Willys Overland Aero

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Willys Overland Aero (AUS model)

1952 - 1955
6 cyl.
2638 cc
90 bhp @ 4400 rpm
3 spd. MT
Top Speed:
90 mph (claimed)
Number Built:
4 star
Willys Overland Aero
Willys Aero
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


In 1952 Willys re-entered the car market with a new compact car, the Willys Aero. At first available only as a two-door sedan, it was available with either an L-head or F-head six-cylinder engine. Export markets could get the Aero with a four-cylinder engine. A four-door sedan and a two-door hardtop were added for 1953 along with taxi/cab models. The Aero cars were called Lark, Wing, Falcon, Ace or Eagle depending on year, engine and trim level, except for a small production run in its final year (1955) with models called Custom and Bermuda.

The bodies for the Willys Aero were supplied by the Murray Body company, which also made the bodies for the short-lived Hudson Jet. Also in 1952, CJ3B Jeeps went into production. By 1968, over 155,000 were sold. In 1953 Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland and changed the company's name to Willys Motor Company. The same year, production of the Kaiser car was moved from Willow Run, Michigan, to the Willys plant at Toledo, Ohio.

Interesting Mechanically

The previous post-war Willys to appear on the Australian market was the pre-war American, a small, low-priced model intended for the mass market. The new Willys Overland passenger car released in 1952 was in a completely different class, a high-priced powerful luxury vehicle and of interesting specifications.

The Overland Engine

The new engine was almost square with a 3-1/8 in. bore by 3-1/2 In. stroke, and the six cylinders helped to develop 90 b.h.p. at 4,400 r.p.m. The valves were of "F" head design and operated in a high compression ratio head. The exhaust valve was In the block to one side of the combustion chamber and the intake valve is located in the head directly above the piston. The intake valve head diameter was 1-3/4 in., its large size facilitating free breathing.

Cast integrally with the head the intake manifold had a full length water jacketing which was said to maintain the most efficient control of fuel mixture temperature. The exhaust valve areas were fully water-jacketed and the springs were of the self-damping type. The pistons were aluminium with the top compression ring being chromium-plated and the oil rings spring-backed.

The carburettor was a single-throat Carter downdraught of 1-1/4 in. size. The spark- plugs were located In the head on the right hand side and were Champion J.8 14 m.m. The spark advance was vacuum-operated and automatic governor controlled. The cooling system was of conventional type with the normal thermostatic by-pass for quick engine warm-up. The fan was of a symmetrical design to minimise noise. The engine had a three cushioned mounting in special rubber mounts having a basic frequency above that of the engine at idling speeds. The entire power drive was of the cushioned type to promote smoothness and quietness of operation and freedom from vibration often transmitted into the passenger compartment. A vacuum booster was optional in all models. The engine was started by means of the ignition key simply being turned to the extreme right.

Willys Aero

The Willys Overland Transmission and Suspension

The transmission was operated by 8.5 in. diameter single-plate clutch of the dry type, with a sealed grease packed ball release bearing with a torque rating of 147 lb./ft. The rear axle was of the semi-floating hypoid gear type featuring underslung spring seats with a ratio of 4.56 to 1. The suspension in the front was by coil springs of unusual design; the layout being suited to the overall unit-body-chassis structure.

There were two wishbones at each side, and the coil spring was carried between the upper wishbone and the inside of the wheel arc, thus spreading suspension loads into the scuttle and avoiding the need for heavy front cross members. With this system, Willys caimed that anti-roll bars were unnecessary. The rear suspension was by half elliptic and there were direct acting shock absorbers all round. All front suspension joints, including the king pin pivots have threaded bushies.

Behind the Wheel

The brakes on the Willys Overland were of the hydraulic external expanding, two shoe floating anchor, self-centring type operating on all four wheel:. The general layout of the car was handsome and practical. Both front wings were visible through the two-piece curved glass windscreen. Seated in the driving position the bonnet slopes away, giving an excellent view of the immediate road ahead. The rear view is excellent through the 53.5 in. long rear window. In general construction, the body was in the one unit featuring the chassis framing built in as a part of the body structure. Two box-shaped frame members along the sides, running from front to rear, constituted the major framing members.

Inside there was excellent comfort for six passengers, the seat width front and rear being 61 in. The external appearance of the car is very clean and the minimum of chrome ornaments weighing down the front end was a change from then current American practice. The overdrive fitted to the Willys helped to return a good fuel consumption of about 28 m.p.g., and when you considered that at a constant 80 m.p.h. the car would return 18 m.p.g. it proved excellent from the economy angle.

In acceleration 0-50 m.p.h. could be attained through the gears in 11 seconds and a top speed of about 90 m.p.h. was claimed by the manufacturers. Although Jeep production was steady, sales of the Willys and Kaiser cars continued to fall. Willys established an assembly plant in Brazil in 1953, after the government prohibited the import of assembled vehicles as part of an import substitution program. In 1954, the CJ5 debuted at the start of its three-decade run. After the last Willys passenger car was built in 1955, Willys shipped the Aero's tooling to Brazil, where it was built from 1960 to 1962, almost unchanged. Brooks Stevens restyled the Aero for 1963, and it was built by Ford(which bought the Willys factory) until the 1970s. In America, the company changed its name in 1963 to Kaiser-Jeep Corporation; the Willys name disappeared thereafter.
Willys Aero Coupe

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Also see:

Willys Overland Car Brochures
The History of Willys (USA Site)
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