1958-60 Super Mule, a Stubborn Concept
Having invented the platform vehicle in WWII, Willys was quite enamored of the platform concept and carried it through to a highly developed state. Willys had both a civilian and a military version with modular body panels that could be added or removed. They had fully independent SLA suspension of an advanced design and a 72hp mid-mounted, air-cooled flat four that Willys had developed. A diesel version of that engine was also developed. Shown here is the military M443E1 version, which has outboard drum brakes and seats that folded down to form a cargo platform. The military already had the compact M274 Mule and didn’t bite on this Super version, despite generally favorable performance. Marketing studies showed little civvy interest as well as DOT obstacles, so the platform vehicle idea finally died at Willys Motors for good in the early ’60s.
1957 Commuter, the ’50s 4x4 Minivan
Legendary designer Brooks Stevens created this six-door, 11-passenger, four-wheel-drive people mover design using the cowl of the newly developed Forward Control truck. Several variations of this were constructed, the first using a CJ-6 chassis and this one using a Willys station wagon frame. Rootes of England also developed a body that was considered. By ’50s standards, the Commuter was compact, with only a 1041⁄2-inch wheelbase. It would have been powered by either an F-head four or the 226ci six. A later version was modified to use the same doors on the rear pair of doors as on the front. By the late ’50s, this idea had been dropped, but you can see that the European influence was strong in Kaiser Willys at this time. The development work didn’t go to waste. Some of it was incorporated into the military FCs of the early ’60s, which included crew cab FCs and several van bodies.
1943 WAC Jeeplet
From the initial concept to the final production model, the American Army fixated on ever-lighter military jeeps. One of the lightweight concepts to bear fruit was the WAC (Willys Air Cooled). Also called the Jeeplet, it was quite a techy vehicle for its day, featuring a mid-mounted, 49ci air-cooled Harley-Davidson V-twin engine that made 24 hp, and a fulltime 4x4 system with front and rear independent suspension. It weighed only 986 pounds. The seating was known by testers as one of the most uncomfortable they had ever experienced—and that’s saying something in the military. This concept morphed into the Jungle Burden Carrier and later into the production M-274 mechanical mule used by the Army in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 J-100 Malibu, Almost the Wagoneer
In the late ’50s, Jeep was designing a replacement for the aging station wagon. The project became known as the J-100. By 1959 they had two fiberglass-bodied prototypes, Malibu and Berkeley. They were similar but with different rooflines. There’s no reason why this style couldn’t have worked, but in 20/20 hindsight it looks more like a Rambler station wagon than something Jeep might do. It seems doubtful the Wagoneer would have reached its current legendary status if it looked like the Malibu prototype, but observant Jeep types will note the grille design coming back in later years. The Malibu was favored over the Berkeley due to more interior room, and sat on either a 110- or 112-inch wheelbase (several proposals were considered). A pickup version was drawn up, but it’s unclear if a prototype was ever built. Ditto for a panel delivery model. Curb weights were listed as 3,600 pounds with fiberglass bodies, and the driving prototypes were powered by Super Hurricane 226ci sixes.
1965 Model H, the XJ Role Model
In 1965, Renault and Jeep teamed up to build a light 4x4 vehicle they called the Model H. It was loosely based on the dimensions of the then-new Renault 16 and is reported to have the same 1.4L engine and gearbox but with four-wheel drive added. It had a unitized body, but the top was removable. A station wagon, panel delivery, and light pickup were envisioned. It seems doubtful this could have worked in the USA at the time, but in Europe … maybe. In concept, this was very much like what the Cherokee XJ became when it debuted for 1984. Ironically, the XJ also had Renault input on many levels, with that company owing 49 percent of the company at the time.
1966 FWD Concept Jeepvair
In 1966, a presentation was made for a vehicle akin to the Model H concept shown above. The body in the concept drawing looked similar, but it was the underpinnings that are the most interesting. It was front-wheel drive but with four-wheel drive added to drive the rear wheels. What was interesting is that this rig would have used Chevrolet Corvair running gear, including a second Corvair diff in back, complete with limited slip. The 95-horse Corvair flat six and trans would have been mounted up front, but facing the rear. The item marked “3” was a special transfer case that would supply high and low, send power to the rear on demand, and connect the engine and trans.