About That 1926 Willys

4, November 2016
Photo of child holding bookThe Tale of Willy Willys is available in the Museum Shop.

The day began like so many others for Mr. and Mrs. Willys. They were out on a drive through the rolling countryside when they came across a man standing in the middle of the road, motioning for them to stop. When they did, the man told them he needed to detain them for just a few minutes while a tow truck backed into the lot ahead. It was preparing to move an old vehicle buried beneath the brush in the field.

So begins The Tale of Willy Willys, written by Ben Hilliker. This children’s book recounts the journey of a 1926 Willys Overland from its close encounter with the scrap heap in the mid-1980s to the beautiful antique show car now featured in our Route 66: Main Street Through St. Louis exhibition.

Photo of Ben Hilliker driving 1926 Willys OverlandAuthor Ben Hilliker driving Willy Willys around the Museum's north entrance loop just prior to its installation in our Route 66 exhibition.

But how did the Willys make it from that far-off field to the Missouri History Museum? Intrigued that the rusting blue car shared their family name, Mr. and Mrs. Willys had the tow truck take it to their house. They had the fancy touring car fixed up and kept it running for some years, entertaining their grandchildren with rides in it. When they could no longer keep the vehicle, they sold it to a man who then gave it to a charity for auction. The couple who won the Willys kept it for a year before selling it to a dealer. In 2000, Hilliker found the car and bought it. He named it Willy and brought it to St. Louis, where it resides with a few other cars in a nice warehouse. After the Willys completes its engagement at the Museum in July 2017, it'll be back out on the roads in St. Louis and beyond, with proud owner and author Hilliker at the wheel.

—Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity

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