly, in 1948, Willys launched the Willys Jeepster VJ-2, a civilian vehicle loosely based on the Jeeps used in the war. Priced at just $1,765, the VJ-2 came with many standard features that were a first for the time, including chrome hubcaps, whitewall tires, bumper guards, dual horns, and — get ready for this — a dash-mounted cigarette lighter.
The Jeepster proved modestly successful, but Willys’ competitors were hardly standing on the sidelines picking their noses. Most had abandoned the military look for cars with sleek, modern styling, and soon their models started dominating the market.
In response, Willys quickly updated the Jeepster and released the “greatly improved” 1949 Jeepster with a lower base price of just $1,495 and a more powerful, 6 cylinder model (the VJ3-6) priced at $1,530. While sales picked up for a short while, production ended up totaling only 2,960 units for the year — a stunningly low number!
Forging ahead, the company introduced two versions of the 1950 Jeepster, which featured revamped styling highlighted by a new horizontal grill design. One (the VJ-473) sourced its power from a new four-cylinder engine, while the other (VJ-473) packed a six-cylinder unit.
The optimism was there, but the sales wasn’t. Only 5,845 units of the 1950 Jeepster were produced, of which 4,066 were four-cylinder models and 1,779 were the six cylinder model. The Jeepster was still performing well below expectations.
Despite the 3-year production run (1948 – 1950), it was clear the Jeepster was never going to catch on with the general public and production was brought to an end. In all, just 19,131 units of the rugged SUV were made since its introduction in 1948.
According to the Jeep aficionados at Portland Chrysler Jeep, the Jeeps of today have come a long way since the Jeepster days and are among the most popular vehicles on the market. You probably know someone who owns one…