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Behind the Wrangler Willys Wheeler

by David Zatz on

When Jeep launched the Wrangler Willys Wheeler, an Allpar reader suggested that they should have made it based on the Rubicon instead of the entry-level Sport; while there was some suggestion that the new special edition was another “decal package.”

A couple of readers suggested it would have been more helpful to swap the fenders and fender flares with narrower ones, to help the vehicle reduce its width and fit on more trails and between more obstacles. Tannon Weber wrote, “The WWII military model, Willys CJ-2a and other early Jeeps didn’t have the plastic flares at all, just the flat fenders the same width as the body behind.  A model ostensibly paying specific homage to these early models needs to reflect some of the characteristics of those models, and replacing bolt-on parts should be a fairly cost-effective way to do so.”

Former Jeep engineer Bob Sheaves, however, pointed out that the Willys may have been more carefully thought out than it seems:

The Willys was a bare bones machine that could do its job with the hard parts and wasn’t a fancy SUV. That is what is being done here….it isn’t a Rubicon, with all the fancy doodads like sway-bar disconnects. This is an honest attempt to build a more off-road ready Jeep without the cost of a Rubicon.

The Rubicon is a better off-road vehicle, but the Willys is better off-road than a basic Sport.

The original “Willys” name was stamped into the hood, and the special edition has a plain black decal to keep common hoods across the models. The 4WD decal was originally done with a stencil to save money. The new decals match the original intent exactly. [Using stencils or stamping the name into the hood would be far more expensive.]

Give credit where credit is due….they done good on this one.

Mr. Sheaves also pointed out why some alternatives for the Willys edition may not have been pursued (these cost estimates are “off the cuff,” but are based on decades of experience, and do not include the costs of testing):

  • A flat finish Commando Green paint job would add around $15 per vehicle
  • Using stencils instead of decals would cost around $70 per vehicle
  • Using a Commission Bestop “original appearance” canvas top would add over $1,200. Canvas and nylon are also not durable enough, which is why TAACOM went to vinyl composite for the M998.
  • Dana 44 axles in front and rear, would add $800
  • Canvas or cordura upholstery would reduce desirability for most people and add at least $1,200 for 1050 Cordura
  • Plain green steel wheels would save around $300 per vehicle, but only if they were already available on the market to fit the same 17-inch tires; if they needed to be custom made, it would increase costs.
  • Someone still has to go through the exercise of actually designing the parts, certifying the parts (fire retardancy would be hard for nylon or canvas), stocking the parts, and then stocking for the ten-year rule. Unlike aftermarket parts, anything sold as part of the car has to go through full Federal testing and certification, which can cost $130,000 per part.

David Zatz founded Allpar in 1998 (based on a site he had begun in 1993-94), after years of writing reviews for retail trades. He has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. Before making Allpar a full-time career, he was a consultant in organizational psychology. You can reach him by using our contact form (much preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304


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