Rare Rides: The 1948 Willys-Overland Station Wagon - the First SUV?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1948 willys overland station wagon the first suv

Rare Rides has featured a classic Jeep previously, with the Kaiser-Jeep-produced Jeepster Commando. While that model was eventually succeeded by the Jeep Cherokee, today’s Rare Ride was predecessor to the Wagoneer.

Let’s learn about a seven-seat SUV from 1948: the Willys Overland Station Wagon.

The Station Wagon was a new type of car for Willys, which found itself operating in a different consumer landscape after the conclusion of World War II. At the time, companies that built car bodies had their hands full with incredible pent up demand. Unfortunately, Willys did not manufacture its own car bodies — and it was relatively low on cash, as well.

Industrial designer Brooks Stevens took all those factors into account when he designed the all-new Jeep family wagon. And he proposed an innovative construction method, too. Using his prior knowledge in the design and production of household appliances, Stevens drew up a wagon body made entirely of steel. The panels were easy to produce by sheet metal companies, and could be built at much lower cost and complexity than typical car bodies.

The all-steel wagon body was a new idea; prior station wagon bodies consisted primarily of wood. Wood bodies were heavier, more complicated to produce, not as sturdy, and required more maintenance than steel. A nod to the tastes of consumers, many Station Wagons were painted to look vaguely as though the body had wood panels.

Other notable advancements included an independent front suspension, a first for Willys. Lead engineer at Willys, Barney Roos, created a transverse leaf spring suspension setup called Planadyne. It was similar in concept to the design Roos created when he worked at Studebaker a decade prior.

At introduction, the only engine available in the Station Wagon was the 2.2-liter inline-four. Nicknamed Go Devil, it produced 105 torques and 60 horsepower. More powerful, larger engines arrived in 1950, 1952, and 1962.

The new Station Wagon entered production in 1946. A subsequent panel van version quickly followed, and the line was expanded by the more luxurious Station Sedan in 1948. Optional four-wheel drive was added to the line in 1949. It was a first for a family-hauling wagon, and a move which many argue created the first-ever SUV.

The Station Wagon remained in production though 1964 in the US, 1970 in Argentina, and 1977 in Brazil. In the U.S. it served its purpose of putting Kaiser Jeep on the map as a provider of off-road family vehicles. Pleased with the initial work, Jeep hired Brooks Stevens to create the Station Wagon’s successor. Introduced for model year 1963, it would become an icon: Wagoneer.

Today’s Rare Ride is for sale in Ohio. It’s been meticulously maintained over the years, and appears to have most of its original trim and interior intact. Notable is the presence of a novel third-row seat — an option not often selected in the Forties. Ask is $37,950.

[Images: seller]

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5 of 16 comments
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.
  • Inside Looking Out Scandinavian design costs only $600? I mean the furniture.
  • Akear Lets be honest, Lucid will not be around in five years. It does not matter that it is probably the world's best EV sedan. Lucid's manufacturing and marketing is a complete mess. The truth is most EV companies are going under within the decade.