Mike Escott spotted the gleaming, purple 1941 Willys coupe in the back of a used car lot — facing a wall.
It haunted him — like the bloom of youth, the first kiss, the golden glow of your glory days. So he called the dealer.
The price for the small, beautifully maintained 75-year-old coup?
A cool $32,000.
Elated, the Star Valley lover of old cars and bright memories called his wife.
“Congratulations,” he said. “We own a 1941 Willy.”
That’s true love for you — not the vintage car, the woman who smiles and says “That’s nice.”
Of course, it helped that Escott could insure the car for $67,000 once he got it home. Mike knows his old cars.
And so did most of the 300 other proud owners and members of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club who lined up their vintage machines all around the green sward of Green Valley Park during Saturday’s Beeline Cruise-in. The Cruise-in has accumulated a few glory days memories of its own in the past 28 years — despite last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic.
But hey, Escott’s Willy got through World War II, the Cold War, the wild 1960s, crashes and booms and moon landings and terrorist attacks — the crazy history of the past 70 years. What’s a pandemic more or less?
The Willys brand was manufactured by Willys-Overland Motors, which operated from 1908 to 1963. John North Willys — an automotive pioneer and diplomat — launched the company in 1908 — the year Ford’s Model T aimed to transform America into a country on wheels.
By 1918, Willys was the second largest automaker in the country. The company continued to innovate and expand, but staggered through the Depression. Skirting bankruptcy, the company kept making deals and coming up with new designs — somehow riding out the storm. In 1937, the company redesigned its four-cylinder coupe, with a wickedly streamlined body, slanted windshield, fender-embedded headlights and a one-piece, rounded hood transversely hinged at the rear.
The company also built aircraft assemblies for bombers and jeeps during the war. By the end of the war, the company ranked 48th among U.S. Defense contractors and had produced 653,000 jeeps. The company ultimately merged into Kaiser Jeep which itself merged with other brands — so only car buffs today realize that the iconic jeep had its roots in Willys-Overland.
But for Escott, the 1941 Willys Coupe was love at first sight, produced by the Americar brand — one of the rare civilian cars still produced during wartime. Back in 1941, the sticker price came to about $630. The muscular lines of the coupe made it popular as a hot rod — often with a souped-up engine. It sold just 22,000 units in 1941 and 7,000 more in 1942. Only a handful remain on the road.
Every one of the 300 car owners who strutted their stuff on a perfect fall day in Green Valley Park had some similar story of love and obsession, lucky chances and tolerant spouses.
A warm October breeze blew through the park, as people wandered past the gleaming treasures, their owners often sitting nearby on deck chairs like proud parents at the christening. Nearby, anglers plied the waters of Green Valley Park lake, toddlers gleefully chased soccer balls and a savory line of food vendors plied their wares.
Distinctive in a wide brimmed hat, bright yellow T-shirt, cool-as-ice shades and a bristling mustache falling somewhere between mutton chops and a Fu Manchu, Escott reveled in the day, the paint job and the chance to brag on his baby.
He lingered to the end, then climbed into the 1941 Willys coupe with the metallic purple paint job and drove off, the four-cylinder engine muttering hot rod memories.
To quote Bruce Springsteen:
“Well they’ll pass you by.
“Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye.
“Glory days, glory days.”
Yeah. Well. Maybe so.
But that don’t mean you can’t still turn a few heads with the hood popped up, down at Green Valley Park.