Starting out in life as a bicycle manufacturer in New York in the 1890s, John Willys soon became a distributor for the Overland Automobile Company and proved such an astute salesman that by 1908 he had bought the whole firm.
With a variety of four and six-cylinder engines ranging from 1.3 to 4-litres, the Overland was an inexpensive and reliable car and was soon selling second only to Ford’s Model T. In 1912 Willys decided to take the firm upmarket, renaming it as the Willys-Overland Motor Company. Visiting Europe in 1913, he was impressed by the sleeve-valve engines used by luxury manufacturers like Daimler, Minerva and Panhard and which had been developed by American inventor, Charles Yale Knight.
Knight’s engine was a double-sleeve design, in which concentric sleeves rotated to allow gases in and out, dispensing entirely with the need for poppet valves. Sleeve valves were silent in operation, and actually ran better the more they were driven, since accumulated carbon helped seal the sleeves and prevented oil from migrating to the combustion chamber.
Willys acquired a licence to build the engines in Toledo, Ohio and the first Willys-Knight went on sale in 1915, a four-cylinder car selling for $1,145. A six was offered in 1916 and a V8 a year later, the firm soon churning out some 80,000 cars annually. In 1920 Willys entered the UK market, merging with Crossley Motors in Stockport to assemble a range of sturdily built cars that sold well across the Empire.
Launched in 1927 the Model 70, as here, had a lusty 3-litre straight-six producing 53bhp and driving through a 3-speed gearbox. With lightweight fabric bodywork and four-wheel brakes, it had excellent performance, cost considerably less than its Daimler rivals and sold 55,000 units in its first year.
First registered in Devon in June 1928, this wonderful Crossley-built 70A Saloon was treated to a total body-off restoration in the 1990s with an album of photographs to document the extent of the work carried out. The attention to detail was meticulous - just look at the instruments and the nickel finish on the brightwork.
Since the restoration was completed it has only been lightly used and remains in lovely condition throughout with a particularly nice and original leather interior with refurbished woodwork and a new West of England cloth headlining.
An old buff logbook from 1933 shows that it spent much of its early life in the Bristol area, the vendor acquiring the car in 2011 and continuing to maintain it diligently, including rebuilding the Autovac system, overhauling the original Tillotson carburettor and renewing much of the ignition system, all parts being readily and cheaply available from America.
Said to start, run and drive well, it certainly performed nicely on the occasion of our visit to take these photos, attracting lots of smiles and waves as we chugged pleasantly through the spring sunshine, the vendor stating that the only known faults are that the driver’s door lock doesn’t work properly and neither does the fuel gauge (a problem easily solved with a handy wooden dipstick).
Supplied with the aforementioned restoration photos and buff logbook, it also has a current V5C, sundry invoices and insurance valuation certificates, two old MOTs from 2007 and 2011, an original owner’s handbook, original bonnet mascot and rear luggage rack, a spare wheel plus the original jack and wheel-changing kit.
A most charming and spacious saloon with good performance for its era, it must surely be one of the finest examples remaining.
Amendment: The carpets are not new, just to note