CLASSIC CAR LITERATURE
The People's Car — The 1941 & 1942 Willys Americar
By Chris Ritter
In 1941 and 1942, purchasing a car was an investment in the future. The winds of war were in the air and buyers had to choose a vehicle that was reliable enough to last an unknown number of years and economical enough to operate through possible rationing and resource conservation. For buyers in the low cost field, Willys was a leading option after a successful end to the 1930s. Joseph Frazer's arrival in late 1939 would lead to the company's introduction of the Willys Americar in 1941, and, according to the sales literature for 1941 and 1942, the Americar was the perfect car at the perfect time.
The 1941 Americar brochure "Willys Americar" presents the Americar as the "answer to nation-wide demand for pride of appearance, pride of performance and pocketbook satisfaction." Measuring 11" X 8-1/2", the 8-page, full-color catalog does indeed present the car as a wonderful vehicle. Illustrations show the interior, dash, and exterior body with descriptions proclaiming the "large, roomy interior", "clear-vision safety windshield" and "immense storage capacity." The chassis is also illustrated and we read that the car's "virile, zestful performance" is a result of the 4-cylinder, 63HP engine, "giving smooth, fast acceleration and quiet top-speed performance." Optional accessories shown included a heater, grille guard, fog lamps, radio and wheel trim rings and discs.
1941 Willys Americar Catalog.
While the formal 1941 brochure made no mention of the Americar's economical friendliness, it was extensively discussed in a 16-page, 8-1/8" X 10-7/8" booklet titled "It's the Truth!" The brochure begins by highlighting the Americar's model offerings — the lower cost Speedway and Deluxe models. Features of the car were shown including all-steel bodies, column shifter, hypoid rear axle and XK girder frame.
1941 Willys Americar brochure..
The heart of the booklet comes in the form of customer testimonials and research & development tests.
Here we learn that the Americar can see up to 35mpg but still has enough power to "getaway to better than 75 miles an hour." Operational cost comparison between the Willys and "other cars" are shown that prove the Americar is cheaper in terms of oil changes, tire wear and general maintenance. With this savings, after six years of ownership "the Willys will have paid for itself." The booklet closes with an examination of interior room and chassis specifications. After reading this booklet, the Americar is the obvious choice for anyone looking to spend their dollars wisely.
There were 30,100 Americars sold in 1941 and Willys did very little restyling for 1942. In fact, the only real changes came in the form of a longer wheelbase (now 104"), a vertical chrome divider on the front grille and an improved engine with improved bearings. The engine also saw a switch to cast-iron pistons as a result of the military's growing need for aluminum.
By 1942, Willys took Volkswagen's term, "The People's Car" and applied it to the Americar, making it their own. In a 16-page brochure titled "The People's Car", value and economy are again emphasized, as was Willys' association with the new military Jeep they were producing for the Army. While early 1942 was too early for Willys to really take advantage of what would become an American icon, they still dedicated a page demonstrating that the same engine that was good enough for the U.S. Army could be found inside the Americar.
1942 "The People's Car" brochure..
The rest of "The People's Car" pages is a mix of what we saw in 1941 — an emphasis on value and economy mixed with comfort, convenience and safety. In these pages will also get a glimpse of the Americar station wagon, pick-up and delivery truck. It's also worth noting that overdrive and a "high-altitude head" was offered on 1942 Plainsman models, increasing compression from the standard 6.5:1 to 6.9:1.
The military Jeep was also emphasized.
1942 production would end in January of that year but, in total, there were 11,910 Americars built in that abbreviated term. While some plans were put in place to resurrect the Americar after World War II, those plans never became a reality and buyers in the low-priced field only had the opportunity to buy the Americar for two brief years.