The Overland Co. of Indianapolis had produced almost its entire 1907 production run of 47 cars and was out of cash. John North Whys, super-salesman, arrived in town on a Saturday to look for the cars he had been promised, only to find that the company was to go into receivership the following Monday; the panic of 1907 was at its height and the company was even $350 short for its already-issued payroll cheques.
The story of Willys’ rescue of the Overland concern, then his rebuilding the company into one of the giants of automobile history, has in it elements (such as Willys’ driving cars from the assembly line and selling them as they were built) which scarcely can be credited but are true. Willys himself was a salesman and was a genius at his work. Also, he was smart enough to hire the best engineers to do the designing, interfering himself only on one major point: the only attempt to mass-produce the fabled Knight sleeve-valve engine.
The Museum counts itself fortunate indeed to possess an excellent collection of Overland automobiles, including at least one, which is believed to be unique.
The Overland company, in the years following Willys’ rescue of the corporation and before America’s entry into the Great War, produced so many different models of automobile that, even today, historians are confused as to what was made, when and how many for, at one time, the company was producing no less than eleven different basic models! The Museum’s Overland collection illustrates a bit of this diversity in its three 1916 models alone, for there are on display a Model 75 touring car, a Model 83B touring car and a Model 83B hearse. The 83B hearse, on the same chassis as the touring, is a wonderful example of wood sculpture, with the whole rear part of the vehicle hand-carved to look as much as possible like one of the earlier horse-drawn hearses. This machine was operated until 1950; Rossburn undertaker Harold Alexander owned it, like the Museum’s horse drawn hearse.
The Model 75 is actually a Model 75LH, or left-hand model, for the right-versus-left-drive controversy was not yet settled at the time it was built. The Model 75, at $850 one of the cheapest (and most durable) cars on the market, is the forerunner of the more common Model 90 Overland. Its black lacquer finish, rounded radiator shell, drop and axle were Overland characteristics of the period. The Model 75 is an original, which saw daily service until 1930.
The Museum also displays a 1917 Overland Model 85-6 Touring car, a 1918 Model 90 Touring, a famous member of the Overland family and one which is well-remembered by many old-timers even today. The $795 Model 90 is powered, like all early Overlands, by a four-cylinder engine, in this case a 179-cubic-inch, 18.2-hp of the company’s own make; Auto Lite electrics, Connecticut ignition are from outside suppliers and the cantilever springing is pure Overland, with huge 31×4 tires to complete the picture. These were all very reliable automobiles.
In the middle 1920s the Overland Company decided to bring out a new machine in direct competition with Ford’s aging Model T; this was the Whippet, one of the least powerful, but most remembered, cars of the 1920s. The Museum displays one .of the very first Whippets, a 1926 with Serial Number 161! Also displayed is a 1929 Whys-Knight coupe, which looks much like a Whippet, but is much heavier and bigger. The big difference is under the hood, for this
Willys-Light is powered by a 6-cylinder Knight sleeve-valve engine, which provides a great amount of nearly silent, smooth power and is a wonder to drive. Also to be seen is the Museum’s 1908 Overland Roadster, one of the earliest Overlander existing in Canada and a very rare car indeed. It runs perfectly, too!
Wlllys-Overland survived the Great Depression and made a lasting impression on the world during World War II with their fantastic little 4-wheel-drive utility car known the world around as the Jeep. Whys-Overland today is a part of American Motors and is still producing cars for the world.
Overlands and their successors have been built in Canada since 1914; this is the largest collection of antique Overlands known to exist in Canada at this time.