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Post War Willys-Overland Body Manufacturing
For this discussion it is important to understand the automobile industry "Model Year". The Model Year is what you see on a vehicle's title. It actually has very little to do with the calendar year. The Willys-Overland model year starting point varied but was usually somewhere between August and November of the prior year. For example, in October of 1948 the Willys-Overland model year changed to 1949.(4) Every vehicle manufactured after this set date was a 1949 model, even though it was actually made in late 1948. This practice is still in effect today by auto makers.

Willys-Overland Motors, like many other automobile manufacturers, utilized outside suppliers for the manufacture of vehicle bodies. Several companies in the Detroit area specialized in doing sheet metal work for the auto industry. Huge presses were necessary to form the sheet metal into auto body panels. After the panels were formed they were placed in jigs for proper alignment and welded together to make a complete body.

Universal Civilian Jeep (CJ-2A)
As World War II was coming to a close Willys was making plans for post war sales of the Jeep. In August, 1944 a contract was signed with American Central Manufacturing (ACM) for the manufacture of 25,000 civilian Jeep bodies through 1948. (1) Production was to start as soon as "the War Production Board releases the necessary material allocations". (2) American Central Manufacturing, located in Connersville, Indiana, had already been producing military jeep bodies throughout the war for MB and GPW models. ACM also made metal bodies for other automakers as well as kitchen cabinets and appliances. Cabinets, refrigerators and Jeeps had much in common, as they were all square and didn't require complex curves and angles. Civilian Jeep body production must have started in the spring of 1945 since the first CJ-2A was produced on 6/16/45. (2) When ACM manufactured a body they stamped a serial number in the driver's side toeboard gusset and on the tailgate. The body was then painted and shipped by rail to Willys-Overland in Toledo, Ohio. Willys installed a Body serial number tag on each body, possibly for parts inventory or accounting reasons. The ACM serial numbers numbers are about 10,000 lower than the Willys Body serial numbers. Also installed on each Jeep was a vehicle serial number plate, or patent plate. As sales of Jeeps increased Willys made plans to build their own bodies in Toledo, instead of using outside suppliers. In July, 1946 construction began on a $5 million stamping shop to house 53 presses for body manufacturing. (2)

Willys-Overland press room photo from Toledo Lucas County Public Library, Images in Time collection

Station Wagons

At about the same time construction was started on the stamping shop
Willys-Overland began to produce the first all-steel station wagon. On July 20, 1946 it was reported that "Hayes Manufacturing Corporation has begun shipments of station wagon bodies for Willys-Overland of Toledo...". (5) This places the station wagon introduction at mid-year 1946.

Pickup Trucks

1947 saw the introduction of the Willys pickup truck. In November 1946 Hayes was due to start producing two additional bodies. (5) These were probably the 1947 model year Delivery and Pickup Trucks. Mid-year 1947 the truck body building was moved into the new Willys-Overland stamping shop. (2) As construction of the shop continued, other body types were brought in-house.

Wagon Body Supplier Change
Early in June, 1948 Willys-Overland Motors contracted with Briggs Manufacturing Co. for the manufacture of bodies for its station wagons and station sedans formerly made by Hayes Manufacturing. "Delivery of bodies from Briggs is scheduled to begin August 1 and Willys production of the two vehicles will be suspended in the latter part of June and the month of July." (2)  This change of supplier gives us an idea how much time was required to pack up the dies and tooling, move it, and then set it up in a different location - about 5-6 weeks.

Universal Civilian Jeep body building comes in-house

Examination of surviving CJ-2As reveals an unusual occurrence. In mid 1948 the stamping of ACM body numbers on the drivers toeboard gusset was discontinued. This happened at about vehicle number 185,800, somewhere around ACM body number 175,000. Even more unusual is the fact that ACM tailgate number stamping continued on for about 10,000 additional units. Willys original contract with ACM for CJ-2A bodies was due to expire in 1948. (1) Since the end of Jeep body production for ACM was near, perhaps these details did not matter any more. At the beginning of October 1948 the 1949 model year starts with CJ-2A 219589. (4)  The final CJ-2A bodies were probably shipped to Toledo in September or October and then the tooling and dies followed behind. The last CJ-2A produced was vehicle serial number 224764 (7) leaving a total of 5175 CJ-2As produced since the beginning of the 1949 model year. Using the weekly average production of 1350 (3 year average) the last CJ-2A would have been made in the final days of October, 1948. On October 29th Willys-Overland announced "that it will start building all its Universal jeep bodies in its plant here (Toledo) about mid-December." (3)

CJ-3A body building "in-house" (9)
Then on November 7, 1948 it was announced by William E. Paris that "Tools, dies, jigs, and fixtures for the Jeep body-building operation have been transferred to Toledo from the American Central Division, Avco Manufacturing Corp., where the (Universal) Jeep bodies were previously built..." (8) So now the Universal Jeep dies were in Toledo and there was more than enough time to finish the last CJ-2A, what's next? The new Universal Jeep model CJ-3A. Beginning in November the tooling for the CJ-3A was probably installed in the stamping shop. After some new product training it was announced on December 23, 1948 "Jeeps with Toledo-made bodies are now rolling off the assembly line at Willys-Overland Motors, according to James D. Mooney, president." (2) A total of 308 CJ-3As were manufactured in 1948 (7) (as 1949 model year vehicles).

Surveys of existing CJ-3As indicate that Willys continued to install Body serial number tags in addition to the vehicle serial number plate (patent plate) on the firewall. At approximately body number 20,000, in the spring of 1949, the Body serial number tag was eliminated. Now that Willys was building their own bodies the Body tag was probably redundant.

On November 1, 1949 the model year changed to 1950. (4) At that point, the pickup truck and CJ bodies were being made in the new Willys stamping shop.

Wagon bodies come in-house
At the end of November, 1949 the
"Tools, dies, jigs and other equipment for the station wagon body building operation are now being transferred from the Briggs manufacturing Co. Detroit to Toledo...". (2) Finally Willys was to build the bodies of it's entire product line in-house. On January 4, 1950 normal operations resumed after installing tools and dies for station wagon body building. (3)

In September of 1950 Willys started production of M-38s for the Army. Even though the body is very much like a CJ-3A, "For the military, the company had to route Jeeps through additional assembly operations. And it set up portable metal stamping machines between the stationary presses, to add other GI twists to the standard model." (12)

Outsourcing again

Willys-Overland's new conventionally styled automobile was in production at the end of October 1951. (11) This automobile was the 1952 Aero Willys with a body made by The Murray Corporation of America.
On August 1, 1952 the 1953 model year began. (10) Body building operations remained unchanged.

Move the dies
After Kaiser-Frazer purchased Willys-Overland in early 1953 they began to integrate all manufacturing operations of the two companies. Willys body building facilities and dies were moved from The Murray Corporation of America to Willys Motors at Toledo. These dies were used for the conventional car, the Willys Aero. (6)

Thanks to Harold West for help with CJ-2A serial numbers and Bill Norris for the CJ-3A body photo.

1. The Book of the 150th year of Connersville, Indiana 1963
2. Wall Street Journal
3. New York Times
4. Willys-Overland Sales Bulletin
5. Traverse City Record-Eagle
6. 1953 Kaiser Motors Corporation Annual Report
7. Master Parts List
8. Oakland Tribune
9. 1949 Willys-Overland Motors Annual Report
10. The CJ-3B Page
11. Chicago Daily Tribune
12. Business Week

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