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The Overland: Overall Car for Overall Use

The 'over hill, over dale' 1916 Overland

The Overland Model 83 for 1916 was introduced by early June 1915,
far in advance of a normal introductory announcement, thanks
to the West Coast exposition.

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Over hill, over dale, over rough and rutted trail, over gully and the sands, and deep grass on prairie lands. These places held one thing common: they were conquered by the Overland, a product of the Willys-Overland Co. of Toledo, Ohio.

The car was tough, ready to risk wheel and rim to get its driver and passengers to their destination. Reliable, too. And when the price for a new Overland touring car dipped to $750 at introduction time for the 1916 models, it was newsworthy.

That introduction was delivered via print media by early June 1915. Quite an advance introduction, considering the year still had seven full months before it ran its course and bowed to 1916. Regardless, Overland’s execs tooted the trumpet for sales. “$325 LESS than last year,” said one ad. “This 1916 Overland is essentially the same as our 1915 Overland — the famous Model 80 that sold for $1,075. It is the largest four-cylinder Overland that will be produced this season.”

We can imagine the corporate office was apologetically removing its figurative hat to buyers of the 1915 Model 80. If that happened, it was about all they received. Sorry, folks, but that’s the way business runs. Those buyers could have consoled themselves with the clear fact that they at least had several more months of driving enjoyment and reliable transportation than did buyers who caught the lower price in mid-1915. Perhaps little consolation for some, but at least it was something.

For $750, the 1916 Overland had one difference: it was designated Model 83. The car offered 35 hp, high-tension magneto ignition, five-bearing crankshaft, thermo-siphon cooling, underslung rear springs, demountable rims (with one extra, which was not a common addition back then), electric starting and ignition, headlamp dimmers, a one-man top and cover, magnetic speedometer and left-hand drive which was carried by its predecessor. Yes, most American cars built prior to 1915 used right-hand drive. But, in a farewell salute to the British trend, America severed that tie and was rushing to left-drive.

One reason the 1916 Model 83 was introduced so early was due to an event. It was a big one, and the Overland would not miss its shot at being there with a spanking new model. The Panama Pacific Exposition stretched from Feb. 20 to Dec. 4, 1915. Held at San Francisco, the event showcased a rebuilt city formerly devastated by the legendary quake of 1906. The event was a World’s Fair, and when the new Model 83 was ready early, Willys-Overland officials rolled out its own red carpet for the car to de displayed at the exposition. Certainly the aura of that sparking event would reflect well on the new Overland.

In an era of men’s spats adding class to mundane shoes, the new Overland sported all-white tires that measured 33 by 4 inches. True, it would be challenging for any owner to keep them clean, but for advertising and promotional purposes, they certainly dressed up a fairly common-looking car.

“The lines have been refined but not materially altered,” said one observer. Riding on its 106-inch wheelbase, the 1916 Model 83 boasted cylinder dimensions of 4 1/8 by 4 1/2 inches. Adhering to its old practice, the maker cast each cylinder separately. Promoters noted how the windshield could be placed in eight positions from straight up to folded forward. Opening the top or bottom panes offered different flows of air. Tilting the frame of the top pane allowed for degrees of deflection and less wind drag.

One reporter noted, “The Model 83…is a large touring car with a body seating five grown persons comfortably.” While the motor was the same as the previous Model 80, the new car had a weight reduction that increased its performance. The body was of “streamline design” as its predecessor. “The shell is a single stamping which joins the engine hood without a break in lines. The exterior of the car is entirely smooth.” The car had crowned fenders, a spiffy motif for the era. Door hinges were hidden and door handles on the open car were located inside to “carry the effect of exterior smoothness. The roomy seats are provided with comfortable backs and have divan upholstery cushions which are built on deep coiled springs, with a covering of waterproof gray cloth.”

One observer noted, “A feature that was introduced last year and proved very popular is the switch box for electric control which is attached to the right side of the steering column two inches below the wheel. Through this switch box, the electric horn, front dash and tail lights, and the ignition may be operated without stooping from the driving position. The keys are removable, thus locking the switches. The instrument box serves as an extra anchorage for the steering column, to eliminate vibration.”

The motor held two gallons of oil for lubrication by means of the splash principle, a common trait for cars of that vintage. A float gauge showed the amount of oil in the crankcase. “Circulation of the oil is indicated by an instrument of special design,” said an official. “It contains a small revolving wheel which is kept in motion by the flow of oil and therefore always clearly shows when the oil is circulating.” It was on the “cowl board” near the speedometer.

All things considered, the early Chevrolet Model Four-Ninety had a similar (if not identical) type of oil flow gauge. The new Chevy was hailed as a 1916 model and similarly made its public bow when the exposition was relatively young, well in advance of the new year.

The name “Overland” was revered in the car industry as a sales leader. The name John North Willys had been known in bicycle production, then gained fame in the car business. While the first Overland was made in Terre Haute in 1902, the company quickly located its production in Indianapolis.

A financial panic hit the nation in 1907, and the Overland operation nearly collapsed had it not been for Mr. Willys. He contributed money and energy as an Overland dealer to safeguard his investment, and in reality became overlord of Overland. Once creditors were neutralized, he moved production into the old Pope Manufacturing Co.’s capable plant in Toledo (perhaps you heard of the Pope-Toledo). Mr. Willys took that plant for $285,000 and positioned Overland as one of this nation’s premier brands.

Over debts, over sales, over deep financial wails, over obstacle and dip, and depression’s fatal grip, the 1916 Overland made it. In style.

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A roadster soon joined the line of Model 83 Overlands.

The Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942, 3rd Ed.
By Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark, Jr.

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