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Jeep: The First 70 Years Part 2

1944 Jeep Cj2
Jim Allen | Writer
Posted March 1, 2011
Photographers: Courtesy Chrysler Group LLC

Civilian Jeeps and the Dawn of Recreational Wheeling

Swords to Plowshares:
CJs, 1944-1971
The World War II military jeeps had many attributes, comfort not being among them. Willys knew the jeep was at least a base hit, if not a triple, that might turn into a home run when the war ended. As early as 1943, they were able to devote some time to developing the jeep for civilian use. From these efforts, the CJ ("Civilian Jeep") was born. The first prototypes, called the CJ-1, were pulled from the military line and adapted with tailgates and the addition of accessories. After various tests, the vehicle was fine-tuned mechanically for the agricultural/commercial use that was seen as its primary postwar role. Many of the improvements, such as lower transfer-case gears, lower axle ratios, and a stronger transmission were things that had been developed for other wartime projects. In 1944, the first CJ-2 emerged as a substantially altered design, not merely an adapted military jeep. It could have been just a dolled-up GI jeep, but it was much more. It wore work clothes but was far more capable in every respect than the wartime jeep, and more comfortable.

The production CJ-2A emerged in late 1945 and, even though surplus military jeeps were a dime a dozen, they sold well enough to make Willys happy. The beginning of the Korean War in 1950 both helped and hurt Jeep development. The military contracts were helpful, but materials shortages and a slack economy were not. Historians have speculated this was why the civilian round-fender (later known as the CJ-5) didn't appear in 1952 with the military version. The upgrades made to the CJ-3A weren't earth-shattering, but in those lean times Willys needed some hoopla-even if it only filled a shot glass. Kaiser Industries bought Willys-Overland in 1953 and injected some much needed cash and stability.

When the 1955 CJ-5 and CJ-6s debuted, there was a lot more to talk about. The new bodies offered much more interior room, more comfort, and an array of features and options that expanded rapidly as the '50s became the '60s. In 1957, the T-98 four-speed and the Powr-Lok limited-slip were added to the options list. In 1961, the Perkins 4-192 diesel was added as an engine option. Also that year, the Tuxedo Park option came available, which added more comfort and style accessories. Likely the biggest bit of hoopla for the '60s was the addition of the 225ci V-6 to the line in 1966. With 160 (gross) horsepower on tap, it gave the CJ some muscle to flex. When Jeep passed to AMC in 1970, the CJ line was in pretty good shape.

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