Brooks Stevens Portrait of Brooks Stevens, 1950, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive  
Designer of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon

In 1946, just after World War II, the american car manufacturer Willys Overland saw the opportunity to launch a civilian car inspired by the success of the military Willy Jeep in 1941. The Willys Overland company invited engineer Delmar G. Ross, principal designer of the military Jeep, to design the motor and mecanics of this new vehicle, and invited the yound industrial designer Brooks Stevens to take care of the functional and aesthetics aspects. In 1946 the new Willys Overland Station Wagon was launched with design by Brooks Stevens and with a full steel body, something very innovative for the period. Up until then the station wagons all used wood bodies adapted over passenger car platforms. The Wilys Station Wagon was manufactured for 19 years until 1965 with very few modifications. In Brazil thesame station wagon was called the Rural Jeep when local production started by the Willys Overland do Brasil S.A. company in 1958. Latter the name changed to Rural Willys and production in Brazil continued until 1977 with aproximately 182.000 units produced at the Brazilian factory.

  Willys-Overland Station wagon, 1946, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive
  Willys-Overland Station Wagon, 1946, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive

This is the first model of the Wilys Overland Station Wagon in a 1946 picture in front of Brooks Stevens' home that he designed and which still exists today. This 4x2 model served as the basis for all future models of the Willys Overland Station Wagon. The design is by Brooks Stevens who at the time was 35 years old. Observe that the door and the characteristis design of the side panels is very similar, basically identical, to the same parts on the Rural Willys manufactured in Brazil until 1977. The steering wheel is a light color and the wheel hubsare chromed with the Willys "W" logo in the center. The rear fender was round like on the jeep. The steel side panel design and the two tone paint tried to represent the wood bodies used until this period.

Brooks Stevens was born in 1911 in Milwaukee Wisconsin, near the Detroit auto industry. His father, William Stevens was the director of design for a large electrical equipment manufacturer but had a keen interest in automobiles and in 1916 he invented the gear change lever mounted on the steering column. He also invented the hand brake attached to the car panel, which together with the columnmounted gearshift lever allowed cars from that period to accomodate three passengers on the front seat (in the best style of the Willys Station Wagon). He also thought that these controls would facilitate automobile driving by woman.

In his childhood, Brooks Stevens became ill with polio and his father incentivated him to draw while he recovered in bed. While yound, Brook Stevens followed his father in visits to small and large automobile manufacturers, trying to sell his innovative ideas and in this period while driving many experimental cars, the yound Brooks Stevens took an interest in the automotive sector. In 1929 Brooks Stevens went to New York state to study architecture at Cornell University. His professors noticed that his interest in automobiles and told him that if he dedicated as much time to architecture as he did to automobiles, he would become a great architect.

After leaving college in 1933, Brooks Stevens returned to Milwaukee and opened an industrial design office, considered a new profession at the time. In 1944 he was one of the founding members of the Society of Industrial Design. Among his first inventions are the electric steam iron, the aerodynamic design of the Allis-Chalmers agricultural tractors, and the electric clother dryer with a glass window to see the clothes. He also designed the first motorhome (RV) mounted on a unique chassi, a type of mobile office and home, ordered by the Johnson company to study sources of carnauba wax in South America. At thistime he also designed many delivery trucks and special vehicles for promoting brands. Brooks Stevens designed many appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, toys, bicycles and new colorfull kitchen utensiles. He also designed famous brandlogos such as Miller beer, hotel fronts, restaurants, airplane interiors, boats, toys, bicycles, product packaging and an infinity of products during more than 60 years. He was one of the most productive and most creative industrial designers, a real pioneer in the design of famous products that we all know today.

  Harlequin Rural Willys Station Wagon, 1958, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive
  Harlequin Rural Station Wagon, 1958, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive
  This is the Harlequin Rural Station Wagon, 1958. In this picture, Brooks Stevens himself appears in the snow alongside one of his creations, a model with special chrome adornments. The windshield on this 1958 model is a single pane of glass. The Station wagons was manufactured in the United States from 1946 to 1965, being replaced by the Jeep Wagoneee station wagon and the pickup Gladiator and Jeep Cherokee, all designed bt Brooks Stevens.

The work of Brooks Stevens in the automotive sector reached several countries with more than 46 projects between 1940 and 1980 for companies like Kaiser, Alfa Romeo, Studebaker, Packard, American Motors, Volkswagen, Harley Davison and many others.

Aero Willys 1960 lançado no Brasil   In the 1940s, Brooks Stevens was invited by Delmar G. Ross, chief designer on Willys Overland Motors, to be the design consultant for all the Willys products after the war, including the Station Wagon, the small trucks and pickup from the Jeep line, and the Jeepster convertible car launched in 1948 based on the station wagon mechanical platform. When the Station wagon was launched in 1946, Brooks Stevens was only 35 years old. Later he would become responsible for the Aero Willys automobiles launched in the United States in 1952 and latter also manufactured in Brazil starting in 1960. In 1962 he participated in the new design of the Aero Willys 2600 in Brazil. In this period Brooks Stevens created the new design for the Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, the rotary lawn mower that we all know, garden tractors, backhoes, and the Brigg & Stratton motors. He was able to transform simple machines into aesthetically atractive and functional objects desired by everyone. The products with atractive designs became a sales success, however, they had a planed obsolescense.
Aero Willys 1960 - Brasil
O novo Aero Willys 2600 lançado no Brasil em 1965
Aero Willys 2600 1965 - Brasil

The work for Willys would continue and Brooks Stevens participated in São Paulo, Brazil, in the development of the automobile line for Willys Overland do Brasil S.A, including the new Rural Willys launched in 1960, the Jeep pickup (F75), and the Aero Willys 2600. The first Rural Willys assembled in Brazil in 1958 and 1959 used many parts from the american model, including the front end with open mud guards and a split windshield. Starting in 1960, the Rural Willys started being produced in Brazil with the new new front having closed mud guards, wider spaced headlights and a one-piece windshield, a project of Brooks Stevens that was only manufactured in Brazil. The Jeep Station Wagon ended up being manufacturesd in many countries including India,Japan and Argentina, however, always with the original North American design and styling. In the 1960s Brooks Stevens participated in the first graet renovation of the Jeep Station Wagon in North America, that resulted in the new line of station wagons called the Wagoneer and Gladiator pickup, manufactured by the American Motors company that had bought the old Kaiser company. In 1979, studies were begun to design a Wagoneer type sation wagon, however more compact, which resulted in the Jeep Cherokee in 1984, once again with the participation of Brooks Stevens. These early station wagons were the precursors of the sport utility SUV vehicles that are so successfull nowadays.

Rural Willys 4x2 1960 em imagem de propaganda da época.

The Rural Willys launched in Brazil in 1960 with anew front end and hood with closed mud guards and wider spaced headlights, designed by Brooks Stevens. Some people say the design of the front of the Rural Willys was inspired by the lines of the Brazilian government palaces in Brasilia. The above figure is from a Willys printed advertizement from the time of launch, and you can observe six passengers with three in the front and three in the back. Besides being a heavy work utility vehicle, the Rural Willys was also sold as a family car in Brasil and in the United States. The body design shown above remained the same and unchanged for 17 years until the end of its production in Brazil in 1977.

Brooks Stevens continued always involved with design and teechedindustrial design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design until his passing in 1995. Today, his son Kipp Stevens whom we have contacted, is director of Brooks Stevens Design, a product design company located in Milwaukee Wisconsin. At the Milwaukee Art Museum there is a large collection of photographs, documents and objects created by Brooks Stevens that can be visited during periodic exhibits.

Portrait of Brooks Stevens, 1950, Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive design
Portrait of Brooks Stevens, 1950. Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens Archive
This is a picture of Brooks Stevens in 1950 at the age os 39, having already designed the Jeep Station Wagon launched in 1946.

Fotographs kindly provided and reproduced with permission from the Milwaukee Art Museum , Milwaukee, WI, Unites States.. We thank the Milwaukee Art Museum for kindly providing the three Brooks Stevens Archive photographs reproduced with permission on this page. Dec/2002. Read more about the life and work of Brooks Stevens on this website .

For further reading, we recommend the book Industrial Strength Design, How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, by Glenn Adamson, MIT press, 2003, that covers the life and complete work of Brooks Stevens.

The author of this website is the proud owner of a 1968 Rural Willys Station Wagon and has visited the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Biografy source: Brooks Stevens Design . Aero Willys picture source: Manual do proprietário 1960, MMW 1965. (owners manual, 1960).


Atualizado: 11 January 2015


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