Design Capsule: 1959 Willys Malibu and 1961 J-100 – The First Two Tries at Styling the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer

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.