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1936 Willys 77 Sedan and the City of San Francisco Streamliner

The attractive little Willys 77 was first placed on the market in 1933 by Willys-Overland as a replacement for the Whippet. Introduced during one of the hardest years of the Great Depression, Willys struggled along building the 77 while in receivership until 1936. During that period, production was limited to 10,000 unit runs by the bankruptcy court.

The small economy car had a tread width of only 51-inches and a short 100-inch wheelbase. The 145 c.i.d. 48 h.p. four-cylinder engine with a 3.125 X 4.375-inch bore and stroke produced its full power at 3200 r.p.m. The 77 featured an angled and aerodynamic front end and could be pushed to 75 mph in well-tuned form, yet return up to 30 m.p.g. when driven with economy in mind.

This 1936 Willys 77 is posed in front of the City of San Francisco Streamliner that made its initial run between Chicago, Ill, and Oakland, CA, followed by a ferry connection to San Francisco on June 14, 1936. The train’s motive power consisted of the aerodynamic 1,200 h.p. diesel-electric locomotive followed by a second 1,200 h.p. power unit. It was capable of covering the distance in as little as 39 hours and 45 minutes.

The two-unit locomotive pulled eleven articulated streamlined cars produced by the Pullman Company. It was replaced by a more modern train in 1938 that was involved in a catastrophic derailment on Aug. 12, 1939 in which 24 passengers died and 121 were injured. Sabotage was the verdict by the Railroads that owned it but the train was behind schedule and the Engineer was speeding at the time of the accident. The photo is via AmeriCar.

 1936 Willys 77 Sedan

It appears that the original City of San Francisco Streamliner was popular for posing with cars and for trips involving cars. The photo (below) taken on Oct. 8, 1936, shows a group of Crack Salesman and their wives from H.O. Harrison Pontiac in San Francisco, ready to go on a journey of some sort. The photo is courtesy of the photo archive Shorpy.

City of San Francisco Streamlined Train

4 responses to “1936 Willys 77 Sedan and the City of San Francisco Streamliner

  1. Clearing Up a Decade’s Old Mystery On Train Designs by Harley Earl

    Hi David, First off, thanks for posting these fantastic photos! I have to admit I was more intrigued by the “City of San Francisco” train design by Harley Earl in this story. Harley didn’t broadcast his streamline train designs when they were put on the rails…and really didn’t take credit for designs, like this one, until after WW II. Why would he do something like this? Well, one reason would be to confuse GM’s giant competitors in the early 1930s as to exactly what his hybrid form of engineering dept. (GM Styling was where all GM’s modern product designs were first being sculpted and born) was up to and more importantly where it was going. In other words, he and GM’s largest share holders knew how it was better to not let people understand the true scope of GM’s new “secret process” of design-engineering the products ahead of time. It was an ingenious idea. Like most people, I never knew the facts until after spending thousands of hours pouring over the scholarly research (articles like the NYTimes piece) that clear up the mystery!

    Finally, Harley’s words from 1956 might best describe the anatomy of GM’s pre-war train designs, “Secrecy is a necessary part of the process.” The inside track of GM’s greatest team of leaders from the mid-1920s up until the end of the 1950s, was as cryptic a subject to find out more about, and was just like GM’s pre-war train designs.

  2. If you look at the “old GM” stock certificates, you’ll see a streamlined train in the logo. It looks quite similar to the one pictured here, perhaps stylized more. Did Harley Earl influence the design of the stock certificate also? It makes sense after you look at it.

  3. Really like how Willys faired in the headlights. It’s a kind of evolution from the fender mounted units. That’s pretty cool.

    I admit I had to stop and consider “crack salesmen” for a moment before I understood what that meant. Since many in the image are women, I assume they’re the two gentlemen being proudly embraced in the foreground.

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