1/24 1941 Willys Americar

By Craig Meador

Introduction

Beginning in the 1920s, Willys Overland Motors Co. produced a line of low end cars, trucks and light commercial vehicles marketed primarily to rural customers. Rather than comfort and dependability, Willys products were instead targeted toward the budget minded. Willys introduced the Americar, as both a Sedan and Coupe in 1941; The Coupe had a wheelbase only slightly longer than a VW Beetle, and sold for around $630 (about $100 less than a comparable Ford or Chevrolet). Although vying for production line space with the much more lucrative Jeep, Willys still managed to turn out 22,000 Americars in ’41 and a further 7,000 in ’42, before World War II put an end to civilian car production. In the years following the war, Americars with dead engines or some other catastrophic failure (pretty much all of them), where repair costs exceeded the value of the car, became popular with drag racers. This was due to a short wheel base, light construction, and no doubt that in most cases a Willys hulk could be had for the asking. Today, it is almost unheard of to find a stock Americar.

I was recently looking at a model of the classic Willys Gasser Dragster. I wondered what the car would have looked like before it was chopped up, shod with circus tires, and had a nuclear aircraft carrier engine installed. A couple of weeks of research, along with an illustrated Willys Americar repair manual, and I was ready to find out. Some sheet styrene, a dab of putty, and as Jeremy Clarkson would say: “How hard could it be?”

BODY

The heart of this project is the “Big John Mazmanian Willys Gasser” by Revell. The one piece body accurately captures the shape of the Americar Coupe. The first item of business is to seal up the gaping holes in the hood and the rear fenders. While the hood was simple enough, the rear fenders are a little more complex. I traced an outline of the existing opening on graph paper, then used the front fender wheel openings to trace the smaller openings. This resulted in a pattern for the plug. The styrene stock had to be broad enough to account for the fact that the rear fenders are not slab sided, but curve in several directions. All that remained was to replace the missing sheet metal in the engine compartment and add a few details to the firewall.

INTERIOR

As with everything else Americar, spartan was the name of the game. I used the floor pan from the Willys kit. The driver’s seat came from the second donor kit, the AMT 1940 Ford. I removed the pleated inserts from the Willys door panels and replaced them with flat styrene. Window cranks and door handles were found in the spares bin, as were the steering column and steering wheel.

As well as the domestic market, Willys cars were sold in Australia and throughout South America. Thus, the instrument cluster was in the center of the dash to accommodate both left and right hand driving. I used the Willys kit dashboard, deepening it with 1/8th sheet. I sealed the speedometer hole and grafted a suitable instrument cluster (spares bin) to the center of the dash. I then added the choke knob, vent controls, key slot, and various other details using stretched sprue. The big knob on top of the dash is the windshield wiper control.

ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION

The same “Hurricane” 4 cylinder L Head, 63 raw ground-pounding horsepower, 134.2 cubic inch engine that powered the Americar was used in the WWII Jeep (the Jeep engine was detuned to 61hp.). The engine and transmission came from the third donor kit, the MPC Hogan’s Hero’s Jeep. I scratchbuilt the water pump, added shifter linkages and clutch arm. Add plumbing and wiring to taste, and job done.

PAINT SHOP

A humble car should be a humble color. As well as red, blue, green, and black, Americars were available in the humblest of colors; beige. Model Master Custom Enamel “Sand Beige” fits the bill perfectly. The drivers seat and door panel inserts were shot in Tamiya Grey Primer. The engine block was painted Model Master RAF Interior Green followed by a thin coat of Future Floor Wax, followed by a wash of Tamiya Smoke.

CHASSIS

I used the basic ladder chassis from the Ford, removing the molded on floorboard. The Ford frame fit perfectly from the very back of the car to the firewall. Beyond the firewall, much chopping, reshaping, and tweaking was needed. The rear axle was a standard leaf spring arrangement and came from spares, while the front end was the ’40 Ford front drop axle modified for movable steering. Tires and rims were courtesy of the Ford, as were the hubcaps.

FUN STUFF

Early on in this project, a fellow modeler suggested that I build the Willys as it would have appeared during the war years. Great idea! The first thing a wartime automobile needs is a gas ration card in the windshield. The “A” card was good for about three gallons of gas per week. My “A” card was made up of scraps from the decal dungeon. Another common sight was dilapidated tires. Back in the ‘40s, tires were almost entirely natural rubber and wore out quickly. To accomplish the “Maypop” look, I chucked the tires into a Dremel tool. At the slowest speed, I gently roughed up the tires with 400 grit sandpaper.

Finally, I needed license plates. Prewar, the state of Washington would issue new license plates annually until ’42. A cruise through the Internet netted not only a Jpeg image of a ’42 Washington plate, but an “F” plate too (Whatcom County, my birthplace, in case you were wondering). I used a computer drafting program to properly size the image, then printed it on overhead projector transparency. I carefully cut the plate out and glued it to the holder. As a final touch, the bumpers and hubcaps were painted with Alclad II Chrome, then gently rubbed to let the black undercoat show through for a tarnished look; not quite rust, but certainly heading that way.

CONCLUSION

How hard was it? Not bad at all. This was a project that definitely took the path least traveled. Now we can all say that we know what a ’41 Willys Americar would have looked like, before it was chopped up, shod with circus tires, and had a nuclear aircraft carrier engine installed.


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