Friday, September 9, 2016

Vehicle as rugged appliance

When I was visiting my sister in Oregon I snapped so many cool old rides that I've been doling them out slowly so as not to have an Oregon Month (not that that's a bad thing but I'll let some proud Oregonian take that on). Today we'll focus on this beasty:

This is a 1960 or newer Willys Station Wagon (officially listed as model 6-226) in what I believe to be the faded factory color Redwood. 
One look tells you everything you need to know about this rig. Your first impressions probably go something like this: "dirty, big, old, sturdy, truck". Exactly!
This beast is actually the first all steel station wagon ever produced with all previous wagons having rear bodies made at least partially, and many times entirely, of wood. Today we would think of this as an SUV but 70 years ago when first introduced it was closer to a car than a truck. This really is the first crossover as well.
Pinpointing the date on utilitarian rigs like this can be tough to do. Sometimes a change will be made mid-year with no real announcement. Other times a change might be made for one market but not the other. Things I'm going by when declaring this as a 1960-1965 model ('65 was the end of production) are the 3 horizontal grill bars (down from 5 in 1954), single windshield (from a split unit in '59) and the large back window which definitely wasn't around in the '50s yet seemed to remain optional for a bit while 2 smaller rear windows remained available.
I can tell you that this is not a Deluxe model as there would've been a fat chrome stripe following that horizontal belt line that bisects the door. *I want to point out that shelf located just behind the front fender which is replicated on the other side. These are for spare gas cans. The owner of this rig is ready to head off on epic adventures away from society and it looks like they already have!
This design is a stroke of genius by industrial designer Brooks Stevens. His landmark design achievements are numerous but let's just highlight the fact that he is responsible for the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile!
Everything about this says rugged and capable. It has big wheels but not huge and the tread is pretty well worn from use. The back window is long gone, being somewhat replaced by wire fencing material. I don't know what that grate would protect against besides a bird or racoon invasion (though it looks like something got in on the left side).
The true genius behind this design is the body itself, what it consists of, and who made it. In 1946 when the first Willys Station Wagon was released automobile bodies were in very high demand. WWII halted auto production in the States from 1942-1945 and the pent up demand for vehicles combined with the glorious national mood of victory meant everybody wanted a new ride now. Brooks Stevens with his background in Industrial as opposed to Automotive design came up with a matter-of-fact solution: the body would consist of metal typically used for household appliances that could be fashioned and assembled by sheet metal fabricators. This truck is therefore more of an appliance than a passenger vehicle which is fitting for such a no nonsense ride.
Let's give a shout-out for how beautiful an Oregon summer day can be! It was almost exactly 100 degrees this entire week though which was blowing the minds of the locals.
We can see from this angle that the quaint original taillights have been replaced with small red lights screwed directly into the body. Small mailbox reflectors have been added to the tailgate and rear quarter panels.
Even though this is the first steel bodied station wagon the design of the body mimics that of a wooden bodied car. The dark painted panels in the door illustrate this well; if you were to paint the recessed rectangles brown and the raised portions more of a blond tan color it really would look like wood. Painting the roof a dark color would also approximate the cloth tops of the wood frame wagons. In a more practical sense those ribbed portions add rigidity to the body side which would otherwise be vast sheets of metal prone to warping.
You've gotta love the interior of this simple beast!
A centrally mounted gauge contains only the speedometer, temperature, and fuel level. Below that you have an ashtray (of course!), and knobs for choke, lights, and the wipers. That fan mounted over the right shoulder of the driver tells you all you need to know about climate control.
*Dashboards with central gauge clusters are a stroke of genius for vehicles meant for the worldwide market. All you have to do for this to be registered in New Zealand is move the steering wheel and pedals to the other side as everything else is the same.
Here we have either a charming lie or a thorough owner who is updating their emblems as the vehicle evolves. When first built this truck had a 4 or 6 cylinder in either flathead or overhead cam design. The 327 is a Chevy small block V8 engine introduced in 1962. With the trailer hitch and signs of modern use I'm guessing there is a 327 under the hood.
Well that's where we'll leave this eager mongrel. The Willys station wagons are some of the most widely available "ran when parked" classics out there, usually advertised with caveats like "haven't tried to start it" or more threateningly "please understand that this is a classic project and if you think you'll just buy it and drive across the country don't waste my time!". To see one on the move is extremely rare which is a shame as their basic makeup and legendary capability make it a cool cruiser. The ultimate version of this is the late '40s Willys Jeepster which is a 2 door convertible with the same front end as this ride. Regardless that fact that this thing could be 40 miles off road in the woods somewhere even as I type this makes me smile.

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