Jeep Designers at Work

The urge to build sports cars


Willys 1960The CJ-3B Universal Jeep was a triumph of practicality more than inspiration, on the part of the designers and engineers of Willys-Overland. They had their moments of inspiration over the years, but many of the most innovative Jeep design ideas came from outside sources. And often they were ideas for sports cars.

This photo from the Images in Time collection at the Toledo Public Library, shows draftsmen at work at Willys circa 1960. Elsewhere on CJ3B.info, see another photo and some Willys Engineering Calculations: CJ-3B and CJ-4.

CJ-3B 1953The process of the evolution of the CJ-3A into the CJ-4 and eventually the CJ-3B was a lengthy one. The bold sloping-hood idea seen here was not presented by the engineers until 1953, by which time the high hood CJ-3B was already on the market. If they had come up with it earlier, it might have stood a better chance of going into production. See more photos in New Universal Jeep Designs, 1949-53 on CJ3B.info.

MalibuBy 1960 Kaiser had various ideas for the next generation of the Willys Station Wagon, whose design by Brooks Stevens had been largely unchanged since 1946. It certainly makes sense that Willys would consider a new wagon with CJ-5 front bodywork (30K JPEG) but the one I really like is this late-1959 concept unearthed by Jim Allen, referred to as the "Malibu," with a stylish but obviously Jeep grille (which finally appeared on the 1965 Wagoneer.)

FC150When Willys needed something really different, they often called on Brooks "Kip" Stevens, whose Forward Control trucks were a bold innovation, although one that didn't translate into the sales that Willys had hoped for. Stevens proposed a number of variations on the FC platform, particularly passenger van ideas, but this logical open-cab version of the FC-150 was one of the first, in 1956.

Willys Saci

Saci ragtop The closest thing to a Jeep sports car had been the VJ Jeepster which sold well in North America only in its first year, 1948, and disappeared by 1951. But "Kip" Stevens revisited his Jeepster design in 1960 with new bodywork for the Brazilian market, similar to his reworking of the station wagon and pickup, also for Willys Overland do Brasil. It was dubbed the "Saci."

Why was it called "Saci"? Because it had instant name recognition in Brazil; Saci is a magical one-legged prankster in Brazilian folklore, who wears a red cap and smokes a pipe (see Wikipedia.)

Saci This photo from Quatro Rodas magazine (February 1961) shows the Saci at the Sao Paulo Motor Show in November 1960. Willys of Brazil launched several new vehicles including the "Jeep 101" (their version of the CJ-6, with four doors) and the restyled Jeep Pickup. But what got the most attention at the show was the yellow Saci prototype.

Why did Willys of Brazil eventually decide not to put the Saci on the market? Although it had received great press at the Motor Show, they apparently realized there was a new wind blowing through the world of sports cars, a wind coming not from North America but from Europe (see the "Interlagos" below.) But they did put Stevens' updated Aero Willys sedan into production two years later.

Jeepster Safari

SafariMeanwhile, Stevens did try to interest Willys in North America in his redesigned Jeepster (see a rear view, 70K JPEG.) But Willys had perhaps learned their lesson from the original VJ's poor sales.

One of his ideas, which was aimed more at the traditional Jeep market rather than the sports car market, was this "Safari" concept, which looks like it would have had four-wheel drive.


Willys Interlagos

InterlagosBack in Brazil, Willys learned that Volkswagen of Brazil was planning to start building the Karmann Ghia in the country, and realized a reworked 1948 Jeepster would not compete. Instead, Willys worked fast to adapt the fiberglass-bodied Alpine being built in France on a Renault chassis. The Willys "Interlagos" beat the Karmann Ghia to the market, and made a big splash at the 1961 Auto Show. Note the Willys name on the lid over the rear-mounted engine.

InterlagosThe Interlagos (meaning "between lakes") was named after a neighborhood in São Paulo between two large reservoirs, where the Willys factory and the famous racetrack of the same name were both located.

It was available as a fastback, coupe or convertible, and powered by an 854cc four-cylinder engine. Although only 822 units were made over five years, the Willys Interlagos was very influential in the Brazilian automotive industry, and it accounted for plenty of racing victories by Team Willys.

See more details on the Interlagos on CJ3B.info, including some toys based on it.

Interlagos IIThere was apparently a single prototype of an Interlagos II, which did not go into production. It was a Berlinetta fastback version with extensive redesign of the front and rear bodywork, but I don't know who the designer was.

Interlagos IIA nice touch on the Interlagos II was that instead of simply the Willys name on the hood between the new taillights, it carried the Willys Overland logo.

Willys Capeta

Capeta Capeta Willys do Brasil also tried out a very different, front-engined design called the Capeta ("Devil"), which got a good reception at the 1963 Auto Show.

Capeta It ended up in a museum, as Willys was encountering financial problems and was eventually bought out by Ford do Brasil. Decades later, Ford restored the Capeta and exhibited it at the 2010 Brazil Classics Show, where it was photographed by Jose Oswaldo Costa.

The car was badged as the "Willys Capeta" in script on the rear, and the devil logo appeared on the front and on the steering wheel in the sharp interior (230K JPEG).

Capeta Like the Interlagos II, the Capeta had front-end styling that was a nod to the Brooks Stevens grille design of the Saci, also used on the popular Willys Rural and 1962 Aero 2600 (see Jeeps in Brasil).

The engine (350K JPEG) sat way back under the long hood. The body was again fiberglass, so a version of the Willys Aero's 2600cc engine with a prototype aluminum head and two Weber carbs, producing an estimated 160 hp, was more than ample.

Capeta The designers must have been disappointed that business problems killed the Capeta, after coming very close to going into production.

The "Jeep Kaiser"

In North America, Kaiser Industries dropped the Willys Motors name from its Jeep division in 1963, and the first Jeep not to be branded as a Willys was the new 1963 Wagoneer (100K JPEG). Published reports (Consumer Guide, and Patrick Foster's Jeep) differ on whether the Wagoneer's stylish but practical design idea came from Brooks Stevens or from Willys' in-house design staff headed by Jim Angers; it appears to have been a lengthy process with contributions from both. The innovative mechanical design which made the Wagoneer the first modern SUV was by Ken Jordan and the Willys engineering staff (see Willys Engineering Calculations on CJ3B.info.)

KaiserHenry Kaiser had given up the Kaiser-Darrin 161 Roadster to concentrate on building Jeeps after buying Willys a decade earlier. Did he suggest to the Jeep division that maybe now was the time to try getting back into the sports car game? This sketch is reminiscent of the Darrin, but according to Patrick Foster in Hemmings Classic Car (January 2011), it was Jim Angers who revived the idea of doing a sports car and had his staff create this design.

This elegant concept has the Kaiser name on the front grille, suggesting Henry Kaiser may indeed have had some interest in the idea. But the "Jeep" logo is on the convertible top and on the hubcaps, which are the same as those on the mid-sixties Wagoneer (150K JPEG) and Tuxedo Park CJ's (50K JPEG). Was this just a matter of blowing off steam after the very positive reception of the Wagoneer, or does it actually indicate there was some serious thought of moving Jeep in this direction?

Cooler heads prevailed, and when the designers got the chance to actually build a sports car prototype a few years later, it was a 4x4 more suited to the Jeep name:

Jeep XJ001

XJ001This 1970 four-wheel-drive concept (with front locking hubs) carried the model number XJ001, a decade before the new Cherokee was designated as the "XJ." The prototype's fiberglass body was painted a light yellow.

Two slightly different designs were molded into the two sides of the body, which according to Jeep historian Ron Szymanski was mounted on a CJ-5 frame with the Dauntless V6 engine (although Patrick Foster's Standard Catalog of Jeep 1940-2003 describes it as V8-powered.)

XJ001The rear view shows the molded-in rollbar and reinforced windshield frame which were supposed to provide some rollover protection. See also the interior (70K JPEG).

The concept car was displayed at car shows (see it at a Jeep event, 45K JPEG) until it was destroyed in a trucking accident. A news story (100K JPEG) in the Toledo Blade put the value of XJ001 at $150,000 and said it was a total loss.

Jeep XJ002 "Bolide"

XJ002This photo is a promo shot of the XJ002 concept, created not by Jeep engineers but by the Bolide sports car company. The word Bolide means "a large meteor that explodes in the atmosphere," which is maybe appropriate for a flashy concept car that was never produced. It's also an unusual name for a Jeep, but this was an unusual Jeep. Its plastic roof had bulges for head clearance. Built on a Commando V6 chassis, the off-road sports car was shown at the 1970 NYC Auto Show (90K JPEG).

Bolide adThe above photo and text first published on CJ3B.info in 2001 has been copied and posted on a number of other websites, but the only new information has been a posting at allpar.com by 2007 owner Daniel W. Kunz. It revealed some of the corporate history of the car, including how it was lost due to the sale of Kaiser Jeep to AMC, and had since been sold a number of times. Kunz also told CJ3B.info, "The Bolide evolved from a series of cars by the same designer. The original design was to be a racing type street car based on totally different running gear. Kaiser expressed interest in a 'show stopper, showroom draw' and, the designer took his racing car and fed it steroids to fit the Jeep image and frame."

In 2013 I posted this rare Bolide advertisement from the collection of Ron Szymanski, which includes a number of details about the car.

Jeep "Cowboy"

CowboyThe "Cowboy" was this 1971 two-wheel-drive design, which got serious consideration from AMC. James Zalipski comments that, "It appears that the vehicle was assembled using some production parts from AMC vehicles of that era. Everything from the doors forward appears to be AMC Hornet and Gremlin sheet metal and trim, except for the inset (center) part of the grille. The spacing between the door and the rear wheel well would indicate a Hornet chassis. The vehicle is basically a Hornet pickup truck."

The planned Cowboy badge below, and the drawing of the rear frame and box, are courtesy of Ron Szymanski.

Cowboy logoFrank Swygert researched a story on the Cowboy for American Independent Magazine (now American Motors Cars) and provides this information:

"It is indeed built on a Hornet partial body - a 1971 SC/360 two door body to be exact. It has the 360 and a four speed trans. There were reportedly more than one built (3?); this info is for the only survivor. Why an SC/360? The builders wanted a V-8 model, and just pulled the first available V-8 car, which by chance was an SC/360.

"Have you ever seen an MJ Comanche pickup? It uses 'uni-frame' construction -- deep box frame rails in the back that are part of the cab unit body construction. The cab and rails are all one piece. That type construction was first used for the Cowboy prototype, and resurrected for the MJ.

Cowboy logo
"All the original prototypes had the 'Gremlin' style front end. The Cowboy was meant to be Jeep's answer to the influx of mini trucks from Japan. The Gremlin front gave it a utilitarian look.

Survivor "The surviving prototype seen in this 2003 photo was purchased from AMC and had the front clip changed by the owner to a '77 Hornet style. This gives it a classy 'El Camino' style look, but was never considered by AMC. (Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz under CC 4.0.)

"Many people see the survivor and assume that's exactly what it was a prototype of. All factory photos show 'Jeep' emblems on the sides and tailgate.

"The Cowboy never saw production for two reasons: 1) No four wheel drive system. It would take time to develop a 4x4 system and execs felt that a Jeep without 4x4 wouldn't go along with the image or marketing. Jeep was the company's truck brand, so a mini truck didn't fit in the AMC line-up. As mentioned, since it was targeted at mini trucks, an "El Camino" style vehicle wasn't even considered. 2) Hornets were selling just about as fast as AMC could build them. Some Hornet sales would have to be given up to insert another product on the line, and that wasn't going to happen unless it was a sure-fire winner. If 4x4 had been an easy adaptation it might have happened.

"I think it would have sold well even in 2WD only, especially with the 232/258 six compared to the fours in the competition. Just needed a good four speed. A 'deluxe' model with the Hornet clip would have been an added feature. Oh well! If Hornet production wasn't pretty much maxed out at the time it may have made the model line-up."

New Ideas, Old Names

Jeep II The late-1970's trend toward fuel economy and smaller vehicles prompted the 1977 concept with the unimaginative name Jeep II. Stylistically it was very reminiscent of the Willys MB, although smaller. The drive train was to be front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.

Jeep II and CJ-5Unless seen side-by-side with the CJ-5, it's hard to believe that the Jeep II was two feet shorter and nine inches lower. At the time, Renault had not yet purchased American Motors, so AMC couldn't afford the cost of developing an all-new Jeep to the production stage.

Jeepster 2
In the early 1980's, AMC came up with this stubby sports car idea, the Jeepster 2. The 101-inch wheelbase concept was more Jeep-like than the Mustang-influenced XJ001; it had the Jeep grille, a flat folding windshield, and detachable roof. This would actually have been the third iteration of the "Jeepster" name.

1991 Wagoneer 2000 Things had obviously changed by the time the gigantic Wagoneer 2000 was dreamed up for Chrysler in 1991. It had an overall length of 198 inches on a 138-inch wheelbase! Features included six bucket seats, a TV/VCR/CD entertainment console, and pop-out steps and roof rack. But no Jeep grille?

The Jeepster 2
Chrysler tried the sports car idea in 1998 for the Detroit Auto Show. Like AMC's Jeepster 2, Chrysler's 1998 Jeepster didn't go into production, but it did appear in a number of toy versions (150K JPEG) which were licenced by several manufacturers.

Willys 2Although the look and the name of this concept car are reminiscent of the early Universal Jeeps, the wheelbase of DaimlerChrysler's Willys was a much longer 95 inches. The carbon-fiber body on an aluminum frame is powered by a supercharged inline 4-cylinder engine with automatic full-time 4WD. The "Willys 2" seen here, which made the rounds of 2002 auto shows, was a hardtop version of the 2001 Jeep Willys concept.

See also a rear view photo (50K JPEG) taken at the Jeep employees show in Toledo, and a front view photo (50K JPEG) taken by Dan Fedorko, which makes the Jeep heritage evident.

Willys 2Since we have many of Jeep's "sports car" prototypes here, we should include the 2008 electric Jeep Renegade concept. This new Renegade's aluminum body was 153 inches long, on a wheelbase of 101.6 inches. It had an electric motor on each axle, powered for 40 miles by a lithium-ion battery pack. There was also a 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder diesel for extended range.

The Jeep press release went on to say, "The all-new Jeep Renegade concept's lightweight aluminum architecture and regen-braking system help to improve overall efficiency, while dual electric 200 kilowatt (268 horsepower) motors propel a very capable 4x4 system complete with low range and locking differentials.

"The Jeep Renegade concept's 'one-with-nature' personality is emphasized by its large, flaring wheel openings, oversized wheels and tires, and cut-down speedster windshield -- all of which combine to deliver on the Renegade's promise of cross-country fun and agility.

"While the Renegade features a roll bar, it has no top. Instead, the cargo deck just behind the cockpit can be fitted with a variety of 'lids.' Options include a plain lid, or lids configured to accommodate the gear of a particular outdoor day-trip activity, such as mountain biking or kayaking. Or it can come 'as built' -- with formations designed to accommodate two matching water scooters with open storage underneath." (See a rear view photo, 120K JPEG.)

Thanks to Jim Allen and Ron Szymanski for information on some of these pictures. Thanks to Frank Swygert for details on the Cowboy pickup, and Rutger Hopster Design for the background drawing behind the Kaiser sports car. -- Derek Redmond

Also on CJ3B.info, see New Universal Jeep Designs, 1949-52, and a preliminary design for a 4WD car based on the Aero-Willys.

Elsewhere on the web, see Hubert Cossard's drawings of the Jeep f@mily.

Return to Building Jeeps at The Parkway Plant on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 3 May 2022 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond