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Sunshine Motors Willys-Overland Jeep Tampa, Florida

Today’s feature image is a view of a Willys-Overland dealership located in Tampa, Florida. Many of the auto and truck markers sales agencies were small affairs and usually situated in the low-rent district of cities and towns across the country.

Sunshine Motors Inc. was an exception that was located at 200 South Tampa Street in the City, housed in a bright and modern showroom and an older two-story building. A Diamond Match Company office was also sited in the building.

The photo and the enlargeable sections of it below shot on November 10, 1948, contain a “Jeepster,” styled by industrial and auto designer Brooks Stevens showcased in the corner window in the first of its four-year production run. Behind it is a two-toned Jeep “Station Wagon” (two-wheel drive) or a “Utility Wagon” (four-wheel drive) and three other vehicles; two pickup trucks are parked out in front of the facility.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs below by Robinson and French courtesy of the University of South Florida at Tampa.

27 responses to “Sunshine Motors Willys-Overland Jeep Tampa, Florida

    • My dad restored a ’50 Jeepster in the ’90’s. The Standard station he worked at from ’48 – ’50 also sold them so he always wanted one. It turned out great and he enjoyed it for many years. It was the same light yellow of the ’48 or ’49 in the photo. If it was dark in a black and white photo, it had to be red instead. The Jeepster rode very much like a car as opposed to a truck. The wagons like the one inside were the first SUV’s in my opinion, and were being sold as more car than truck also, so the whitewall car tires. Otherwise the Jeepster seemed to share the heavy frame, drivetrain and front sheetmetal with the trucks.

      We’ve always called them Willeez but I think its really Willis.

      • You’re correct. The right way to say the name is Willis. That’s how John North Willys pronounced his name.

  1. Nice picture !

    Just inside the front door is a 1949 [or ’48] WILLYS Station Sedan with a 6 cylinder engine.

    Interesting mural on the back wall of the showroom.

  2. Is it Willys or is it Willis.? Apparently Mr Willys pronounced his name Willis. In the antique car hobby most pronounce it with the Y. I’ve been corrected several times. Wait, now I’m confused.

    • When I was a kid in upstate New York around the time this picture was taken I always heard it pronounced “Willis”.

      I agree with AML that the most interesting part of this picture is the mural inside the showroon.

      I remember the light-colored panels on the side (and tailgate) of the Jeep wagons sometimes had a woven cane motif.

      • the “Greenbriar,” as I recall it was one of Willys’ attempts to breakout of the ” Truck “market and “class” up their product, the name being one of the eminent resorts of the day… very tasteful with the forest green color and the cane inserts… add the chrome bumpers with the unique over riders, the ‘lacey” chrome grille trim wide whites and “Viola”… instant success. We loved it!

  3. Interesting. Almost looks like too much dealership for what they’re selling. I’d expect a 2-vehicle showroom in a building much older than this. If this was Nov. 1948, I wonder how long this particular structure was used for Jeeps?

    • In 1948 you could sell almost any new car, there was huge demand. Also. you had a lot of customers for whom a Jeep had been their primary form of transportation for several years. A civilian version of the familiar Jeep seemed too good to be true. Dealers like this one carried the Jeep brand through the ’50s and ’60s. Sadly very few of them survive today.

  4. At age 16 I drove a 1949 and 1951 Jeep delivery truck for a local grocer who bought both of these vehicles new. After driving the old 1941 Plymouth delivery wagon these Jeeps were not only very practical and economical, but fun to drive. Their F Head valve four cylinder engines were spirited and they shifted smoothly. So smooth I learned to shift without a clutch. I also lost a job.

  5. Researching this is a little harder than normal because it seems like every town in Florida had a company called Sunshine Motors at some point in its history. The Tampa company was still around in 1953, because they were a corporate advertiser in H B Plant High School’s yearbook, while the Florida Division of Corporations notes that Sunshine Motors of Tampa was dissolved in 1956.

  6. I grew up in Tampa, you hardly ever saw these vehicles on the street, if you did they where over on the beach in St Pete or Clearwater pulling folks out of the sand.

  7. In the late 1950s, I learned to drive on a 1948 Willys just like those pickups. It had a flat-bed and a side-valve engine, not an F head. Owner used to load it pretty heavy and by then the engine had been replaced maybe three times with rebuilts. The rod on the starter pedal had reamed out the hole in firewall big as a silver dollar.

  8. That area got mowed down in the 60s,all moderno now.
    Man,the big lanterns on the upper coerners of the square bldg. with weathervane,place reminds me of the restored Tampa theatre,too cool,what a waste and the mural probably got trashed too.
    Heard a rumor that the open door jitneys on Fantasy Island were door so Tattoo could easily get in/out.

  9. This one bugs me…no visible address or street sign, but it calls out Ybor city” because of that mural. Could be 7th avenue east.

  10. A few months after we moved to St. Petersburg back in 1950, my dad traded his Buick for a Jeepster. It only took him about 6 months to realize a car with side curtains wasn’t a good vehicle for an insurance salesman in the summer. After a few times of his papers getting wet and being soaked in sweat, he traded it on a Chevy.

    • They had a production facility in Tampa. I don’t know everything they did or where in Tampa they were located, but the matchbooks for the Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railroad (the Bay Line) were made in Tampa.

  11. How ironic that seventy years later the Jeep which was considered a niche vehicle then is now so mainstream. Of course, the evolution of the vehicle themselves are far removed from the basic, utility vehicles they were then. Had anyone suggested a Jeep station wagon be fitted with power steering, brakes and windows and other comforts in 1948, they would have been ridiculed for such a foolish notion. Imagine the reaction if one went into a Kaiser-Jeep dealer in the late 1950’s and requested air conditioning in a CJ!

  12. Observation… I really think that the rise of the industrial designers- Brooks Stevens for Willys-the Jeepster the Greenbriar, Raymond Lowey, Studabkers starlight coupes and others-spelled the demise of the custom automotive coach builders of the prewar carmarket as well as the rise of the creative customizers of the time (George Barris, and others) and the birth of “Kalifornia Kool”, Petersen Publications … their little specialty magazines highlighting individual automotive creations. . We were a pent up market just waiting for NEW! After the second war we were like George and Looezy, “Movin’ On Up!”… I maybe mixin’ up my metaphors, a bit???

  13. My parent’s first car after the war was a second hand gray ’46 2WD wagon. They didn’t keep it long because it had been a beach car and was full of sand. It was traded for a dark green ’51 2WD with the 6 cylinder engine, overdrive and a heater (no radio). I loved that car and was heartbroken when they sold it seven years later. My relatives in Vermont drove the 4WD version.

  14. Thank you for being there. I went looking for info concerning the use of Cummings engines in Great Lakes fish tugs. Now I know of Kahlenbergs
    and so much more. I signed up.

  15. In High School I worked for a DeSoto Plymouth dealership. They had a 49 Dodge pickup painted yellow and maroon like a Mopar parts box. The dealer’s son wrecked it. So in 1957 when they became a Jeep Dealer they got a bright yellow Jeep pickup for a shop truck and demo. One of the first trips I took with it was to drive to the dump with a load of pre 1948 NOS Mopar parts.

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