Monday, November 24, 2014

Willys' Nice-Looking Post-War Sedans

During the early 1950s some American automobile companies introduced models that were smaller than standard-size entry-level cars of the time such as Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths.  In every case, these cars came from the so-called (at the time) Independent manufactures -- not the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler).  The small car was a kind of Holy Grail for some people in the American automobile industry, something with idealistic overtones of supplying cars to people in below-average income brackets.  Big Three firms were thinking about small cars and even built some experimental vehicles.  But they concluded that such cars cost about the same to assemble as standard cars, and savings in materials were too small to justify noticeably lower pricing.  The early crop of post-war American small cars included Kaiser's Henry J, Hudson's Jet and Nash's Rambler -- the latter being the only real sales success.

The other firm that lunched a small car was Willys (pronounced will-iss, where the Willys "y" is sounded like the "i" in the English word "it").  Willys had been making cars since 1908 and was a major firm in the 1920s.  But the company was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s and resorted to making small cars to survive.  During World War 2, Willys was a major builder of Jeeps, and the company continued making civilianized Jeeps after the war.  But management caught the small car disease and introduced the Aero sedan for the 1952 model year.

The Aero was a nice little car with a peppy engine and above-average small-car design, the latter by experienced stylist Phil Wright.  Unfortunately, the Big Three analysts were right: For nearly the same amount of money a buyer could get a standard size Ford, Chevrolet or other low-priced car.  And lower income prospects could find inexpensive, larger used cars with greater appeal.  Aeros were manufactured for four model years in the United States, with production eventually shifted to Brazil for that market.


1952 Willys Aero Wing
The little tail fin added interest and balance to what otherwise was a simple design.  Note the low hood, a fashionable feature introduced that same model year on standard Nash's and the entire Ford Motor Company line.

1952 Willys Aero models, plus a Jeep

1953 Willys Aero Falcon
Styling was essentially unchanged for 1953.

1954 Willys Aero Ace Deluxe
The '54 line introduced "Frenched" headlamp bezels and one-piece windshields and backlights.

1955 Willys sedan line
The ultimate American Aeros got a redesigned grille and a fancy two-color paint scheme typical of the time.

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