1. home
  2. features
  3. The Oldest Restored Civilian Jeep

The Oldest Restored Civilian Jeep

1944 CJ-2-06 Agrijeep

Jim AllenPhotographer, Writer

Every ex-soldier remembers the first time civvies were donned at the end of service. It’s a symbolic moment that feels like a skin change, and can precipitate an identity crisis. Mostly, it’s a good feeling … like a weight has been lifted off. The Willys-Overland military jeep put on its first set of civvies even before World War II had ended, but it was people who did the mental flip-flops over it.

Once building Jeeps had settled down to cranking out as many as possible in the shortest time possible, Willys took some time to reflect on the success and popularity of the truck, ¼-ton, 4x4, popularly known as the Jeep. The Jeep had lifted them from a company on the decline and with no clear direction, to one with money in the bank, name recognition, and a lot of optimism for a postwar future built on that little green critter.

The civilian transformation of the wartime jeep started in 1942, when two standardized military jeeps, one Willys, one Ford, were tested by the Department of Agriculture at their tillage lab in Alabama. The Jeeps did surprisingly well as farm tractors in their military form, but the report recommended lower gearing, a stronger clutch, and accoutrements like drawbars to better suit the work.

By the early part of 1944, Willys found time to start drawing up plans for a post-war civilian Jeep and prepping for a new market. Since 1943, they had been in the process of converting the generic “jeep” into a trademarked “Jeep.” Gaining that trademark was an uphill FTC court battle but one that was finally won in 1950.

As plans for a civvy Jeep were being drawn up, a pair of military Jeeps were pulled off the line for some quick-n-dirty test-the-concept modifications. They were soon dubbed “CJ,” for “Civilian Jeep” and when a second iteration was on the horizon, the first ones became CJ-1 by default. These two CJ-1s were modified with tailgates, lower gearing, drawbars, a civilian style top, and other changes for early testing. They didn’t last long because CJ-2s soon appeared and they were the first jeeps built from the ground up for civilian use. The CJ-2 had many significant differences in body features and construction versus the military Jeep. They would evolve more over time, but to name a few changes, they would have tailgates, side mounted spare tires, rear wheelwells modified so the seats could be enlarged, improved, and moved rearward, and new methods for attaching a more weathertight top.

On the mechanical front, the GI 4.88:1 axle cogs were replaced by 5.38:1 ratios, that gearset having been developed for special military projects like the 6x6 MT-TUG. Ditto for the improved Model 18 transfer case, which had a 2.43:1 low range versus the wartime 1.97:1. The weak T-84 3-speed of the GI Jeep was replaced with the newly designed and stronger T-90, which was fitted with a column shift apparatus, and mounted behind a larger and stronger clutch.

Initially dubbed AGRIJEEP, a name Willys trademarked, the new CJs were intended for agricultural and commercial use. To help cement the “Jeep” trademark to Willys, the earliest of the CJs wore cast brass “Jeep” badges visible from the sides, front, and rear. Willys cranked out as many as 40 CJ-2s in two major iterations for testing and development. Even among their generalized groups, each was a little different as they evolved and were modified for various types of work.

The pilot-model Jeep you see here is CJ-2-06, the sixth CJ-2 built and the third earliest Civilian Jeep known to survive (CJ-2-03 and -04 are still around), but this is probably the most complete and accurately restored. Ten of the approximately 40 CJ-2s built have survived, though some are hardly more than a pile of parts. CJ-2-06 was assembled sometime in the summer of 1944 (exact date unclear) and given the experimental number X30.

During testing, it was assigned to Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. It was eventually sold locally, and reportedly spent a long period in a scrapyard schlepping a welder around before being purchased by a Jeep collector, who only did a little cosmetic touchup. Noted Jeep collector Tremaine Cooper bought it in 1999, and started a nut and bolt restoration that was completed in 2007. With the expert body help of Brian Haner, and the research wisdom of Jeep historians Keith Buckley, Fred Coldwell, and Todd Paisley, Cooper was able to recreate the Jeep as it was in late 1944 during tests. There were plenty of available photographs, and the historians pulled informational rabbits out of their hats so that few details had to be left to chance. Correct restoration of a prototype is the most difficult to undertake, but Cooper was patient, methodical and got the job done.