Stillborn: The 1947 Willys 6-70

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.

 

12 thoughts on “Stillborn: The 1947 Willys 6-70

  1. Fascinating. I wonder how the swing axle was mounted on the leaf spring. It would have to be some kind of swivel — that, or the spring perches turned in two planes.

    • A u-joint at the wheel end of the half shaft would allow the leaf spring to work ‘normally’. Straight up and down.

  2. Saw one of these 6-70s when i was 10yrs old in 1947. Must’ve been a one off prototype. Toledo is my home town, and I would occasionally trespass on W/O factory property. I remember the car was a dark blue color.

    • I woulda paid big $ to trespass at Willys back in the day ..great picture that you provided !!

  3. Tough to say if Canaday was right or wrong on this model but his philosophy of sticking with the utilitarian looking models has served Jeep well in the long run. Cool feature highlighting the ingenuity of smaller manufacturers and the influence of industrial designers like Brooks Stevens.

  4. This is a wonderful bit of trivia regarding U.S. auto manufacture. I never saw , nor was I previously aware of the W-O 6-70 or 6-71 prototype designs. I was , however , very much aware of the Willys Aero Ace. I was a sophomore in high school when in 1952 this early “compact car” was introduced. Our small Iowa town W-O dealer had one on the show floor which I much admired. It seemed well built and sensible to a budding motor head. A number of these Willys Aeros were sold in that town of about 5,000. I wonder what the total production numbers were and whether they were offered in both 4 and 6 cylinder versions like the later Jeepster. I will check Coachbuilt.com and see what I can find. Thanks as always to Mac’s MOTOR CITY GARAGE for great stuff.

  5. Willys Aeros were mostly sold as 6 cylinder Flatheads (L head) 161 cid, but they had a variant F head which was half way between a flathead and an OHV -and had 90 hp to the L 75 hp. Any 134 F heads would have been mostly for foreign markets as it was very marginal for highway use over 40-45 mph without overdrive. When Kaiser Frazer bought Willys in 1953, they used the F head 161 in the 54 Kaiser Darrin fibreglass sportcar while they had been using the Willys L head 134 4 cyl and 161 6 cylinder in the 51-54 Henry J/52-53 Allstate. The Willys Aeros got for 54 and 55 the use of Kaiser’s version of the Continental flathead 226 (and also the Hydramatic, although some early 54? 161 were sold -very few- with a Hydramatic which was odd because the Henry J 161 was never available with a Hydramatic. After 55, Kaiser Willys got out of the car business in North America but sold off the tooling of the Willys to Willys do Brasil and the Aero was sold, updated for about another 15 years under various names. Kaiser cars continued in Argentina as the Kaiser Carabela until 1962 based on the 1954 Kaiser Manhattan design, but minus the Supercharger, or overdrive, or automatic options. I’ve had a 49 Kaiser, a 53 Kaiser Manhattan with Hydramatic and a 53 Willys Aero Eagle 2 door hardtop with F head 161 and overdrive. There is a Willys Aero Survival group…Search the Facebook group and Ricky Kamen’s venerable Old Toby which is a 54 that has gone about 400 thousand miles

  6. Thanks Jim Bartley for your very informative Comment of this afternoon. I found nothing at all on Coachbuilt.com on Willys Overland and this rather obscure but remarkable car. Years ago we had a Kaiser Henry J with a flathead 6 cylinder and three speed column shift transmission. It was I think a 1951 but the dealer owner before us had cut in the tail lights on the rear fender which was a 1952 upgrade. I will search Facebook Willys Aero references you have listed. An amazing bit of automotive history.

  7. Great story. I always wanted to know more about this prototype. My dad worked at Willys and would tell me about the 6-66. Reportedly it was destroyed in a crash with a train which killed the engineer’s wife.

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