As World War II progressed, the jeep was modified in ways the original designers never dreamt about. One of the more interesting was the Willys-Overland MLW-2, known by the Army as the T24 and often called the “Jungle Jeep.” “MLW” was Willys code, with the “M” for a military contract and the “LW” for long wheelbase. The “2” indicated the second design but there are indications that the first existed only on paper.
Late in 1943, the Army Air Forces in the Pacific submitted a report on vehicles used at airstrips in the Pacific theater. It outlined the need for a higher-capacity, higher-mobility jeep for use on perpetually muddy airfields. Somebody must have read that report and put a priority on it because the Ordnance Department soon contracted Willys-Overland to more fully develop a half-ton, high-mobility 4x4 pickup based on the jeep.
The new vehicle was dubbed; truck, 1⁄2-ton, 4x4, pickup, Light Jungle, T24, and Willys had two prototypes ready by January of 1944. They were both MBs with the wheelbase stretched 12 inches to 92 inches. A body was fabbed to make a short pickup with a tailgate and have the clearance to fit 7.50-20 tractor tires (about 36 inches tall).
The axles were wider than stock (58.75 inches vs. 49 inches) and fit with 5.38 gears. Standard gearing for WWII jeeps was 4.88 and the 5.38 ratios had recently been developed for the MT 6x6 “Super Jeep,” which had a special 2.43:1 low-range for the Spicer transfer case (stock was 1.97:1). Both these items became part and parcel of the later civilian jeeps but this was hot new stuff in 1944.
The springs were uprated for the 1,000-pound cross-country loads (800 lbs. for the standard jeep) but the springs were left in the original position, leaving a sizeable chunk of tube outboard of the spring. The rest of the mechanicals were more or less standard jeep stuff.
The two Jungle Jeeps went to separate areas for initial tests. One went West to a desert test center and the other to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. The desert jeep soon moved to the Tillage Machinery Lab in Auburn, Alabama, for mud testing, and its mobility in mud proved vastly superior to the standard jeep. Without chains, the Willys-Overland MLW-2 could go 89 feet on the test track while the standard jeep could only go 15.
Testing in Aberdeen uncovered many technical faults, including gearing not low enough for the engine power and a weak clutch. Bearing failures with the T-case were also noted, as well as axleshafts and drive flanges too weak for the big tires. The brakes were also inadequate for the tire size, and the vehicle needed heavier springs for full-capacity loads in rough terrain. The axle tubes bent where they hung outboard of the springs. It’s funny; the wheelers of today could have glanced at this vehicle and predicted all of these problems. On the “like” list were very favorable comments about the body and general design. Cross-country performance was also praised.
Later, one of the Jeeps was fit with standard jeep axles containing 5.38 ratios and mounting 7.50-16 tires. The durability results were better and the cross-country tests were still very good versus the standard jeep. Some factions in the Army wanted to continue development, citing that the durability issues could be addressed with updated parts, but by this time, the war was over and the project was dropped. One of the prototypes is reputed to have survived in storage at Aberdeen until it was scrapped in 1949.
The development of compact, high-mobility military vehicles, many based on the jeep, continued. Only a few Willys-Overland MLW-2 rigs made it to production but the experience gained during those developments benefitted the four-wheel drive world in general. Special thanks to Bob Westerman for augmenting our files on this great experimental jeep. Check out his great book on the CJ-3A.
Vehicle: Willys-Overland MLW-2
Serial Number Range: NA
Engine: 4-cyl. L-head, Willys Go-Devil
Power: 60 hp @ 4000 (gross)
Torque: 105 lbs-ft @ 1800
Transmission: 3-speed, Warner T84J
Transfer Case: SAE-6937 (Modified Spicer 18)
Front Axle: AE-9250 (modified Spicer 25)
Rear Axle: AE-9251 (modified Spicer 23)
Axle Ratios: 5.38:1
Wheelbase: 92 inches
L x W x H: 142.44 x 62 x 72.18 inches
Curb Wt.: 2,682 lbs
GVW: 3,683 lbs
Special Thanks To:
Bob Westerman, The Civilian Model Jeep CJ-3A, http://cj3a.info/book/index.html