1930 Willys-Knight 70-B Sedan: The Last Knight Takes His Last Bow
Motorists’ Appreciation Day, May 2012 – Mittagong, N.S.W.
A highlight for the vintage enthusiast during the display day was the 1930 Willys-Knight 70-B sedan. A quality car for the middle price range, the 70-B series was introduced in 1929 and lasted into 1931, when Willys-Overland at last ended its fidelity to the sleeve-valve engine. A new Willys Six and Willys Eight were waiting in the wings, both with orthodox, straight-line engines with poppet valves in the usual L-head configuration.
In 1929 Willys-Overland brought out the Willys-Knight Great Six as a larger, more opulent series to challenge the luxury market in a final attempt to establish a Knight-engined car there. The company had briefly owned and directed the destiny of Stearns-Knight, that other fine make that had devoted itself to the sleeve-valve engine. Though Stearns was an old and noble luxury car maker, it had only recently modernised its line with a new double-sleeve-valved, straight-eight engine and chassis to match. A choice of attractive but conservative custom coachwork bodies was offered, but this was not enough to save the ailing company from collapsing at the first hint of the Great Depression.
Now the Willys-Knight Great Six line carried the sleeve-valve torch, supported by the lesser 70-B series. A Great Six sedan was priced at $1,795 in 1930, with the lesser 70-B sedan priced at $1,195.
While the Great Six was somewhat more flamboyant, the overall design of the 70-B is conservative but contemporary for 1930. Flowing fenders, a squareish grille and bonnet; moulded swaging areas around the windows; and a generally upright sedan style alloyed by just enough curvature at the edges were the keynotes.
John Hicks is a member of the Willys club and proud owner of the red and black 1930 Willys-Knight 70-B sedan. He is lucky to have come into possession of a vintage car in such fine basic condition. The interior has been mostly just cleaned, and the exterior paint merely buffed and polished.
The interior was in excellent condition for its age and obvious use. A mohair cloth covered the seats and door trims of the interior. It is bare in some small patches today, with some minor fading of the green colour but is mostly almost as new.
The interior’s dashboard and window reveals are of metal, artfully painted with woodgraining, as per the usual practice for the time. This is perhaps the sole area really requiring attention, as the pigments have faded over time. A new rendition of the woodgraining would be a simple procedure and would yield an impressive result.
The sedan is temporarily equipped with a 1932 carburettor, but is equipped with an original air cleaner. The carburettor is fed through a vacuum tank mounted on the dashboard.
The simple external appearance of the sleeve-valve six belies the complexity within. Each piston is surrounded with two cylindrical sleeves, each with a port opening, serving as either an intake or exhaust port. A complicated timing arrangement assured that each sleeve valve is at the right position at the right time. The operation of the Knight patented double-sleeve valve is described more fully in an earlier article (‘1923 Willys-Knight Tourer: Last American Knight’) at Vintage Car Heritage.
Willys-Overland knew the value of good, clean oil to a sleeve-valve engine, as indeed to any other type of engine. An Oil Rectifier that was an oil cleaner was a standard feature. Utilising engine heat from the exhaust manifold, the heat volatilises any unburnt fuel that may have found its way into the oil, as such fuel may wash away the lubricating oil from the sleeve and piston surfaces in each cylinder assembly. Hot gases from the exhaust manifold are piped through and past the Rectifier, then up and over the engine to join the intake manifold, similarly helping to volatilise the fuel/air mixture.
John’s grandfather bought the car from the original owner in 1960. Thirty years of registration papers and documentation came with the car. The original owner added on blinkers over the years, and a period tyre pressure gauge and a spark plug checker are attached with custom mountings to the dashboard, a personal flourish of the former owner.
The small trunk fitted to the sedan was available to Hick’s grandfather. A larger one will be sought for. Tie-on knobs aplenty were fitted and many chrome rub strips protect the bodywork from damage by a shifting trunk.
The sedan is usable as is, and the minimal remaining work means that John Hicks has the luxury of restoration on the go, if and when he chooses, without the car requiring to be taken off the road. We should all be so lucky.