In the late ’40s, Jeeps were having power struggles. The Willys-Overland Go-Devil engine was a legend in World War II jeeps, but lack of power became a problem in postwar Jeeps. Moving a 2,300-pound MB or CJ with 60 hp is one thing. Schlepping a 3,300-pound Jeep station wagon was something else.
An engine update project was started in 1947, and an elegantly simple, low-cost F-head upgrade of the Jeep L-head four was the 1949 result. The increased breathing upped the power in the new “Hurricane” engine from 60 to 72 hp and the torque from 105 to 114 lb-ft. The main goal was to introduce the Hurricane to the ’50 station wagon and pickup, where it was needed most. It became a priority for the CJ as well.
In 1949, Willys completed work on a new military Jeep prototype, the Willys Model MC, later better known as the M-38. In early tests, the Army expressed dissatisfaction with the performance. New requirements had raised the Jeep’s curb weight and GVW significantly. As a result, the 60hp Go-Devil was no longer cutting the mustard. The Army settled for the M-38 with the understanding that something more peppy was on the near horizon. This materialized in 1952 as the round-fender M38A1(Model MD), the grandfather of the CJ-5, which mounted an F-head engine and a totally new body. The MD didn’t immediately translate to a civilian model because of the Korean War, materials shortages, and an economic downturn, but Willys still wanted to capitalize on a more powerful CJ in the least costly way possible.
The issue with fitting the taller F-head was hood height. To make a low-cost CJ upgrade, Willys simply added sections to the hood and cowl of the CJ-3A flatfender with almost no other body changes. The CJ-3B debuted in January of 1953 and was sold concurrently with the low-hood CJ-3A most of that year. It was nearly called the CJ-4, but Willys tradition prevailed and the “B” suffix was used to denote the upgrade of an existing Jeep model rather than a new number for a completely new model.
The CJ-3B was well received. That extra 12 hp was welcome, even though very little else changed from the CJ-3A, and the high-hood sold in large numbers for 1953 and 1954. During that time, the Korean War wound down and the economy picked up, so Willys opted to introduce a new Jeep, the CJ-5, for 1955. It would have been logical to discontinue the CJ-3B, but Jeep didn’t.
The ’53 CJ-3B was sold in three variations—the standard model with a 453-GB2 serial number prefix (27,551 produced), a stripped chassis with a 453-GA2 prefix (2,267 produced), and the Farm Jeep with a 453-GC2 prefix (65 produced). The Farm Jeep came with a hydraulic 3-point lift and hydraulic pump, along with a 265-pound cast iron weight up front. A ’53 Farm Jeep was tested at the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Lab and found to generate a maximum of 2,317 pounds of drawbar pull, 27 drawbar hp, and 37 PTO hp. The CJ-3B Farm Jeep was sold only in 1953 and 1954.
American production of the CJ-3B continued into 1968, but once the CJ-5 debuted, it ramped down from around 30,000 to between 6,000 and 10,000 annual units, with a few spurts nearing or passing 20,000. Licensed CJ-3Bs were built by Mitsubishi of Japan until 1998, and Mahindra of India was still building them in the ’00s, making the CJ-3B style the longest-running Jeep model of all time. The CJ-3B was a popular export-market Jeep, and militarized versions were exported as the M-606. You may think it’s ugly as sin, but the CJ-3B was a pivotal part of Jeep history.
Vehicle: 1953 Jeep Universal CJ-3B
Serial Number Range: 10,001-37,551
Engine: Inline four-cylinder, F-head
Power: 72hp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 114 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 3-speed T90A
Transfer Case: 2-speed, Spicer 18
Front Axle: Dana 25
Rear Axle: Dana 44
Axle Ratios: 5.38:1
Wheelbase: 80 inches
L x W x H: 130 x 59 x 66.25 inches
Curb Wt.: 2,243 lbs
GVW: 3,500 lbs