Think of the earliest Willys vehicle you can and I'm willing to bet it’s the indestructible and revered MB Jeep of World War II. While the MB did forever alter the course of the Willys trademark, it was far from the brand first foray into the automobile market. In fact, Willys Overland had been around for 30 years before starting the military Jeep contract. For a time, Willys actually produced one the best-equipped, and best-selling cars on the market, the Whippet.

The Whippet was a favorite among economy buyers and outperformed its competitors with four-wheel disc brakes and an advanced four-cylinder engine. Production of the Whippet started in 1926, but soon ended in 1931, potentially due to small profit margins on the well-equipped car. While its production run was short, the Whippet sold exceedingly well and was the third best selling car in the U.S. by 1928. 

Inspired by the early Willys great, this seller in central-Iowa has built a Whippet Indy car tribute. We couldn’t scrape up any history on an Indy-racing Willys, but that doesn’t mean one didn’t exist; we’re talking about nearly 100 years ago. The look of the car is right for an old Indy racer; the sheet metal has been formed in the classic fashion with a flat nose, long hood, low “windshield” and torpedo tail. The radiator grill has definitely been sourced from a Whippet, evident by its hood emblem and nicely rounded edges. The build is based on a Chevrolet frame built between 1928-32 that has been boxed in critical areas. A leaf spring straight-axle rides out front and a more modern 10-bolt rear axle was used in back. The seller reports that the wire wheels have been custom made, and we definitely approve the classic rubber they’re wrapped in.

Willys fitted four and six-cylinder Knight sleeve-valve engines into Whippets, but the six-cylinder never matched the popularity of the economical four-cylinder. Used under license since 1913, the Knight engine used multiple cylinder sleeves that moved up and down between the piston and cylinder wall. These sleeves had ports in them that matched up at the correct time to allow gasses into and out of the combustion chamber. While a smoky, low revving sleeve-valve engine would have been a cool touch, this Indy racer has been fitted with a ‘60s era Willys 230 Tornado engine. The Tornado was the first U.S. overhead-cam engine in mass production. The engine made a respectable 140 hp and was one of the most efficient engines of its time. The seller has not run the engine in its new body, but claims it’s been turned over regularly to avoid seizing. 

The seller admits there is a lot of work to be done on the Willys, but we think the Whippet racer is a good buy at just over $9,500.