Apples and Trees – 1950 Willys-Overland Jeepster
Article and photography by Richard Butschi
Jeeps were the small workhorses of World War II and the Willys-Overland Co. thought they would still be desirable as utility vehicles for farmers and other outdoor occupations after the war. Tabbed as a “CJ” (Civilian Jeep), Willys produced a station wagon and panel utility in 1946 and a truck in ‘47, but then realized that they had a gap in their production lineup – no passenger car.
The company lacked the machinery to mold anything with rounded fenders – a must for styling, so they called upon industrial designer Brooks Stevens to come up with some models that used the existing platform and kept the body panels relatively flat. (Some of Steven’s other designs included Studebaker Hawks, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.) In 1948, Willys rolled out pickup and wagon models along with a 2-door sports car that they thought would attract WWII veterans. They called it the “Jeepster” and it included standard features such as whitewalls, hubcaps w/trim rings, sun visors, a “continental” spare tire with cover and cigarette lighter. These were pricey options on most other vehicles. The Jeepster came with a 4-cylinder, 63-hp engine and 3-speed manual transmission with overdrive, but was only offered with rear-wheel drive. Only 10,326 units were sold that year, due in part to sparse advertising and few dealers nationwide. The price tag was $1,765 and one could purchase a Ford Super DeLuxe club convertible with roll-up windows for the same money – a much better deal.
In 1949, Willys lowered the price to $1,495 but cut back on some of the quality features. They did introduce a more powerful 6-cylinder engine, however. In 1950, they added some chrome “bling” and “vee-ed” the iconic flat grill. They sold 5,836 units that year – their final year of production.
Susie Stutterheim’s father loved to tinker with his vehicles, especially his ‘49 Jeepster, which jump-started her keen interest in cars as a young girl in Marion. Later, after the family Jeepster was resigned to a spot on the back lot, Susie asked if she could buy the vehicle, to which her father replied, “No. You’re a girl.” After graduation in 1974, she ventured west to California, working and attending college, seeking a degree in business. She married, spent a year in England, and upon returning to California in ‘86, enrolled in a two-year auto tech program at Riverside City College. At that time, Susie purchased her 1950 Willys Jeepster and used it as a classroom “project car.”
Her Jeepster has the upgraded 6-cylinder engine, the 3-speed OD trans, a new carburetor, and 15-year-old bright red and black paint. There are no power brakes or power steering, so it’s a job to manuever the Jeepster, especially in tight quarters. The convertible top is actually a “phaeton” top (also called a touring top) since it has no roll-up windows, but comes with window inserts and plastic “glass.” It was the last phaeton-roofed vehicle made by a major U.S. Automaker.
Susie handles all the basic maintenance on the Jeepster, doing minor repairs, and even replaced the shock absorbers herself. You won’t see any radical upgrades on this vehicle, as she believes that classics should stay in stock condition.
After divorcing, Susie and two sons, Nick (27) and Jeffrey (26) moved back home to Iowa. The Willys will eventually go to older son, Nick, who has followed the footsteps of his mother and grandfather. After attending the Auto Tech Program at Kirkwood, serving in the Air Force Reserves for six years and working as a mechanic for ten years, Nick opened his own business, Purefection Auto/Big Rig Detailing, working on semis and cars. His early automotive interest was documented in a Dave Rasdal “Ramblin” column in the CR Gazette in March of 2001. Yes, those apples don’t fall far from the trees.