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Instant Old Jeep Guru

Posted in How To on May 1, 2013
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Unfortunately, a strong love of the iconic early civilian or military Jeeps does not necessarily an early Jeep expert make. Nor does ownership of one of these early Toledo vehicles. And somehow working for a magazine does not always necessarily work either. Why? Well there are lots of differences between these rigs. The worst part is that the different vehicles slowly transitioned from one model to another so an early CJ-3A usually has more parts in common with a late CJ-2A than a late CJ-3A, and an early CJ-2A may have more parts in common with a military MB than a CJ-3A. Confused yet? Well, if you are not, guess what? Most of these rigs are now more than 50 years old and that means that probably at some point a rebuild or restoration may have occurred once…maybe twice…okay, three times or more is possible. So that early CJ-3A in the garage might not be the best reference for originality.

Check out this nice early CJ-2A. See the Willys stamped into the windshield and hood? See the soft top bows on the driver side of the tub? Both are clues that this is a CJ-2A. The parking light cut outs in the grille gives a clue that this is an early CJ-2A. Later models would have glass lenses there.

The problem is that anybody could have bolted anything to just about any old Jeep at some time in the past. How do we know? From experience! Our early ’49 CJ-3A has a mix of parts from all manner of early Jeeps. The hood and grille appear to be correct, but the fenders look more like those from a CJ-2A. Now it is an early CJ-3A, so it’s possible that the 2A fenders may just be original and a holdover from the former model. The windshield is correct, but the offset Dana rear 44 the Jeep was purchased with was not. Early CJ-3As should have a Dana 41 rear axle. Oh, and did we mention that our early CJ-3A had a couple Ford script bolts holding the frame together? Those are bolts made by Ford for the military GPW and definitely never had a place on a CJ-3A. Oh well. The old Jeep is not the best candidate for an exact period correct restoration, but we still love it.

Luckily for you we have put together an early Jeep spotter’s guide with some things to look for that may help you figure out what that early Jeep down the road is, or at least what age a given part on that Jeep might be. We’ve skipped over some differences to focus on easy-to-spot differences, and we have skipped some rare models such as the military version of the CJ-3A and CJ-3B.

Military Jeeps
Most military Jeeps do not have a tailgate—unless someone has cut an opening into the tub. They usually also have large filler necks for easy fuel-ups in the field. Many military flatfenders (except for some early MBs) have gloveboxes, while Civilian flatfenders usually do not.

An original steel flatfender tub with a glovebox is a good indication that the tub is military. Our ’49 CJ-3A has an aftermarket aluminum tub with a glovebox with a modified military glovebox door—and a tailgate opening.


  • The first MBs had a slat grille made with strap-steel with headlights that folded backwards to point at the engine when the hood was open
  • Slat grille replaced with stamped grille with fold-down headlights feature
  • Toolboxes inset in the rear portion of rear inner wheelwell

Hmm, no tailgate. Is that a Military Flattie? Nope, it’s a trick. Someone filled in the tailgate on this CJ-2A’s tub.


  • Ford script on bolts, frame, suspension brackets, and on very early models, the body
  • Slat grille replaced with stamped grille with fold-down headlights
  • Toolboxes in rear portion of rear inner wheelwell

See the cursive F leaning on its side? That means this CJ-2A is riding on a GPW frame. Ford script bolts from GPWs have a similar cursive F on the head of the bolt.


  • New grille
  • New windshield


  • Very different than earlier military Jeeps
  • First “round fender” Jeep
  • Shackle reversal front suspension
  • Tall dash with a glovebox on the driver’s side
  • Battery box in the cowl accessed by removable cover
  • Dished area for an electrical plug on the passenger side below the cowl

Looking down into a M38A1’s battery box inside the cowl.


  • Long-wheel base version of the M38A1
  • Functional tailgate with oval cutouts for litter handles
  • Enlarged passenger-side door opening for litter access

Civilian Jeeps
Most Willys-stamped parts are off a civilian Jeep and not a military one. OK, so in some rare instances Willys and Ford were stamped on military Jeeps, but most likely that hood or windshield with Willys on it is a civilian part. If you see Ford or Willys stamped into back of a tailgate-less flatfender Jeep body, try to buy it. It’s rare.

This is a CJ-2A passenger-side front fender. Note the angled battery box bump that sits a few inches back from the grille.

CJ-2A (’45-’48)

  • Similar to a MB
  • Has a tailgate
  • Spare tire mounted to passenger-side rear tub
  • Dash is similar to MB but without glovebox
  • Early 2As have tool indents on the driver side
  • Very early 2As have column-shift transmission
  • No “rain gutter” on the toolbox under the passenger seat
  • Soft-top bow brackets on the driver side

The toolbox under the passenger seat of a CJ-2A does not have a “rain gutter” on the lip of the opening.

CJ-3A (’49-’53)

  • New windshield similar to M38, but with center door that opens for air flow
  • Different passenger-side front fender for slightly different battery box
  • Tub is very similar to CJ-2A, but has different seats and rear wheel housings for a touch more leg room
  • “Rain gutter” added to the lip of the toolbox under the passenger seat
  • DJ-3A is a 2WD version of the CJ-3A

Here is a CJ-3A passenger-side fender. Apparently the Toledo engineers moved the battery box forward a few inches and a new inner fender had to be designed.

CJ-3B (’53- ‘68)

  • Also known as a high-hood, it has a taller hood cowl and grille than a CJ-3A. If you see one, you’ll know it
  • Overhead-valve F-head Hurricane engine
  • DJ-3B is a 2WD version of the CJ-3B

The toolbox on a CJ-3A, CJ-3B, early, and intermediate CJ-5 all have a “rain gutter” on the lip of the tool box opening.
PhotosView Slideshow

Early CJ-5 and CJ-6 (‘55-’71)

  • Very similar to M38A1 (or M-170 for CJ-6)
  • Dual battery box opening in passenger cowl is fitted with a welded on cover plate on ’55-‘64 CJ-5s. This is presumably because of tooling left over from the M38A1. After 1964 the vestigial battery box goes away.
  • Grille is similar to M38A1 but with headlights not quite as recessed as on M38A1
  • Tailgate opening distinguishes from M38A1
  • Tailgates are stamped with Willys

The grille on the left is from an early CJ-5 while the one on the right is from an M38A1. Note that the military Jeep’s headlights were recessed more and the parking light holes with angled bottom edges.

Intermediate CJ-5 and CJ-6 (’72-’75)

  • Front fenders and hood are longer
  • Gas tank moved to the back and side of tub is enclosed
  • Filler neck now on passenger rear corner
  • Tailgates are stamped “Jeep”
  • Saginaw manual or power steering box factory (Ross cam and lever steering of older Jeeps gone).
  • Centered rear Dana 44 axle
  • Open-knuckle Dana 30 front axle

Intermediate CJ-5 was stretched to accommodate the inline-six engines and V-8s. The best way to identify this is by looking at the back of the front fenders, where about 3 inches were added. The wheelbase is also 3 inches longer.

Late CJ-5 (’76-’81)

  • No toolbox under passenger seat
  • Windshield hinge bolts to cowl and front side of windshield
  • Windshield wiper motor is on the inside of the windshield frame
  • Transmission tunnel is rounder and larger
  • Fuel filler necks are recessed into the rear passenger side corner
  • AMC Model 20 rear axle
  • One-piece multi-function Speedometer gauge
  • Vent pulls in dash between steering column and speedometer

Intermediate and late CJ-5s will have the driver-side gas door filled in like this ’73 CJ-6. The tank is located in the back so the filler neck is on the rear driver-side corner.
PhotosView Slideshow

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