Answer Man: Willys gave world the Whippet in 1926

News-DemocratJuly 15, 2013 

Q. Was there ever a car a long time ago that you had to whip to start? Someone was trying to tell me that it was called something like the Whip-it. True?

-- V.F., of Fairview Heights

A. Ooh, sounds like a car Devo would have loved. Want to get to work in the morning? Just whip it, the band could have sung in 1980. Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Of course, I'm pulling your leg as usual: It was Willys who gave the world the Whippet in 1926, and what a runaway sensation it briefly became. Not only was it the nation's first "compact" car, but in just a couple of years it became the country's No. 3 seller.

Few people probably remember, but from about 1912 to 1918 Willys reportedly was the second largest car manufacturer in the United States after the Ford Motor Co. Starting in 1908, John Willys began building his own automobile empire by gobbling up such companies as the F.B. Stearns Co. in Cleveland (the Stearns-Knight), Electric Auto-Lite, New Process Gear and the Russell Motor Car Co. of Toronto.

For years, its big seller was the Overland, but in 1926 Willys tried a new tack: In Canada, Australia and the U.S., it replaced the Overland with the Whippet, honoring the sleek dog of racing fame.

It certainly lived up to its name. The trim, new model weighed 200 pounds less than an equivalent four-cylinder Overland. The engine was smaller, too, but delivered the same power (35 horses), which gave the lighter car a quick, lively feel.

As a result, it was reportedly a speedster. At the Indianapolis Speedway, reports show that a six-cylinder model established a new class stock car record by completing a 24-hour endurance run at a blazing average of 52.56 mph.

You didn't need to give it 40 lashes to get it moving, either. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Curtis Redgap at Allpar.com, the Whippet came with a raft of modern amenities: four-wheel brakes, water pump, forced lubrication and a 2.2-liter engine.

Initially unsure of the reception it would have, the company put Overland hubcaps and radiator tags on early Whippets. But once the cars started speeding out of the showroom, all traces of Overland disappeared. Priced between about $500 and $850, the Whippet attracted more than 14 million people to Willys dealerships within three weeks of its introduction, according to one report.

By 1928, it was third on the list of the country's best sellers. Some even go so far as to say the Whippet was a major reason why Edsel Ford urged his father, Henry, to keep updating his product line.

But just as the company was preparing an eight-cylinder model for 1930, the Whippet started to stumble along with the rest of the U.S. economy. In just four years, the company would liquidate Stearns-Knight in 1929, kill the Whippet in 1931 and end the Willys-Knight in 1933.

As the United States entered World War II, the company would bounce back by producing the Willys MB, now known as Jeep the world over. Then exactly 50 years ago this year, the Willys name disappeared forever from the corporate world when the Willys Motor Co. became the Kaiser-Jeep Corp.

Q. I'm trying to continue buying my grandchildren U.S. Savings Bonds, but I'm told they only sell them on the Internet. How do I do this? I'm in my 80s. Help!

-- K.N., of Mascoutah

A. Looks like you may have to enlist your grandkids' help and have them show you how to go to www.treasurydirect.gov on one of their computers or smart phones.

You'll have to set up an account, but once you do you can buy electronic savings bonds as gifts, invest in other securities and even convert existing paper bonds to virtual ones through the SmartExchange feature if you so desire.

I know it's not what those who dread computers want to hear, but, as of Jan. 1, 2012, it is the only way to buy those popular Series EE and I bonds. By ending the sale of paper bonds over the counter, the government estimated it would save $70 million in printing, mailing and other fees during the first five years.

Today's trivia

On Sunday, three golfers were involved in a five-hole, sudden-death playoff at the John Deere Classic in Silvis. What is the record for most holes and most golfers in a PGA playoff?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: They always say talk is cheap -- but probably not when you bring the entire U.S. Senate to a screeching halt for more than a day. That's what South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond did in 1957 when he talked for 24 hours and 18 minutes, which remains the august body's longest filibuster. Armed with cough drops and malted milk balls, he took the floor at 8:54 p.m. Aug. 28 in an attempt to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. While his colleagues broke out cots to sleep on, Thurmond talked about everything from the act itself to his grandmother's biscuit recipe until 9:12 p.m. the following night. Two hours later, a watered-down version of the act passed 62-15.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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