In 1908, John North Willys purchased the Overland Automotive Division of the Standard Wheel Company of Indiana, renaming it Willys-Overland Motor Co. in 1912 and moving it to Toledo.
More than 100 years later, there is still confusion about how to pronounce the Willys name.
“I talked to many people, now deceased, including his private secretary, and all said emphatically that he pronounced it ‘Willis,’ ” Ron Szymanski, local Jeep historian, told the “Toledo Blade” newspaper. “I can attest to the fact that Willys’ relatives all say ‘Willis.’ ”
However, Mr. Szymanski acknowledged that many Jeep workers pronounce the name “Willies.” Adding to the confusion were the millions of GIs who saw World War II Jeeps stamped WILLYS and came home with their own opinions about how to say it.
The current owner of the famed Willys automotive nameplate, DaimlerChrysler, is no help.
“When we came out with the Willys (concept vehicle), we pronounced it ‘Willis,’ like Bruce,” said Sjoerd Dijkstra, a Chrysler spokesman, in the “Toledo Blade” article. “We got a lot of flak, so we changed it to (sound like) ‘Willies,’ even though John North Willys probably did pronounce it ‘Willis.’ ”
John Conde, an auto historian in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (and a former Jeep public relations executive), said Mr. Willys “was probably the type who would say, ‘I don’t care how you pronounce it as long as you buy my cars.’ ”