Holden UK Register
Patrick Hemphill's fully restored Willys saloon.
Willys unrestored Willys restored
The Holden / Willys connection

Prior to the introduction of the first Holden car, the 48/215 in November 1948, Holden's had specialised in fitting coachwork onto car chassis for domestic consumption. As well as making local bodies for GM vehicles in Australia since long before the Second World War, Holden & Frost (renamed in 1919 Holden's Motor Body Builders) began in 1917 by producing bodies for other manufacturers, notably Dodge, Austin, Morris, Bean, Hudson and Willys Overland among many others.

In his book "The History of Holden Since 1917", Norm Darwin tabulates production figures for the Woodville body production plant in Adelaide, showing that, for example between 1927 - 43 some 8692 bodies were fitted to Willys and Willys Knight chassis alone, apart from the thousands of other non-GM and GM cars they assembled locally during that time.

The story of how the Holden car was born is well documented elsewhere; however at the prototype stage it was realised that the then current series of Willys cars could be suitable to consider basing a prototype around it. With an engine of 2.2 litres or 134.2 cu. in. developing about 60 bhp (the engine which later powered the venerable Jeep); a track of 56"; a wheelbase of approximately 100" and a weight of around a ton, capable of seating six persons it was of about the dimensions of the proposed Holden.

It is fairly certain that Willys engines were fitted to prototypes, although the 4 cylinder sidevalve unit morphed into a 6 cylinder ohv motor in the eventual Holden, albeit of similar capacity - 2170cc or approx. 132.4 cu in, also producing 60 bhp. Some histories also claim that a few early protoypes were constructed on Willys chassis; the eventual wheelbase of 103" and a weight of just under a ton of the Holden make this a distinct possibility.

It is interesting to note that while the now venerated 48-215 Holden and its successors will go down in Australian motoring history as seminal examples of passenger car development, the Willys car is now largely forgotten, not having been in production since 1942 in the United States, or 1943 in Australia. Yet the part it played in bringing the name Holden to the masses for several genarations in Australia and overseas cannot be denied.

Patrick Hemphill


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