advertisementThe Electric Auto-Lite Company was acquired by John
Willys in 1914 and he changed its name to the Willys Corporation
in 1917. This became the holding company for Willys-Overland and
in 1919, acquired Dusenberg Motors Corporation. In 1936
Willis-Overland Motor Company was reorganized as Willys-Overland
Motors. In the 1920s and 1930s, Willys was an unremarkable
automaker based in Toledo, Ohio, one of dozens in the U.S. It was
one of several bidders when the Department of the Army sought an
automaker who could begin rapid production of a lightweight truck
based on a prototype designed by American Bantam.
Production of the Willys MB
began in 1941 with 8,598 units produced that year, and 359,851
units were produced before production stopped at the conclusion of
World War II. Soldiers called it a "Jeep" based on a phonetic
pronunciation of the abbreviation GP, from "General Purpose", that
was used as part of the official Army nomenclature.
Willys switched production to
a civilian version, called a CJ-2a, at the end of the war. The
CJ-2a was an MB stripped of obviously military features,
particularly the blackout lighting, and with the addition of a
Willys struggled to find a
market for the unusual vehicle, and made an effort to sell it as
an alternative to the farm tractor. Tractors were in short supply
having been out of production during the war. Despite this, sales
of the "agri-Jeep" never took off, mainly because it was too light
to provide adequate draft.
However, the CJ-2a was among
the first vehicles of any kind to be equipped with four wheel
drive from the factory. It gained popularity among farmers,
ranchers, hunters, and others who needed a lightweight vehicle for
use on unimproved roads and trails.
Willys later produced the M38
Jeep for the U.S. Army, and continued the CJ series of civilian
Jeeps. The same basic chassis and driveline was built with a
pickup body, and with a station wagon body.
In 1953 Kaiser Motors
purchased Willys-Overland and changed the name to Willys Motor
Company. The company changed name again in 1963 to Kaiser-Jeep
Corporation. The use of the Willys name was discontinued in 1965.
The company was sold to American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970
when Kaiser Industries decided to leave the automobile business.
After the sale, AMC used engines it had developed for its other
cars in the Jeep products to improve performance and standardize
production and servicing.
Renault purchased a major
stake in AMC in 1980 and took over operation of the company,
producing the CJ series until 1986. Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987
after the CJ had been replaced with the Jeep Wrangler, which had
little in common with the CJ series other than outward appearance.
DaimlerChrysler still produces Jeep vehicles in Toledo.