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Found: Rare Military Jeep CJV35/U

Posted in Features on January 28, 2019
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Jeeps for the civilian market officially began with the CJ-2A, followed by the CJ-3A a few years later. The Jeeps you see here are quite similar to the CJ-3A models, but they have some unique military-only features. In 1950, the U.S. Navy contracted 1,000 Jeeps to be built at the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, for use by the United States Marine Corps, and the model was designated as the CJV35/U. It would be the only military contract for a Jeep that was fulfilled between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean conflict.

There are several special traits about this specific Willys. It was designed to ford deep water, using a snorkel ventilation setup plumbed to the engine and drivetrain. The transmission, transfer case, master cylinder, fuel tank, and vacuum-driven wiper system all had to be plumbed to the air filter to keep them from ingesting water during short-duration fording. Inside the tub sat a PTO-driven generator to supply power to bed-mounted radio gear. The plan was to use these Jeeps for forward observation or reconnaissance to direct aircraft or artillery fire.

Today, there are very few of these Jeeps still in running condition, so it’s rare to see even one. In fact, many Jeep enthusiasts, unaware of the CJV35/U, might mistakenly believe one of these to be a converted CJ-3A made to look like a military model. We have the pleasure of showing you not one but three surviving and running unicorns.

Mike Wixom is a dedicated Jeep owner who has nearly become an expert on the CJV35/U after chasing down and collecting vehicles, parts, and a pile of historic data. He acquired his first one in 2008 when it was thought to simply be an old Willys used for hunting duty. Wixom was going to build a rockcrawler with it, but luckily he discovered it was a rare Jeep before he started modifying it. After collecting some missing parts, and acquiring a parts donor CJV35/U that was doing snowplow duty in Utah, he restored his first one with the help of Tanner Lamb of Lamb Fab in Gilbert, Arizona.

That one is beautifully revived, and Wixom takes it to military vehicle events and parades. It does have a period-correct rear seat in it, but originally a radio set would have resided there. He longed to chase down original radio gear, so he started with spares left from the second Jeep, purchased a third CJV35/U from an owner in Georgia, and collected parts for another two years. The latest Jeep was rough but a good starting platform with original engine and drivetrain. When he felt he had most everything needed, he called upon Lamb Fab again to help with restoration.

Wixom queried the U.S. Government through a Freedom of Information Act request for any details they might have on this model, but they could offer no information. Diligent sleuthing finally led him to an original radio manual where he was able to determine these Jeeps could be outfitted with one of four radio sets. However, it appears the Navy sometimes moved them around on these Jeeps, and some may have never received radios.

This latest Jeep is very likely the most complete and accurate CJV35/U in existence, and it includes a fully working generator, complete wiring, and functional original radio gear. It even has an original Bendix-Scintilla waterproof aircraft distributor. This is another part that has become rare; they were often troublesome and so many were removed and replaced with other distributors over the decades.

A four-cylinder Willys-Overland “Go-Devil” engine powers the CJV35/U. The 134ci engine is a low-compression design with a 6.5:1 compression ratio. At 4,000 rpm it could produce about 60 hp and build 105 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. Behind the L-head–type engine sits a Borg-Warner T90 three-speed manual transmission.

It does appear these Jeeps never served the duty for which they were intended. Introduction of the Willys M-38 in 1950 made the CJV35/U obsolete, as the new model had a waterproof ignition system and other improvements over the previous MB model. The CJV35/U used a 6V electrical system, while the M-38 was produced with a 24V system to make it more field compatible with other military vehicles. It is known that a few of these Jeeps ended up in the Netherlands, and it appears the armed services might have surplused some in the mid-1950s to various government agencies.

Unique to this Jeep model are the extended headlight rings in the front grille that were used in place of typical blackout lighting of the era. A few small sheetmetal items related to the radio gear had to be reproduced, as the originals were missing or damaged beyond use. These were accurately reproduced from blueprints Wixom has acquired or from dimensions taken from borrowed parts.

Wixom also learned much more over recent years digging into these old vehicles. For instance, he recently discovered that the front axle hubs and a front portion of the frame were painted green and not black. Wixom initially thought the CJV35/U models were painted in USMC semi-gloss Forest Green 24052, but more recent research has shown they were actually painted with USMC lusterless Forest Green 14052. He’s since gone back and made some corrections on his first restored one. Of note too is that the contract for these Jeeps specified there was to be no bright hardware on them.

Thanks to Wixom’s dogged pursuit and hundreds of hours spent researching the lineage of the CJV35/U, much more is known about these post-war military Jeeps. He also credits his increase in knowledge to some fellow enthusiasts and the “Jeep Internet community” for tracking down many details. Despite the rarity of these Jeeps, there may be some Jeep owners out there who think they have a more common CJ-3A but actually have one of these. If interested, you can connect with other CJV35/U owners and see other surviving examples at cj3a.info/v35.

A simple tube snorkel snakes out the side of the hood and up the windshield. The CJV35/U came standard with a full fording setup that had been an optional kit for the previous MB models. The following M-38 models all came with fording capabilities. Other military Jeeps had no stamped lettering on sheetmetal, but the CJV35/U got the same stamped Willys logo as the civilian Jeeps.
When it came time to enter deep water, the driver would pull a dash-mounted handle that would move cable-operated valves to enable a ventilation system used to keep water out of the engine. Under fording conditions, the engine crankcase is kept at slight positive pressure with respect to atmosphere. A single-barrel Carter YS carburetor meters fuel into the intake.
Many of these Jeeps are missing the original dashplates, or they are aged beyond clear readability. Wixom actually had accurate reproduction plaques made for his first build, but this Jeep luckily has original surviving specimens.
The front axle is a closed-knuckle Dana-Spicer Model 27 and the rear is a Model 41, a precursor to the Dana 44 axle. Stock gearing is 5:38:1 ratio and drum brakes sit at all four corners. These Jeeps were outfitted with heavy-duty leaf packs to support the added payload of the radio gear. These are the original front bumper lift rings and towhooks.
Peering down into the interior one can see the typical mechanical dash gauges, but with a waterproof speedometer. The storage bag above them contains the multi-piece radio antenna. The electrical generator sitting between the canvas seats is driven from the power-take-off (PTO) output of the Dana-Spicer Model 18 transfer case with 2.46:1 low-range gearing. These generators weigh in excess of 100 pounds and are now very rare, as most owners have tossed them away over the years.
The tailpipe exits at right rear and the tip ends a bit higher than the front snorkel. Two-piece steel combat wheels hold 6.00-16 NDT (non-directional tread) tires. Out back is a 5-gallon fuel can, spare tire, and the single taillight used on these Jeeps.
The large radio box and extra batteries take up all the rear cargo space. All of the radio units sat inside a sealed housing to protect them from the elements. When needed, the operator could open the four window ports to access the controls.
The antenna base is visible, mounted to the opposite rear corner of the tub. It’s possible to identify which radio set might have been installed based on the various holes drilled in the tub for fitment of the gear and antennas.
A remote control unit for the radio is mounted under the dash. From here, the operator could connect a microphone and hearing pieces, and perform basic functions.
Wixom has managed to put together three running CJV35/U models during his last decade of chasing parts, specs, and history for these elusive flatfender Jeeps.

Why This Jeep?

Willys Jeeps have a strong heritage comprised of both military and civilian vehicles. Various model traits converged and diverged over decades. We present here a military example that spanned only one model year and might have easily faded into history without a few avid collectors preserving this most uncommon Jeep.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1950 Jeep CJV35/U
Engine: Willys-Overland “Go-Devil” 134ci L-Head I-4
Transmission: Dana-Spicer T90 three-speed manual
Transfer Case: Dana-Spicer 18 (2.46:1 low range) with PTO
Suspension: Original HD leaf springs (10 leaves), Monroe OEM shocks
Axles: Dana-Spicer 27 (front), Dana-Spicer 41 (rear), with 5.38s (open)
Wheels: 16-inch, steel two-piece split
Tires: 6.00-16 NDT tube type

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