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1953 CJ-3B Universal - Jeep Encyclopedia

Posted in Features on February 17, 2014 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Jim Allen Collection

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.

This is the CJ-3B hoopla. The Hurricane F-head engine was an upgrade of the Go-Devil L-head, and they had many interchangeable parts. In fact, you could make an L-head into an F-head and there was once a kit available to do this. The exhaust valve remained in the block, but the cam profile differs between the two engines. A high-compression head (7.4:1) was available for high altitude, and at sea level, those engines produced 75 hp and 119 lb-ft. These heads were often painted yellow from the factory.

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.

There were few interior differences between the high-hood and low-hood interiors. The original price for this ’53 was $1,377, but that did not include a passenger seat ($20.38) or top ($105.68). The heater was around $60, the rear PTO almost $100, and the drawbar around $25. This Jeep was not ordered with the rear seat (about $40), but Dave installed one from a similar vintage Jeep. A turn signal kit (these are not factory original) cost you $25.

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.

Hard Facts
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

Dave Streithorst has owned this unrestored Emerald Green ’53 CJ-3B since 1994. It’s an early-production ’53 and was used on a farm near Troy, Ohio. It’s showing 70,000 original miles. It had one repaint done by the original owner in 1980, and the top was replaced with this vintage Kayline in the mid-’60s. It was equipped with a rear PTO from the factory. Dave replaced the original 7.00-15s with 6.00-16s, which were a period option.


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