- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2000

Thornton Race didn't want his teen-age son, Rick, to be in danger as he motored to high school in Abington, Pa. so he provided a sturdy secondhand 1948 Willys station wagon.
The steel-bodied vehicle had the nose of a military Jeep and was powered by a 134-cubic-inch L-head, four-cylinder engine that produced 63 horsepower. It was a strong, slow car ideal for a teen-age driver in a suburb on the north side of Philadelphia.
Rick Race, now of Great Falls, Va., recalls that as a young driver he was happy to have any kind of transportation. "It was like driving a refrigerator," he recollects.
Often he would take his date, Suzanne, in his Jeep to high school to watch the Abington Galloping Ghosts in athletic contests. Mr. Race had a license plate on the front bumper attesting to his allegiance to those Galloping Ghosts.
Life moves on and the wheels were eventually run off the old Jeep. Mr. Race made Suzanne his Mrs. and life was good.
In 1996 it got better.
That was when Mr. Race saw a maroon 1948 Willys station wagon in McLean with the steel sides painted to simulate mahogany and birch paneling. It was in great shape so he inquired if it were for sale.
The owner replied in the affirmative but said he had agreed to sell it at an auction.
As Mr. Race inspected the car more closely his memory was flooded with long-forgotten incidents involving the similar car of his youth.
From the nine-bar grille in front to the "Willys Overland" indentation in the rear bumper and everything in between, Mr. Race was pleased with what he saw. He happily overlooked the fact that the brakes were bad, the 6.70x15-inch tires were shot and the paint was marred by scratches.
He decided right then, "It was coming home."
He did, however, note that the vehicle had three extra-cost options including:
Exterior mirror.
Wheel trim rings.
Three-door heater.
Armed with information about the auction Mr. Race went home to share the good news with his wife.
On the November day of the auction in 1996, Mr. Race was there early to again give the Willys a once-over. He noted the odometer had counted 38,000 miles since 1948. He also noted two prospective bidders discussing bidding strategy and how high they thought they should go for the vehicle that cost $1,645 when new.
Mr. Race entered the conversation and ended it simultaneously by announcing he was prepared to bid five times more than they were.
He was determined to become the third owner of the remarkable Willys. After the bidding dust had settled a victorious Mr. Race had the station wagon trucked home.
Once it was safe and snug in his garage Mr. Race settled into the driver's seat and inhaled. "It smells the same as my first one," Mr. Race exclaims.
All of the instrumentation is located in a panel in the center of the dashboard, just below where the two pieces of the windshield meet. In the center is the 80 mph speedometer. Clustered around that gauge are the fuel, oil, temperature and ampere gauges. Along the lower edge of the dashboard is, from the left: choke, ignition, map light and a steel plug where an optional cigarette lighter would have gone.
Directly in front of the driver is another steel blank occupying the gap that otherwise would be filled with an optional radio.
Both doors are equipped with an armrest, window crank and push-button door release. The Jeep station wagon was in good company because the luxurious 1948 Lincoln Continental also had a similar door-release button.
The steering wheel is dressed up with a full horn ring even though the vehicle when new was considered more of a truck than a car. "It's really a 53-year-old SUV," Mr. Race said.
The four-wheel-drive feature that made military Jeeps famous was not available on the station wagon. That's probably just as well because most modern four-wheel-drive SUVs could easily do with rear-wheel drive like the Willys.
The 63-horsepower engine is assisted on the highway by the overdrive unit to keep engine speed down while keeping road speed up.
Mr. Race had a new clutch installed. With the engine rebuilt, he reports that it performs like it did in 1948.
Because the vehicle sets so high, storage room is available for use beneath the front seat. Access is through a drawer in the step-down area when the door is open.
When the tailgate is lowered the single taillight, mounted on a swiveling bracket, swings down so it continues to be aimed to the rear. When open, a pair of steel rods on each end support the tailgate. When the tailgate is closed those steel rods rattle constantly when the station wagon is in motion.
Mr. Race once considered adding turn signals but because the Jeep has only one taillight, he said he'll leave it alone. "It's happy this way," he assures us.
Nine longitudinal oak slats protect the steel floor from cargo being slid in and out. Attached to the right side of the cargo bay is the spare tire, which Mr. Race is proud to say, is the original tire that came with the Willys.
To keep costs down and make the interior as spacious as possible, the side windows slide open. The rear-seat passengers are treated to padded armrests, one at each end.
Mr. Race kept that Abington Galloping Ghost plate from his first Jeep. Although it was terribly beat up, he had it restored and now displays it on the front of the station wagon to the delight of his wife. "I was a Galloping Ghost [also]," she volunteers.
Besides being a trip down memory lane, she said, "We use this car."
"We brought our Christmas tree home in it a week ago," Mr. Race affirms.
The odometer is now approaching 43,000 miles and at the current rate of use the end is not in sight.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide