It’s enough to give you the Willys

Ever heard of the Aero Willys?

In 1948, Willys, the maker of the Jeep, were wanting to expand and thought they saw a gap in the US market for a compact economy car.

Willys’ chairman Ward Canaday championed the idea of the car.

And it just so happened that a proposal from an independent engineering consultant, Clyde Paton, was on his desk.

When first released the Aero Willys (not the Willys Aero) came as a two-door only and sat on a 108 inch/2743mm wheelbase.

That makes it about the same size as the 1960 Ford Falcon.

Willys engineers chose unit construction, which was then relatively new for American cars.

For a supposed economy car, the Aero was saddled with a complicated model range and engine offering.

Bottom of the range was the spartan Lark, with an L-head six-cylinder engine.

The mid-range Wing and upper end Ace boasted an F-head six.

The hardtop Eagle coupe also had the F-head. 

Eagles and Aces had a three-piece wraparound rear window, while Larks and Wings had a smaller one-piece rear window. 

Willys made two strategic errors which severely reduced sales. 

First, no four-door model.

That certainly crimped its appeal.

Four doors did not arrive until 1953. 

Second, it spent scarce development money on the small volume two-door hardtop when those resources ought to have gone on a four-door.

Third, the cheapest and poverty pack Lark was priced within a few dollars of a mid-range range Chevrolet two-door. 

Other models were more expensive.


Because Willys costs were so high and their volume so low compared the other US car makers that a high price was the only way a business case for the car could justify it being made.

Mechanix Illustrated automotive writer Tom McCahill summed it up perfectly. 

He wrote that Willys ought to be given the “greaseball Oscar for the year for introducing the most overpriced car in America.” 

It’s hard to overcome that sort of reputation and potential buyers agreed. 

Why purchase an Aero when you could do a deal on a bigger Chevy? 

Only 31,300 were sold in 1952.

Kaiser Industries bought Willys in 1953.

By 1955 Aero sales were a pitiful 5100 and it disappeared from US market. 

It was resurrected in Brazil and built from 1960 to 1972, by Willys, American Motors and, lastly, Ford.

In 1963 it was restyled by Brooks Stevens. 

David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au


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