Home » How To Arrive In Style: 1949 Willys Jeepster vs 1962 Dodge Dart

How To Arrive In Style: 1949 Willys Jeepster vs 1962 Dodge Dart

Sbsd 4 7 2023
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Good morning, Autopians, and happy Friday! We made it, not only to the end of the week, but to the end of our voyage down Route 66 as well. (Hey, Bobby Troup mashed Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernardino together all at the end; so can I.) We’re going a little fancier and more expensive today, just to make sure we end this series on a high note. But first, let’s finish up with yesterday’s 2WD SUVs:

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Huh. I’ll be damned.  I expected that to go the other way. Could it be the Aztek’s time is coming around? Or is the idea of a 2WD Cherokee just that absurd? Either way, looks like we’re going car-camping.

And that brings us to the final installment of our first-anniversary trip down Route 66. Today’s route takes us out of Arizona into California, through the Mojave Desert, and on into Los Angeles. It only seems fitting that the last two cars on our journey be American classics, and both old enough to have traveled the Mother Road itself. And either one would make a statement upon arrival in LA. Let’s take a look.

1949 Willys-Overland Jeepster – $11,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 134 cubic inch F-head inline 4, three-speed manual with overdrive, RWD

Location: Kingman, AZ

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Of course!

After World War II, Willys-Overland started producing Jeeps for civilian use. Wagons, panel vans, and pickup trucks quickly followed, but Willys wanted more. Enter the Jeepster, a low-slung variation on the same theme, with a more car-like interior, aimed at urban customers who weren’t exactly the Jeep demographic.

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The Jeepster originally came with the same “Go-Devil” flathead inline four that served so many Jeeps so faithfully. This later model features a more advanced “Hurricane” four, with an “F-head” design; the intake valves are in the head above the pistons, but the exhaust valves are down in the block, flathead-style. Sending this little engine’s 75 horsepower to the rear wheels is a three-speed manual with overdrive.

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The seller says it runs and drives well, and still operates off its original six-volt electrical system. We don’t get many details about it in the ad, but plenty of photos of the undercarriage show its condition, and it looks like an honest old car in good shape. A clean frame and a smattering of new parts make it look like you could drive this thing just about anywhere.

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It isn’t cheap, but for a bona-fide classic in this kind of shape, it doesn’t seem too expensive either, when you look at what some sellers are asking for things these days. It won’t be fast, but it’s a cool convertible with a good honest face and a storied bloodline.

1962 Dodge Dart – $6,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 318 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Riverside, CA

Odometer reading: 95,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Sure does!

When somebody says “Dodge Dart,” chances are you think of the slab-sided A-body sister model to the Plymouth Valiant, with a Slant Six under the hood and vinyl on the roof. This is not that car. The ’62 Dart rode on Chrysler’s larger B platform, and featured, shall we say, unique styling.

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The ’62 Dart is one of those cars that has a front end with another, smaller front end inside it, a styling curiosity that I know Torch has written about before, but I can’t find the link right now [Editor’s Note: Google harder, man! It’s right here! – JT]. You would call it over-styled, except that compared to the ornate creations of Virgil Exner that graced Dodge showrooms only a couple years prior, this car is almost boring. Almost.

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And you won’t find a Slant Six under this hood. This is a 318, but not the 318 you’re thinking of; this is the earlier A-series “poly” V8, so named for its polyspherical combustion chambers. This was originally a Plymouth design, back when Chrysler’s divisions produced their own engines, but Dodge started using it in 1960 as well. Here, it’s topped with a four-barrel carb and backed by a pushbutton Torqueflite automatic.

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The seller says this Dart runs and drives very well, and has newer tires. Its overall condition is perfectly presentable, but the front seat upholstery could stand to be redone, and the seller says there is a little rust creeping in along the bottom of the fenders. Neither of those are anything that would prevent you from cruising around in this stylish machine, however.

Well, thanks for coming along with me on this little voyage down Route 66. On Monday we’ll be back to business as usual, with a couple more cheap old beaters to look at. See you then! Have a great weekend.

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
5 months ago

Ah, the push-button automatic. The ’61 Lancer I learned to drive in had one. It felt s-o-o-o-o modern. Space-Aged, even.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
5 months ago

And I’m a little surprised Torch hasn’t done a post on this car’s taillights.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

I think the Jeepster detractors are ignoring the point of this car. It was an everyman roadster designed for people who liked the Jeep aesthetic, but didn’t want/need a pickup or station wagon and had no desire to get the bronco rider merit badge necessary to wrangle the CJ2s and 3s that were largely farm implements at the time.

Go look at at any cheap roadster from 1949 and you will find tiny, buzzy motors, leaky tops, side curtains and uncomfortable seats. Bucket seats weren’t called that as a styling motif, it was because you felt like you were sitting in a bucket.

It was not designed for off-road adventures nor carrying people through snowy, northern tier winters. Because it was a Jeep, it suffered from association with classic Jeep attributes that it did not possess and Willys’ failure to manage those expectations was likely the biggest factor in its downfall.

Technical advances and postwar prosperity raised car buyer expectations in the 50s and the Jeepster did not keep pace. That, and its – let’s say distinctive – appearance drove it from the marketplace. However, it was a perfectly serviceable and reliable little car, just not an excellent one.

When the Jeepster brand returned in the 60s with the Commando, it was more Jeep and less car and was positioned to compete with the Ford Bronco and International’s Scout, not sports cars. No doubt, a better marketing call.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I remember Danny Thomas as the celebrity shill for the Jeepster. If I remember correctly, his tagline was, “Holy Toledo! What a car!”

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

He was the commercial spokesperson for the revived Jeepster Commando in 1967. Both he and the Jeepster were from Toledo.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
5 months ago

Like the original Valiant that was a cut above the minned-out Falcon and too-much-an-embiggened-VW-for-its’-own-good Corvair, the slimmed-down ’62 Mopars packed a lot of good engineering under their styling Exneruberance. That being said, of the first year I prefer the Plymouth whose face is just this side of normal.

OTOH this Dodge is the perfect color and trim for one in that bluish-white with dog dish hubcaps and skinny whitewalls.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
5 months ago

An egg yellow Jeepster?!?

GIMMEGIMMEGIMME!!!

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
5 months ago

Jeepsters are cool, and I’d pay double to not drive one of those ugly ass Dodges.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
5 months ago

I’m goin’ fer baroque.

That Dodge is fearless. Fearless I tell ya!

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
5 months ago

Dart. With that 318 it should move okay.

That giant grille in the dash is supposed to be there. Except painted or dyed dash color.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
5 months ago

That vent grille on the Dart’s dash is like a broken touchscreen with only one view! With a dashboard design as bold as the exterior, it’s the Dart for the conversation starter!

The Wilys will sell, but I never did understand the Jeep minimalist lifestyle. Bonus points for a well-presented ad, though.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
5 months ago

I would love the Jeepster, just not at that price. The Dart, looks to be more fun at cars & coffee events

Marc Wermund
Marc Wermund
5 months ago

What’s the deal with the giant HVAC intake grill on the dash of the dart?

Tom Halter
Tom Halter
5 months ago
Reply to  Marc Wermund

HVAC? That is a radio speaker grille, my friend. This was back when radios were large, heaters were small, and air conditioning was virtually non-existent.

No dashboard vents – even if you were one of the lucky few to order AC, it was a hang-on “knee banger” unit.

Last edited 5 months ago by Tom Halter
World24
World24
5 months ago

Man, that price for the Jeep, compared to how clean that fugly Dart, really doesn’t do much for it at all.
I went with the Dart, if only because it looks extremely clean and it has the 318.
Would rather have a different Dart, but beggars can’t be choosers in a game with only 2 choices.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
5 months ago

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Willys, but that Dart is easily the better value at 54% of the Willys’ ask. You could get a lot of the same raw driving experience from a later CJ or YJ (I know, I know, not the same apples to apples) and still have more power than what’s provided by that poor little F-head (75 hp and 114 ft lb, gross). A pastel colored V8 cruiser sounds like a lot more fun to me. With that funky design, you’ll have no problem drawing people at the local Cars and Coffee, if that’s your thing.

Rob Kern
Rob Kern
5 months ago

My first car was a ’73 Dart Swinger with the 318 engine. I learned to work on cars on that thing and wish I still had it today. I’m in the Dodge Dart camp all day.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Rob Kern

My first was a 1974 Plymouth Valiant with the Slant 6. There arent many Chrysler you will see me vvoting for. Poor quality build matching poor quality design.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
5 months ago

I don’t understand why none of Jeep’s recent owners have thought to build a new Jeepster as something like an off-road sports car. There was a concept in the late 90s or early 00s, but that was it.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
5 months ago

I remember those Jeepsters as being rare, but rather cheap a while back. I liked them better then. Dodge all the way today – it would make a great daily as is, and at around half the price I’d be able to keep up on gas, tires, and spare parts for a long time.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
5 months ago

Y’know how some things are so ugly they’re cool? The Dodge is that ugly.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
5 months ago

I’ve never seen this year of Dodge Dart before, but woof, it sure is ugly. I’m kind of surprised that the Edsel is held up as the all-time iconic ugly car while the Dart is never mentioned.

Mike S
Mike S
5 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

I’m in the minority but I never thought Edsels were particularly ugly, thought they were sorta neat.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
5 months ago

For half the price, the Dodge wins.

CatMan
CatMan
5 months ago

Styling wins the day, Dart for me

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
5 months ago

I don’t think you can go wrong with either of them. I voted for the Jeepster, but that Dart is super cool in its own right.

A. Barth
A. Barth
5 months ago

This is an easy one – Dart, please.

I do like Mopars, but that’s not the only reason. It’s a complete car for what I think is quite a good price. I like the exterior styling and the dash/gauge area is fantastic. Something needs to be done with that light grey vent-looking thing in the middle of the dash but that’s NBD.

The Jeepster is interesting and it’s a great color, but if I want a slow convertible it will be an air-cooled VW. 🙂

Sgtyukon
Sgtyukon
5 months ago

My folks acquired a Jeepster as a late-model used car back in the fifties. Ours was red, with a black interior and a black top. I hated it and worse, they never once put the top down! It was slow, the seats weren’t comfortable, the heater couldn’t keep the interior warm in the winter where I live. It had side curtains instead of windows, and the side curtains became opaque over time as it sat in the sun. No American car of that age handled well, so I am not holding uninspired handling against it. Did I say they never once put the top down? I don’t think they even asked the seller how.

The only person I knew who liked Jeepsters was my sister who was about five-years old when we owned it. She once slammed her finger in the passenger door, yet even though the car actually bit her, she called it “Jeepy Girl.”

Ugh! I’ll take the Dodge, thanks.

Last edited 5 months ago by Sgtyukon
Factoryhack
Factoryhack
5 months ago

That Dart, though. Gotta love that peak mid-century Mopar space age weirdness.

Plus, you could drive it in modern traffic, not so much with the Jeepster.

MegaVan
MegaVan
5 months ago

Something seems off about the Jeep. Wheel size or offset or lack of white walls.

Maybe the missing side windows?

I could go either way today but the Jeepster just doesn’t seem to have the information to back the price.

Geoff Dankert
Geoff Dankert
5 months ago

A great way to wrap up the week, Tucker! That Jeepster’s super cool, but the Dart’s MCM aesthetic speaks to me more. We’ll take the Dodge.

Drew
Drew
5 months ago

It’s a lot more money, but how often are you gonna find a Jeepster? I really want that one. A lot better than settling for an Aztec, that’s for sure.

Stu Riegel
Stu Riegel
5 months ago
Reply to  Drew

The Jeepster’s in the best color, too. But the Dart will drive a hell of a lot better. And you get the Jet Age dashboard.

Last edited 5 months ago by Stu Riegel
Drew
Drew
5 months ago
Reply to  Stu Riegel

Yeah. This is certainly one of the times where we’re choosing the better one from two good options, which is nice.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Drew

I once submitted 2 project jeepsters to here both $3500 both from the same dealer.

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