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Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book, Wind in the Willows, about the four friends from the river bank, Mole, Ratty, Badger and the cantankerous Mr. Toad was first published in 1908. Mr. Toad is a jovial, friendly and kind-hearted but somewhat aimless individual who regularly becomes obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them as quickly as he took them up. One such fad was the motorcar. If we allow for a little poetic license, or a time machine, I believe I may have found the dream car for Mr. Toad. There have been many examples of the sort of car Mr. Toad would have bought from the illustrative editions of the book that have been published over the years as well as the many television adaptations. But nothing comes close, in my mind, to the 1930 Willys Knight Great Six Plaidside Roadster, especially in the beautiful two tone green paint scheme seen here.
The Willys Knight series of automobiles was built by the Willys-Overland Company of Toledo, Ohio between 1914 and 1933. The “Knight” used the sleeve valve engine technology designed by Charles Y. Knight. The engine design shed the traditional poppet valves for a set of sliding sleeves to control intake and exhaust gases. While expensive to produce, this precision engine was quiet, durable and powerful.
Although utilizing the high powered engines, by the end of the 1920‘s the Willys Knight had evolved into a conservatively styled, boxy sort of car in the traditional dark blue and black colors. Amos Northup, a premier automotive designer of the era, was hired to put some pizazz into the Willys Knight line of cars. Mr. Amos believed that cars of the 1920s were not very attractive and that stylish appearance and high comfort were the primary reasons that customers would purchase a car. He redesigned the entire lineup using these principles. The new styling was accentuated by bold color combinations, including such colors as lime green, yellow and orange. These were not your everyday colors for automobiles in the 1920s.
The top of the line was the Great Six, Model 66B which had colored fenders while most of the other cars on the road had black fenders. The Willys-Knight also featured unique pinstriping in a rectangular pattern on the side panels. That unusual striping gave rise to the nickname “Plaidside.” The healthy 87 horsepower engine helped back-up the sporty looks of this roadster.
The plaidside roadster is one of the very few Willys Knights recognized as Full Classics by the Classic Car Club of America.