Flush with success with the World War II Jeep, Willys-Overland attempted to re-enter the passenger car market in 1947 with the model 6-70. It never happened, alas, but it’s a fascinating story.
Nearly wiped out by the Great Depression, Willys-Overland Motors was granted a second life with the legendary Jeep of World War II, which the Toledo automaker leveraged into a popular postwar consumer product. Station wagon, pickup, and even a jaunty Jeepster sports phaeton were eventually spun off the original Jeep platform and styling.
On the strength of the civilian Jeep models, and in answer to demands from the dealer network for a real passenger car to fill out the lineup, W-O developed the Willys 6-70, a new small sedan that was at one point set for production in mid-1947. The 6-70 never quite got off the ground, of course, but it was an interesting car that’s worth a closer look.
Based on an earlier prototype known as the 6-66, the 6-70 chassis (above) used the same 104-inch wheelbase as the prewar Willys Americar of 1941-1942. (Read the Mac’s Motor City Garage feature here.) A six-cylinder, 148 CID version of the trusty Jeep four-banger provided 70 horsepower, a top speed of 78 mph, and fuel economy in the 31 mpg range, as reported in a teaser article in the December 1946 issue of Popular Science magazine, which also included this illustration. Weight was a trim 2,500 lbs.
The novel independent front suspension was the Willys Planadyne system designed by W-O’s chief of engineering, Delmar G. “Barney” Roos, which employed a single transverse leaf spring. Similar to Studebaker’s Planar setup, also engineered by Roos during his tenure there, Planadyne was first used on the 1946 Willys station wagon.
But for our money, the most intriguing part of the 6-70 chassis is the rear suspension. It’s also independent, via a pair of swing axles. Wheel travel is provided by parallel leaf springs, while a set of rubber bushings isolate the third member from the chassis. Had the 6-70 been produced, the IRS setup would have been quite a coup: In the late ’40s, no American automaker offered independent suspension on all four wheels.
From an extensive set of renderings and photos in his archives, among other things, we know that Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens was heavily involved in the body styling of the 6-70. (His best-known works for Willys-Overland include the 1946 station wagon and the Jeepster.) Stevens provided a number of proposed front end treatments for the 6-70 with both horizontal and vertical grille themes, along with a full range of body styles including a sporty four-place convertible.
Alas, the 6-70 was cancelled before production began. Willys-Overland CEO Ward Canaday, always wary and cautious, decided to stick with the Jeep-based models for the time being. They were cheap to develop and produce, easy to sell, and presented minimal risk to the small, marginal carmaker.
But meanwhile, it seems the passenger car project was given one more shot. The Willys-Overland photo below depicts a presentation that included, from left, W-O director Edward Love, designer Art Kibiger, Chief Engineer Barney Roos, and venture capitalist Laurance Rockefeller (son of John Rockefeller Jr.). Note the license plate number on the studio model: WC 6-71. But this final effort never went anywhere, either, and the company would not challenge the passenger car market again until 1952 with the Willys Aero.