Willys Overland Knight Registry
John North Willys 1873 - 1935
J.N. Willys (pronounced Willis not Willeez) is most remembered for
the dynamic energy, enthusiasm, personality and salesmanship skills he
showed during his leadership of Willys Overland.
Also not to be forgotten is the strong connection between J.N. Willys
and the Knight Sleeve Valve engine. After J.N. Willys met with Charles
Y. Knight on his way to England and was subsequently convinced of the
technical superiority of the sleeve valve engine, Willys Overland produced
almost half a million Willys Knight vehicles
during the 1914 - 1933 period. Although other manufacturers used
the Knight engine, none were as successful as Willys Overland in
keeping the manufacturing costs low enough on an engine which demanded
high quality and close tolerance machining.
Besides the obvious link between the Willys name and that of the
Willys, Willys Knight vehicles and Willys Overland company that shared
the Willys name, J.N. Willys is also regarded as a savior to the company,
and the thousands of Toledo and other workers, as things seemed to go best
when J.N. Willys was at the helm.
In fact, J.N. Willys saved the company three times;
Firstly, in 1907, when Claude E Cox was running
the company and a severe economic depression meant no money was available
to pay the workers, J.N. Willys raised the 11th hour finances necessary
to keep the company going.
Secondly, in 1918, while J.N. Willys was in England on business, a major
strike lasting 6 months almost crippled the company, even though Willys
Overland had been running second only to Ford for 6 years. J.N. Willys
saw the company through the difficult times when Walter P Chrysler was
brought in on a two year contract to reduce operating costs and by 1923,
J.N. Willys was able to announce profits of over $12 million.
John North Willys with the 100,000th Whippet
Lastly in 1932, J.N. Willys returned from Poland, where he had been
serving as Ambassador, to help the company recover from the terrible depression
that had begun in 1929. After having to cut production of the Knight
engined vehicles so close to his heart, J.N. Willys kept the company going
with the spartan Willys 77, and was heavily involved with the reorganization
plan that was shortly afterwards going to free the company from its bankruptcy
status when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1935.
Although J.N. Willys favored the technically superior sleeve valve
Knight vehicles to which he added his name, it was the simpler poppet valve
Overland Fours, Whippets and later the Jeep
that gave Willys Overland its major production volumes.
Interested readers should also refer to the W.O.K.R.
STARTER INDEX for more articles on J.N. Willys.
A recent example appeared in number 143, Apr - Jun, 1998.