Not long after winning a 16,000-unit contract for a standardized 1⁄4-ton military 4x4 in July of 1941, Willys-Overland began making plans for civilianizing it. W-O thought about the role a civvy jeep might take in peacetime and a multipurpose farm vehicle became the focus. In 1942, a couple of early production MB jeeps were tested at the Farm Tillage Machinery Lab in Auburn, Alabama, and many agriculturally-related shortcomings were uncovered. Willys still had a lot of war work to catch up on but managed upgrades to two military production MBs by May of 1944 for further tests. They were dubbed CJ-1—the CJ for "Civilian Jeep."
Almost concurrently, engineers put an all-civvy design on paper that utilized many original jeep features, but added many new ones. This edition was called the CJ-2, and small-scale production started in 1944. Most of the visual changes were subtle, but a new tailgate, flush-mounted 7-inch headlights, and modifications to the rear fenderwells for more “cushy” seats were obvious. The mechanical changes included a stouter transmission (T90A vs. the weak military T84J), a stronger version of the Spicer 18 T-case with a better 2.43:1 low range vs. the GI 1.99:1, and 5.38:1 axle ratios. The exact production number of CJ-2s is unknown, but was around 40. Enter the CJ-2A.
After extensive tests and development, the civilian CJ-2A debuted in June of 1945. Full production and sales began a short while later, but only 1,824 1945 CJ-2As were built before the '46 models were announced in October. The '45 and early '46 CJ-2As were very different than what came later. Some of the early highlights include a full-float Spicer 23 rear axle, military tool indents on the left-side of the tub, recessed front marker lights on the trademarked new seven-slot grille, column shift transmission and a side exit MB style muffler. There were many other smaller features that soon changed.
Only two colors were available in '45: Harvest Tan and Pasture Green. The CJ-2A came standard topless. If you wanted weather protection, you ordered the half canvas, with or without the rear extension, or the metal half cab, to which the rear canvas extension also attached. Comfort options were few in those days, but go-to-work accessories abounded.
The '45 CJ-2A was America's first taste of a civilian Jeep. Given the cheap availability of war surplus MB and GPW jeeps, the decent sales of the first civvy Jeeps probably took some of the sweat off executive brows at Willys-Overland, and the company sold all it could make for the first few years. Remaining '45 CJ-2A's are few and extremely valuable in the collector world. Estimates of remaining '45 numbers? No more than about 30 are known to still exist. Many of those are little more than a chassis and a few parts. To buy one like Lindsay Clark's superbly restored '45 could cost you up to a cool $25,000.
Vehicle: '45 Willys-Overland CJ-2A
Serial Number Range: 10,001-11,824
Engine: Inline four-cylinder, L-head
Power: 60hp @ 4,000 rpm (gross)
Torque: 105 lb-ft @ 2,000 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed, Warner T90A
Transfer Case: 2-speed, Spicer 18
Front Axle: Spicer 25
Rear Axle: Spicer 23
Axle Ratios: 5.38:1
Wheelbase: 80 inches
L x W x H: 130.8 x 59 x 69 inches
Curb Wt.: 2,215 pounds
GVW: 3,500 pounds