Jeep is no different than any other vehicle manufacturer in having produced a mix of both iconic products that became benchmarks and vehicles that were just too goofy for prime time. The goofy ones may have been too many steps ahead of the technological curve, one of those sounded-good-at-the-time moments. It may have led to a breakthrough of some kind or charted the way for something new down the road. Any way you slice it, here is a mix of some unique Jeeps from days of yore that fit both the benchmark and goofy categories.
Yep, there was one. It was the project name for the Jeep you now know as the CJ-7. This is one of a series of December 1972 photographs of the first prototype of the new long-wheelbase Jeep -- one with honest-to-goodness doors! The prototype had a 304ci V-8 with the TH400 automatic and Quadra-Trac T-case, which had just been introduced for the ’73 model year in Wagoneers. The CJ-7 proved to be one of Jeep’s many home runs.
Not long after large-scale production of standardized ¼-ton jeeps began, Willys started working on a ¾-ton version. There was a significant shortage of military ¾-ton trucks at the time, and it made sense to develop something maximizing existing parts. The Willys MT, later to be called the “Super” jeep, was the result. Essentially, it utilized standard jeep running gear on a lengthened and beefed-up chassis that mounted a third driving axle. It utilized 65 percent existing jeep components with no alterations, and many of the unique parts were simply modified standard jeep parts. A number of what later became Jeep mechanical staples came from this, including 5.38:1 axle ratios and the 2.43:1 low-range Spicer 18 T-case. A small number of prototypes were built in several configurations, including gun platforms, cargo trucks, and late in the process, this Heil fifth-wheel trailer was tested. Performance of the MT was exemplary, but the design was deemed “surplus to requirements.”
The Missing Link
There was a definite transition from the flatfender to the roundfender Jeep and it came about as a result of the taller F-head engine that required more headroom. This early prototype, photographed in August of 1950, had the F-head engine and a new rounded cowl and curved hood similar to what the later MD and CJ Jeeps would have, but with the original flat fenders and rear body. There were a number of design changes after this one before the more familiar lines of the MC (M38A1) and CJ-5 Jeeps appeared, including one called the CJ-4. Jp broke the news back in 1997 that the CJ-4 prototype had survived, and we’ll update you on this now-restored rig later on.
Some of you may know “WAC” as an acronym for Women’s Army Corps. Applied to this experimental Willys, it stood for “Willys Air Cooled,” sometimes known as the “Jeeplet.” It was an offshoot of a project to develop ultra-light air-portable, or para-capable, vehicles. It used very little of the existing jeep, had independent front and rear suspension and a mid-mount, 24hp Harley Davidson V-twin engine. Weighing only 986 pounds, it could carry nearly its own weight. Testers commented that seating was the most uncomfortable ever devised -- and that’s really something coming from a GI. This was an early development that eventually led to the ’50s-’70s M-274 mule.
A 1958 Product Planning book had an artist’s concept of a c but a few similar prototypes were also built around 1960. They were to be powered by Ford 292ci V-8s. In fact, according to some bill of materials from the era, Jeep was seriously thinking about using those engines for a number of other products. The semi idea never bore any production fruit, but Jeep did build 1-ton DRW 4x4 FC-170 trucks that were only a step below this rig. The pictures here show they also built some fifth-wheel and four-wheel trailers for them as well. The FC-170 came with the 226ci Super Hurricane Six (basically a Continental engine) but early in the 1960s some were sold under a special contract with Cerlist three-cylinder two-stroke diesels installed.
Yeah, that’s what they called this ’58 experimental utility vehicle. It was powered by a rear-mounted Willys Go-Devil flathead 134ci four-cylinder coupled to an automatic transmission. A few prototypes were built in Post Office, general utility, and aircraft tug configuration, but the idea never went anywhere. Who would want to ride in anything called a Creep?
What’s wrong with these pictures? Look closely. When Jeep developed the C101 Jeepster Commando, it toyed with the idea of using its front end design on the CJ. Conversely, the standard CJ front was tried out with the C101 body. Looked good either way on both rigs. What do you think? These pics were in a C101 hood study book dated August of 1965, not long before the design for the Jeepster Commando was finalized.
I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
It isn’t the Fairmont Hy-Rail road/track conversion that makes this ’49 or ’50 Willys Wagon unique -- it’s the four doors. These conversions were done by a coachbuilder under contract to Willys and could be special ordered. They were available in the 1948-1961 timeline, but it isn’t clear how many were built. Most of the survivors are railroad veterans and had a Fairmont Hy-Rail conversion. The railroads used these rigs to carry rail crews and the four-door (there were also three-door) models provided better access. It must have been important for these companies to spring for the extra cost of the conversion. Last time we checked, there were fewer than 20 of these rigs known to have survived. Estimates of the numbers built run only in the low hundreds.
We know little about this amphibious Jeep concept beyond the timeframe, which was around 1963-1965, where it was shown with a group of other prototypes. We do know it was in response to a call for a new generation of amphibious vehicles. From the other photos in the series, it’s clear the hull/body is made of fiberglass or GRP (glass-reinforced plastic). Nothing really indicates who built this, and a number of experts that we consulted could not positively ID this rig. If you can, speak up! We are thinking something from the commercial products division of Willys Motors, which later became AM General.
MEEP or JUTT?
Here’s another unknown. If you know your M151 MUTTs, then you will see the similarities here. Again, this is from around 1963-1965. The rear body has many similarities with the M151, but it uses solid axles and may be body-on-frame rather than unitized. Again, we are thinking something from Willys Motors, which around this time had won a contract to build large number of the Ford-designed M151 MUTT. This rig was being displayed at the same time and place as the amphib pictured to the left.
By 1959, the Jeep Station Wagon (left) was 13 years old and pretty dated looking. Willys Motors was looking to replace it with a more-modern people mover early in the new decade. It produced some wild ideas, but one firm evolutionary step is seen on the right. The Jeep J-100 Malibu was the first running and driving prototype in the development process that created the Wagoneer that debuted in late 1962. The Malibu, and its cousin the Berkeley, had nice lines, but did they have that iconic look that would stand the test of time? Evidently not. The Malibu sat on a 110-inch wheelbase and used running gear from the existing wagon line. It had a fiberglass body. Yeah, Jeep dabbled more than a little into fiberglass and even aluminum in those days and came close to producing vehicle with bodies of those materials. The previously mentioned 292ci Ford V-8 was in the running for a powerplant.
Cheap Jeep for Export
In the early ’60s, Jeep was falling behind Land Rover and Toyota in the export markets and was looking for a way to sell more Jeeps overseas. One idea that came really close to enactment was the Export Low Investment Program. The idea was to send CKD (Chassis Knock Down) Jeeps to a factory overseas to be finished using local materials. The bodies were designed to be simply and easily produced locally on minimal tooling. A number of prototypes like this were built on J200 truck chassis. A design was penned for the CJ chassis, though it isn’t clear if any prototypes were built. A large book of blueprints and instructions on how to make the parts was produced. Not very Jeepy, but functional.