Willys Creates a New Vehicle
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Willys Creates A New Vehicle

It’s A Long Road From An Idea To Production


Story by WALTER WAGNER -- Blade Staff Writer

    EARLY in 1955 a picked group of Willys Motors, Inc., executives closeted themselves in a mahogany-paneled office in the company’s sprawling administration headquarters on North Cove Blvd.  The high-powered skull session had a single item on the agenda: design a new jeep, a light truck to round out the Willys line of carriers.  Thus was set in motion the intricate process for developing a new model in the famous Jeep family.  Experts in each of the corporation’s departments—styling, engineering, tooling, sales and fiscal—nudged the idea around the long, ash tray-strewn conference table.  When they pushed back their deep green leather chairs and broke up for a late lunch several hours later, plans for the new “Forward Control Jeep FC-150” truck were under way.

            No one at Willys will take individual credit for the new truck, which was introduced in December.  Everyone involved stresses that it was the result of the work of many people.  Following that initial conference, which hammered out the basic concept of the new vehicle, the next step was for the styling department to create and consign to paper that “design concept.”

            The first rough free hand sketches of the new body were brought to top management for step by step approval.  Once the final sketches were OK’d engineers began construction of a full-scale clay model, molded to the exact measurements detailed in the drawings.  The clay model in turn was used to fashion the first rough metal body, shaped over the surface pattern of the model.  The vehicle was now beginning to take form.  Meantime a new chassis was being designed to fit the new body.  Another conference of division heads representing sales, manufacturing, finance and engineering was called for a last check of the mechanical and structural features of the FC-150.  With final body and chassis designs agreed on, individual drawings were made for every single piece and subassembly involved in the vehicle’s construction.  From these, several prototypes were built, reflecting each detail of the design drawings.  This was done to determine whether or not all the parts fitted properly and functioned perfectly.  The prototype vehicles were also subjected to exhaustive endurance tests.

            It was now seven months since the first conference.  High in the Sierra Mountains at Lake Tahoe, Calif., several top echelon executives from the Willys plant were now ready to unveil the FC-150 prototype for the driving, imaginative boss of the company—industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.  Mr. Kaiser scanned the thrusting, bull-breasted new Jeep truck and announced quickly: “Boy, that’s for me.”  With that 4-word OK from the boss, Willys officials hurried back to Toledo.  There were still changes to be made before the vehicle could be released for production.

            For one thing, the flat “V” windshield in the original design was modified to a curved shape for greater visibility.  Other changes included regrouping of the steering wheel in relation to the clutch and brake pedals to allow easier handling; widening of the cab almost two inches for increased comfort, and a completely refashioned instrument panel.  At last “frozen” for production, the new truck became the responsibility of the procurement and manufacturing division of Willys.  Tools and dies were ordered, vendors notified of material requirements and factory employees trained in the highly specialized task of assembling the new vehicle.

            Completed, the FC-150 was the first all-new utility vehicle to come down the Willys line in 12 years.  To the experience-wise men at Willys, producing popular, yeoman-like transportation was, of course, familiar business.  Since 1942, when Willys was awarded its first U.S. army contract to mass-manufacture the rugged little all-purpose carrier, more than 1,435,000 Jeeps had spun off the Toledo assembly lines.  Possibly the most famous automobile manufactured in America, the Jeep rates 17 lines and a diagram in Webster’s dictionary.  The first Jeep ever produced is displayed in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution.  The 368,000 Jeeps turned out during the war became a legend.  One authority credits the vehicle with revolutionizing modern warfare by providing the answer to the problem of supplying a large body of troops and keeping them mobile.  Even the Russians liked the Jeep, Moscow calling for thousands more during the frantic days of Stalingrad.  The tough, iron-hearted little car traveled wherever the war was, and stories of the Jeep were soon legion:  At the crucial battle of El Alamein, the engagement that turned the tide for the Allies in North Africa, the British under Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery were maneuvering for a major attack against German Gen. Erwin Rommel.  Montgomery ordered a detail of Jeep-mounted Tommies to sneak behind the German lines and destroy one of Rommel’s largest gasoline depots.  The mission, carried out successfully, gave the British the extra margin of advantage to defeat the Germans in the battle.  The Jeep rode in every battle of war, from Manchester to Melbourne, Reykjavik to Rangoon, London and Leyte, and became the darling of war correspondents around the world.  Leland Stowe said the Russians called the Jeep “a goat” in respect for its maneuverability.  “The Jeep was made to perfection to conquer the unspeakable, unforgettable roads in Russia’s war zones,” Mr. Stowe reported.  “It is by all odds the most popular American war-aid product that the United States has yet sent to the Soviet Union.”  The Jeep also became the practical limousine of Allied war leaders touring the battle fronts.  Famous passengers included President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, the generals, kings and rulers of virtually every nation that fought with the Allies.  The vehicle served diversely in and near the battle, as an altar for a priest giving men prayer before an engagement; as a mount for a machine gun; as an ambulance; as parachute-dropped transportation for invading American troops. 

At war’s end a record 14,500 Willys employees were turning out Jeeps.  The company and its vehicles had become world famous.  With peacetime reconversion, Willys moved into the manufacture of new model vehicles—utility wagons, cars, delivery and pickup trucks.  The FC-150 truck is the latest in the company’s family of vehicles.  Sydney W. Taylor, engineering vice president, said the new vehicle was designed as a multipurpose car, a workhorse during the week, and a farm passenger vehicle on the weekends.  Commercial success of the new vehicle has been encouraging, according to C. A. Watson, general sales manager.  He said it has received an enthusiastic reception and substantially broadens Willys market potential in the light-truck field.  The Jeep’s appearance all over the globe during the war triggered booming peace-time demand.  The company to the end of 1956 racked up a whopping total of $428,384,000 in export sales.  Today 6,500 employees in the 100-acre Toledo facilities produce 6,500 Jeep vehicles monthly, and Willys has become the third largest exporter of commercial cars in the U.S. automobile industry.