By on May 11, 2020

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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16 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1948 Willys-Overland Station Wagon – the First SUV?...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It may be the first 4X4 SUV, but the Chevy Suburban has it beat by about 15 years

    • 0 avatar

      You can call it a wagon, but Suburban wasn’t an SUV until it received 4WD in 1957.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Technically, you could be right. NAPCO was doing 4×4 conversions (that could be ordered through dealers) for Chevy and GMC as far back as 1942, and Marmon-Herrington was doing the same for Ford and Mercury station wagons going back to at least 1940. But yes, Willys-Overland was the first to offer factory-built 4WD wagons.

      • 0 avatar
        snakebit

        I think 4×4 doesn’t automatically signify an SUV, so for my purposes, the Suburban is in the area of the first, truck-based, SUV’s, and while it’s not competing for earliest, a vehicle like the IH Travelall is in the same class. The key is truck-based, otherwise we’d be including cars like the Audi Allroad. And I understand that my SUV definition is not always going to be Corey’s.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Great looking vehicle.

  • avatar
    bobbysirhan

    When I think early SUV, I think of the 1940 Dodge VC Radio and Command cars. Before we went all-in on WWII, they were putting Dodge phaeton car bodies on 1/2 ton 4×4 chassis to create a go-everywhere car. Once the war started, they replaced the car bodies with something purely utilitarian, but those 1940s were way ahead of their time.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/Dodge_T-202_VC-1%2C_VC-2_Command_Reconnaissance_%28USM-BT-15%29_from_SNL_G-657.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Wow, I was not aware of this, pretty stout looking vehicle

    • 0 avatar
      bobbysirhan

      That was really sloppy writing on my part. Obviously, WWII had already started. Once the US effort went from lend-lease to full scale participation, command car bodies were simplified as production ramped up. Later versions had bodies with no complex curves while early ones had sheetmetal in common with passenger cars.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Nice find!

    There were two of these running around the rural town and area where I grew up in the ’60s. Neither had the woodie applique. They looked pretty fair, and compared to the tin can IH Scout didn’t obviously rust when you looked at them sideways. I preferred the faded green one to the faded brown one. It looked somehow more relaxed and refined. One other soul wandered around in a Volvo PV445 Duett wagon, where the 544 was turned into a minor truck with super stout rear leaf suspension replacing the coils – no sign of 4WD on that one, of course. Understand the Swedish army bought most of them, but by 1964, we had a Volvo assembly plant here in Nova Scotia, which lasted decades until Ford bought Volvo and canned it immediately back in what? 1998 was it?

    Yes, this Jeep is cool.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I always liked these. Some of them were so convincingly painted that I would have sworn they were woodies.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    At the first shop I worked at just about anything that came in was worked on, from retired school buses to Ferrari’s.
    One of these Jeep wagons came in and got the engine overhauled. As a young kid, in my late teens, I was interested in the motor which had half the valves in the cylinder head and the rest in the block. The guy doing the overhaul was familiar with that type of engine. He removed the head, pan, rods and pistons. Called a machinist who brought a truck load of tools, bored the cylinders for new pistons and ground the valve seats in the block. The block stayed bolted to the trans.
    That was around 1970 and most all engines at that time had overhead valves.
    Times change.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    1921 Livingood Model-T
    https://www.fourwheeler.com/project-vehicles/129-0510-1921-ford-model-t-4×4/

  • avatar
    -Nate

    This truck is beautiful .

    I worked for Milne Bros. Jeep in 197…..?7? and we were still able to get everything used on these old work horses, even the machined brass bushings used in the front A-Frames .

    The new cartridge typ oil filters were still being made by the same old company and still had “Willys overland” printed on the actual filter .

    In the 1960’s in New Hampshire we had the battered remains of a 1940 Dodge with this same typ of body .

    I wonder if it’s still there rusting away off the edge of an abandoned hay field .

    -Nate

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