This was a bit of an eye-opener when I stumbled into it the other day: the 1959 Willys Malibu, the first prototype of what would become the venerable Jeep Wagoneer. I had not realized that there were several iterations of the styling evolution of this proto-SUV wagon before the definitive one was adopted. This is a very clean and modern design for the times. The curious thing is that this horizontal slotted grille, ditched for the production Wagoneer, would quickly end up re-appearing on the 1966 version, after only three short years. Seems like they regretted not keeping this original approach?
According to this source, the styling of all three versions were a collaboration between Willys’ small in-house design department headed by Jim Angers and the well-known designer Brooks Stevens. Jeep needed a replacement for their elderly Willys wagon, and the Malibu was the first shot, still sitting on a lengthened chassis of the predecessor.
There apparently was an alternative 1959 version, the Berkeley, with a different roof line. No pics, unfortunately.
The next prototype, the 1961 J-100, clearly show a change in direction, or reaction. The more conservative elements of Willys management must have thought the Malibu to be too radical. The results are a number of retro elements, most prominently an updated version of the traditional Willys wagon’s vertical grille. The J-100 also has front fender flares that mimic the fenders of the Ur-Jeep and Jeep Wagon. Also, at least this prototype J-100 was a two door, unlike the four-door Malibu. Were both versions contemplated, or was the J-100 intended to be only two-door?
For what it’s worth, a two-door version of the definitive 1963 Wagoneer almost made it to production.
As seen here, the 1966 Wagoneer soon shed its heritage grille for a simple slotted horizontal one, quite similar to the Malibu’s. But it was stuck with the raised center section of the hood for the rest of its very long life.
Stevens had a hand in the Studebaker Lark wagon, didn’t he? The proto Jeeps bear a noticeable similarity, to my eye.
Not the original 1959 version, but the updates starting in 1962 and especially the major alterations that resulted in the 1963 and further altered ’64 Wagonaire. The ’64-66 did have a strong resemblance (including the name itself) to the production Wagoneer.
“Dang, that sure looks like a Studebaker station wagon” was my first thought, as well, enough that the concept could even be considered the first crossover.
It’s a real shame that they went with the old-fashioned Willys front end which saddled the Wagoneer with the hood bulge for its entire life, even after they eventually went back to the better looking, original Malibu grille. Did that happen after Willys was absorbed by AMC? The timing would fit.
AMC bought Jeep in 1970.
My dad bought a new 1964 Wagoneer. It was a Willys, first FULL production year (unlike ’63). But Kaiser bought out Willys, which in turn was taken over by AMC. Not sure the year, but it was probably the reason some things changed and others did not (hood?).
That prototype would have really taken the Wagoneer in a radically modern design direction if it had gone into production. That’s a really sleek, forward-looking design for the time. I see a lot of early Ford Falcon in the body sculpting and front end treatment. I really like it.
OK so Im not completely out of my mind. I saw the early Falcon in that pretty much right away.
+1 through to the side sculpting defining the rear taillight on our oz XM/XP
You are not alone!!
Reminded me of a white ’61 Ford Falcon wagon belonging to my aunt and uncle, but on steroids.
Same here, definitely similar to the early Falcon styling.
And another here.
“…a two-door version of the definitive 1963 Wagoneer almost made it to production…”
I believe a two-door Wagoneer (and related panel delivery) were available until 1966 or ’67. This illustration is from a catalog dated 9/65, but was retouched into a four-door in a another version.
There are several pics of Wagoneer 2 doors online – some of these were windowless panel-delivery vans, others had windows and seats. Dual side-hinged “barn doors” in lieu of a drop-down tailgate were also on offer. They were basically the same as the 4 door without the rear door; the windows and front doors are identical. Does anyone know if the rear windows in the Wagoneer 2 doors rolled down?
That Wagoneer Malibu does NOT look like 1959 to me–more like 1969, wow!
I noticed one detail change. The “C-Pillar” in the original 1959 pic on both vehicles is slanted forward. The production vehicles, it was vertical.
Still–for many cars (GMs 1970 F-car rear window comes to mind–wraparound starting in 1975), for different styling prototypes, the best looking one is usually the launched one, and the other ones are the ‘updated’ styling.
So, the later models are marketed as ‘looking newer and better’ but the reality is first version is usually the better looking version.
Great CC article!
Nah the one that is introduced first is the one that ties in some of the old styling to make the transition to the future styling less shocking.
That 1959 Malibu concept looks more modern than a 1991 Grand Wagoneer.
This is a really awesome find! I’ve been a Jeep nut for many years and have seen all kinds of wacky concepts and prototypes over the years…never seen these. How did you come by these?
Looking at the J-100, Im getting a LOT of ‘48-‘50 VJ Jeepster in that. The low slung stance., and vestigial flat top fenders really ape that car. This looks for all the world to be the missing link between the VJ and the C-101 Jeepster Commando, as much as a Wagoneer prototype.
Those pics of the Malibu, and the similar Berkley, came from me originally and I still have the original images and many more besides. While I have seen a very few other views/images of the Malibu/Berkeley, I think I am probably the original source for all of them. I don’t think any of that particular batch have survived in any archives. I published them years ago in several Jeep books and later in some stories in Four Wheeler magazine, which eventually went online. They were built upon a Willys Station Wagon chassis and IIRC, only one was a runner. There are strong hints that the bodies were built by Creative Industries in Detroit out of fiberglass.
Was the Malibu badged as “Malibu”?
This is fascinating to see! When I first saw the image it seemed familiar yet strangely different, like a 1960s European Ford Taunus to those of us on these shores.
I’m a bit late with a similar reaction to others, WOW! Definitely hints of Falcon and Lark, but much crisper and more modern, as well as European stuff including Fiat 124, all of which also came later. I’m really curious about the Berkeley, as a native of that California city ( and given the other concept’s Malibu codename, I’m sure the Berkeley was not named after an Irish Bishop) … what prompted the choice of that codename … was it even more radical?
Here’s another Jeep concept, Renault-based and unibody, many years before the Renault acquisition and the resulting XJ Cherokee.
I’m guessing this was not ever conceived for US consumption, but primarily for Europe and particularly for Argentina where Renault and IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina) were rapidly integrating. In 1967, Renault essentially took a majority control of IKA, and a few years later full control.
This concept was heavily based on the FWD Renault 16. Whether it actually had 4WD is speculation, as it would have been challenging, since the transmission sat in front of the engine, and in front of the front axle centerline.
Utility vehicles like the Citroen Mehari, which was FWD and did not have 4WD, were in vogue at the time. This concept was clearly targeted at that segment of the market.
According to the link with this photo, there’s French text saying it was indeed planned with 4wd. I think it says (the author) presumes in a similar fashion to the Sinpar Renault 4, which was a specialist rally 4wd R4. The R4 has the arse-about gearbox thing too. Any French-speakers?
It looks better than the 16 itself, but most things do.
No Méhari 4×4? Someone tell the Lane Museum.
Busted! Congratulations! Pedant award given out!
Like most pedantic corrections, it misses the whole point of what I was getting across, that FWD utility cars like the Mehari (which were overwhelmingly FWD) were very popular, despite being FWD. Hence the point about this Renault based concept.
As several others noted, the Malibu is astonishingly modern looking for a 1959 anything – much more contemporary in appearance than the vehicle which actually appeared a few years later. Of course the production design lasted into the 1990s, but it looked very much like the 1963 design it was, albeit an attractive 1963 design. The Malibu looks like something GM could have designed circa 1970 – it even had a future GM name – and could have made it into the 1990s still looking up to date rather than retro-chic. As much as I like it though, I can see how it wouldn’t be regarded as looking Jeep enough.
I bought a book from a son of brook Stevens at a car show and this shows the malibuprofen with differno makes of cars with unit dated 1959 l have collected willys have 60 of the ron hattner
I agree that the ‘59 design is incredibly modern, just remember something designed in ‘59 would not be put in production until ‘62 at the earliest, as there was always a three year lead time from design to tooling to production. An 18 months timeframe was looked at as a miracle by the early ‘70’s.
FWIW, the 1960 Valiant was completely designed, engineered and tooled from scratch in 18-19 months, from the moment Chrysler decided to jump in with a compact six-cylinder car the size of the upcoming Falcon and Corvair.. That includes the slant six engine and the new small Torqueflite automatic and A903 manual transmission.
I believe they could do that because the Valiant was one of the first cars designed w/ the use of computers.
Wow! The Malibu is clean and sleek, perhaps not “rugged” enough looking for the intended market, but I sure like it.
Wow, I have done a couple of fairly deep dives into the Jeep Wagoneer/truck of this era and never came across these shots. I love these “in development” versions.
I remembered that short-lived 2 door Wagoneer/panel delivery that got a second chance at life via the Cherokee of the 70s.
That first one has a lot of early Falcon in it to my eyes.
It’s conceivably possible that this Malibu was quickly designed and built late in 1959 after the 1960 Falcon came out. And it’s also possible that the Falcon’s styling had been leaked, among the club of automotive designers, in any case. That was not uncommon.
Somewhat curiously, the Malibu’s grille looks more like the ’61 Falcon.
’60-’61 Ford Falcon station wagon was my immediate reaction upon seeing the ’59 Willys Malibu prototype, it looks very much car-like is the impression it leaves. Perhaps not looking ‘rugged and purposeful’ enough was the reason for subsequent concept that introduced more of the Jeep design hallmarks.
Interesting find, please keep them coming!
The Falcon resemblance was my first reaction as well. It looks Falcon-sized too, or perhaps that’s an illusion.
I love the Malibu – what a find ! – and I prefer the slanting “C” pillar. I don’t think the subsequent bulge in the hood hurt the styling too much.
I can remember Autocar magazine road-testing a Wagoneer in the early ’60s, and I was bemused by it – I didn’t have the imagination to realise where it would lead.
The comrades who styled the GAZ-24 Volga had clearly looked at the Malibu/Wagoneer grill…
Wow, what a great find Paul. The shape is so refined, and the c-pillar echoing the d-pillar is the better decision than what was actually built. It must have been heartbreaking to see this not go into production.
In 1963 Kaiser’s Brazilian branch released a facelifted version of the Willys Aero (1955 model) they had been producing since 1960. That car lines were partially designed by Brooks Stevens and finished by local stylists. The windshield and side windows are exactly the same as the prototype shown, including the front slanted C-pillar. Being a sedan, it didn’t have the rear wagon extension.
Apart from the rounded tumblehome – which more or less got into production – I think the Malibu would’ve aged even better than the production Wagoneer. It may not have translated as well into a sporty Cherokee in the ’70s though.
I agree with everybody! It’s an advanced looker, and a good one.
I “get” the Brook Stevens design language on the eventual product, and for a while, I preferred the somewhat over-grand frontage, but now I just see it as Hollywood gaudy. The ’66-on job is the best.
Was the “bumped” hood such a bad thing for styling?
If so, it’s nothing a minor re-tool couldn’t have eliminated.
Just seems like a non-issue.