The Jeep® brand

© IXOCOLLECTIONS SAS © IXOMODELS

THE CJ JEEP®

Success on the battlefield was soon followed by developing models for the civilian market.

By the beginning of 1944, an Allied victory in the Second World War was starting to seem increasingly more likely. Although Willys-Overland was still very busy turning out MB Jeeps® (a new vehicle was produced at the factory in Toledo every 80 seconds), the senior management were already turning their attention towards the end of the war. 

It was clear that, once the hostilities were over, getting back to producing civilian cars again would take some time. However, in contrast to all the other US car producers, Willys already had a project in progress that would surely appeal to the civilian market. 

Initial designs for a civilian Jeep® were drawn up in January 1944 and, after just a few months, the first prototype was complete and operational. The hood sported a cast bronze “AgriJeep®” emblem: the legal dispute regarding who had the right to commercialize the “Jeep®” brand was already in progress.

A CJ-2A, the first civilian Jeep® and the first with a seven-slit radiator grille. © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

The vehicle was undeniably an MB, taken from the production lines and given a modified body onto which a tailgate had been added. This meant it was necessary to move the spare tire to the right side of the vehicle, alongside the passenger seat, while instead of having the military tow bar, the chassis featured a civilian bar – similar to those used on farming tractors – connected to the rear crossbeam. The windshield was still reclinable, but it was held in the lowered position by a canvas strap fixed to the middle of the radiator grille. 

Following the prototype, later unofficially named the CJ-1, a pre-series production of 20 AgriJeeps® was manufactured, which actually turned out to be the prototypes for the subsequent CJ-2. A number of these prototypes have survived and are now owned by Jeep® enthusiasts in the US. At least two of these ante litteram CJs (the acronym CJ stands for Civilian Jeep®), the CJ-2 number 09 and the CJ-2 number 14, still have the AgriJeep® plate on the side of the hood and at the base of the windshield. Others,  like the CJ-2 number 06, still have the cast-bronze Jeep® logo on the sides of the hood. 

In addition to the above-mentioned changes applied to the body of the CJ-1, the chassis of the CJ-2 was also modified. The central plate that supported the machine gun was removed, and the final reduction ratio of the axles was increased from 4.88 to 5.38 to enable the towing of heavy trailers. The gear shift was added to the steering column rather than in its previous central position on the floor plate, and the vehicle’s electrics – still rated at 6 volts – were simplified with respect to the military model and didn’t include shielded headlights. 

The CJ-2A dashboard, with gear shift on the steering column and glove box. The gauges were almost identical to those on a military Jeep®. © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

The vehicle was also equipped with a power take-off (PTO) for operating equipment and machinery, and a line of dedicated accessories was developed to allow the CJ to compete with an agricultural tractor in every way possible. 

In its advertising campaign, the manufacturer defined the Jeep® as “the vehicle with four functions: tractor, truck, car, and stationary engine.” An additional experimental series of CJ-2s, made up of 20 vehicles, turned out to be the prelude to the final model, which entered production on July 17th, 1945, with the official name of CJ-2A. It initially shared assembly lines with the military MBs, the production of which continued until September 1945 – the 9,000 MBs stipulated in the final contract assigned to Willys were, in fact, produced between July and September 1945. 

The CJ-2A had a new radiator grille with seven slits (the military model had nine, as did the CJ-1 and CJ-2), which became one of the brand’s distinctive features. It also had civilian-style headlights, larger in diameter and protruding from the radiator grille (whereas on the MB, CJ-1, and CJ-2 they  were recessed). The price was set at US$1,200 (the price of the MB varied depending on the contract, but it averaged around US$850 per vehicle), the gear shift was on the steering column, and the fuel cap was moved back to its original position – on the left of the vehicle under the driver’s seat. The folding roof (an optional extra) was civilian style, offering more protection and including detachable ribs as opposed to being foldable as was the case on the MB. When the roof ribs weren’t in use, they could be stored in the dedicated area on the right side of the vehicle’s body. 

The CJ-2A had larger headlights than the MB. The spare tire was moved to the right side of the vehicle. © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

The early CJ-2As had many details in common with the MB, including moldings to accommodate the shovel and axe handles on the left side of the vehicle, and were equipped with only very basic features. Only the driver’s seat was provided (a passenger seat came at a cost), and the same went for the spare tire and even the right-sided taillight – in those days, US law only required a left-sided taillight and license plate light. It originally only came in two colors: khaki (Harvest Tan) with red wheel rims, and light green (Pasture Green), with yellow wheel rims; the chassis and mechanics were painted black. 

Slowly but surely, the wartime economy gave way to a peacetime economy and the materials that were reserved for military use now became available for civilian use. So, for example, the headlight bezels, which at the start of production were painted, were chrome-plated from chassis number 38687 onward. By the end of 1946, three new colors had been added to the original two: Normandy Blue, Harvard Red, and Michigan Yellow. When production ended in 1949, there was a total of seven colors available. 

Considering the period, the dynamic qualities of the Willys MB were remarkable. Enzo Ferrari defined the Jeep® as “the only true American sports car.” © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

The car itself was continuously updated, partly as a result of customer suggestions, and partly due to the availability of supplies when the stock that was originally purchased for the military version started running out. For this reason, the drivetrain, which initially included a Warner T84 transmission, was upgraded by adopting a Warner T90 transfer case able to handle an increased engine torque; it also featured shorter creeper gears (with a ratio of 2.43:1 instead of 1.9:1). 

Naturally, not all of the changes that were applied to the MB to transform it into the Universal Jeep® (which became the official name around the end of the 1940s, but which was already being used in 1945) were appreciated by the public. As an example, from the CJ-2A number 38221 onward, the gear shift was back on the floor plate, because having the shift on the steering column was considered somewhat inconvenient by civilian drivers and created reliability issues – a high number of vehicles were actually returned. 

The engine remained the classic, reliable “Go Devil” L-134, the 60-horsepower (later increased to 63), four-cylinder engine with side valves that powered the MB. The transmission still had three gears plus creeper gears, and it had a solid axle and leaf spring suspension. These were the same components that were also used by Willys-Overland for the more “frivolous” models that derived from the military version, which went into production in 1946 and were aimed at the wider public. 

The CJ-2A remained in production from 1945 through to 1949, with a total of 214,760 vehicles produced for both the civilian and military markets. Indeed, CJ-2A Jeeps® were also used for military purposes, albeit in small numbers. One of the first forces to put them into service was the Swiss Army. In the second half of the 1940s, as soon as the war in Europe had ended, Swiss military officials were sent abroad to buy state-of-the-art weapons and vehicles to re-equip the Swiss Federal Army. Among the objectives for this procurement of military equipment, significant priority was placed on the lightweight off-road reconnaissance vehicles used by the Allied forces. The obvious choice was the MB Jeep®, whose size, performance capabilities, and versatility were perfect for the difficult operational conditions posed by Switzerland’s mountainous terrain. 

The CJ-2A had the same “Go Devil” engine as the latter versions of the MB. The timing system operated via gears and not chains. © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

The car itself was continuously updated, partly as a result of customer suggestions, and partly due to the availability of supplies when the stock that was originally purchased for the military version started running out. For this reason, the drivetrain, which initially included a Warner T84 transmission, was upgraded by adopting a Warner T90 transfer case able to handle an increased engine torque; it also featured shorter creeper gears (with a ratio of 2.43:1 instead of 1.9:1). 

Naturally, not all of the changes that were applied to the MB to transform it into the Universal Jeep® (which became the official name around the end of the 1940s, but which was already being used in 1945) were appreciated by the public. As an example, from the CJ-2A number 38221 onward, the gear shift was back on the floor plate, because having the shift on the steering column was considered somewhat inconvenient by civilian drivers and created reliability issues – a high number of vehicles were actually returned. 

The engine remained the classic, reliable “Go Devil” L-134, the 60-horsepower (later increased to 63), four-cylinder engine with side valves that powered the MB. The transmission still had three gears plus creeper gears, and it had a solid axle and leaf spring suspension. These were the same components that were also used by Willys-Overland for the more “frivolous” models that derived from the military version, which went into production in 1946 and were aimed at the wider public. 

The CJ-2A remained in production from 1945 through to 1949, with a total of 214,760 vehicles produced for both the civilian and military markets. Indeed, CJ-2A Jeeps® were also used for military purposes, albeit in small numbers. One of the first forces to put them into service was the Swiss Army. In the second half of the 1940s, as soon as the war in Europe had ended, Swiss military officials were sent abroad to buy state-of-the-art weapons and vehicles to re-equip the Swiss Federal Army. Among the objectives for this procurement of military equipment, significant priority was placed on the lightweight off-road reconnaissance vehicles used by the Allied forces. The obvious choice was the MB Jeep®, whose size, performance capabilities, and versatility were perfect for the difficult operational conditions posed by Switzerland’s mountainous terrain. 

From left to right, two CJ-2As and one CJ-3A used by the Swiss Army, the largest employer of CJs for military purposes. © FCA © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. 

After procuring the initial batches of surplus vehicles, and as soon as the post-war economic situation allowed it, the Swiss Army started purchasing new Jeeps® from the US. These were new civilian vehicles that had been adapted for military use, a solution that the Swiss military administration preferred to buying secondhand MBs – if any accidents or problems were to occur, the new vehicle would be covered by the warranty. The MBs entered service in 1945–46 as the Armee Jeep® or Gelpw 0.36 t (GelaendePersonenWagen), an off-road people transporter with a payload of 0.36 metric tons; then from 1946–49 the CJ-2A Universal Jeep® (Gelpw 0.4 t) was used. 

Even the US armed forces utilized a small number of civilian Jeeps®. This was despite high numbers of MBs remaining in service after the Second World War, and the military equipment revision and renovation programs that were implemented at the end of hostilities with Japan. They were used together with the military flat fenders derived from the CJ-2A and the CJ-3A (respectively the CJ-35V and M38). 

In 1952, the US military administration calculated that, if the civilian rather than military versions of the Jeep® and Dodge had been used to equip an anti-aircraft artillery battery, the total cost would have been US$156,000 as opposed to US$264,000. It amounted to a saving of US$108,000 for the same number of vehicles and loading capacity. For this reason, during the war in Korea, both the UN and US forces used a high number of civilian Jeeps®.

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