This is the story of how we got involved in antique cars. Since I was a young child, I would always remember my father telling me about the 1929 Whippet 2-Door Sedan that we had in our garage in Emmaus. It was first bought new by my grandfather, Harry Stauffer. It then was given to my father, Charles. It was always in the garage covered up and every once in a while my father would give it a crank.
I was told by my father that many would ask him to sell it, but we wanted it to stay an antique and not made into a street rod. It was always his wish to have it restored. But that never happened during his lifetime. Before my father passed he titled the Whippet to me. Having no sisters or brothers I am now the third owner of this car. I cannot drive a standard transmission vehicle let alone the Whippet, but my husband Jim can.
When we went to the garage to see if it would start, it did. After a while, Jim and I decided that we should have it restored. So in 1982 we took it to Wendling Restoration in Macungie. There we had a frame-off restoration. Wish my dad could have seen it when it was finally finished. For many years after that we would take it to Macungie and trailer it to other shows in the area including Hershey and Carlisle. It received a First Junior in Macungie. But look as we might we hardly ever saw any other Whippets. The only time we did was when we took it to a Willys-Overland show.
Whippets were manufactured between 1926-1931 by the Willys-Overland Company of Toledo. The name was derived from the Whippet dog and was meant to denote a vehicle that was small yet swift. It had a wheelbase of only 100.2 inches (which grew to 103.5 inches by 1929) and a 30-horsepower four-cylinder side-valve engine with just 130.1 cubic inches of displacement. Some people would say if you want it to run you should Whip It.
But the Whippet was fast. A 6-cylinder model set a 24-hour endurance record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an average speed of 56.2 mph. This run established a new American speed record for stock cars priced under $1,000. Willys-Overland also demonstrated the Whippet’s climbing ability by running the car over hurdles, much like the demonstration hills for Jeep at the Philadelphia International Auto Show. The Whippet had an international flair, being developed by subsidiary Willys-Overland-Crossley Ltd. for distribution through the worldwide network of Willys-Overland dealers. In the era of “smart switches” and powered push-buttons, we tend to think we have the latest in gizmos, but the Whippet had a pretty slick gadget, too. It was called “finger tip control,” a button in the center of the steering wheel that not only sounded the horn when pressed, but also switched on the lights when it was turned clockwise- parking first, then headlamps – and activated the starter when it was pulled!
The Whippet had a rear fuel gauge located on the left end of the gasoline tank, a not uncommon feature of that era. It also had four-wheel mechanical brakes, although it appears that the company didn’t quite finish engineering the system; some had external contracting bands on the rear wheels and internal expanding ones at the front. Other innovations for this low-priced car were a seven-bearing crankshaft, full pressure lubrication to all bearing except piston pins and Nelson Bohnalite “invar” strut pistons.
The Whippet sold 110,000 units in its first year of production, pushing Willys-Overland to third place in 1928 just behind Chevrolet and Ford. Production decreased in 1929 due to the Great Depression. By 1932, Willy-Overland produced only the new Model 77. The Whippet is still remembered by many people, however, as the car whose name was inspired by a dog. Accompanying this article, please see pictures of the Whippet before and after restoration.