This Civilian Jeep Rolled Down the Line with WWII Military Jeeps.
Many enjoy a trip back in time to see what people saw “back in the day,” whenever that was. When you look at Michael Myer’s ’45 CJ-2A, you are going back to July 1945, just as the first civilian Jeeps were rolling off the assembly line in Toledo, Ohio. When it comes to exact detail, it’s about as perfect a restoration as you will ever find on a Jeep from this period. On top of that, it’s also one of the earliest production civilian survivors.
The Jeep you see here is the 163rd production Jeep CJ built (serial CJ2A-10163). It has all its major original parts. It’s a “matching numbers” Jeep. Well, almost. It appears the transmission was replaced in ’46, likely still under warranty. In the earliest days, the engine number matched (or was close to) the vehicle serial number. This rig has engine number CJ2A-10170, so the serial number is off by only 7 digits. The exact production date is unknown, but Myers has tracked it down by component dates and casting numbers to about the third week of June 1945.
Civilian Jeep production started in late June, mainly to build enough units for the big debut at CESOR Farm in New Hudson, Michigan, the third week of July 1945. “Jeep Day,” the official name, was to occur July 18, but 700 people were invited to Toledo the day before to view the assembly line in operation and get the full rah-rah and skinny on the new civilian line of Jeep. The group then traveled to CESOR Farms nearby in Michigan to see Jeeps in action on the farm. By July 19, AP-sourced articles were appearing in nearly every newspaper in the country and the Jeep was off and running.
The civvy Jeeps were built alongside military MBs that were still in production until September 21. There were starts and stops on the civvy line, a big one being a lack of T-90 transmissions from Warner Gear. This was a new transmission and Warner was gearing up to produce them in volume, but a two-week strike held things up. In the end, 1,824 ’45 CJ-2As were produced before production officially changed over to ’46 models in October 1945, which were not that different.
Being the first of the civvy breed, the early CJ-2As evolved rapidly. Some of this was to fine-tune it or a new market, but much was due to component changes. Willys-Overland made a deliberate effort to use up stocks of applicable MB components. These included a few body panels (notably the driver side below the door opening which still had the tool indents), the military full-float rear axle, the military exhaust system, and a few other smaller things. Many of these things would change during ’46 model year production.
As was usual Willys practice, the serial numbers started at 10001. For the CJ-2A, the numbers ran consecutively until they were replaced by the CJ-3A in 1949. The 1945 models had a serial number range of 10001-11824. That is a pretty narrow range of serial numbers to be an “official” ’45 but given that they ran down the line with war production MBs and were the very first civilian Jeeps, they are a very sought after Jeep collectible.
Among the most noticeable features of a ’45 and early ’46 Jeep are the column shift transmissions. We can just see the sneers forming on the lip of modern Jeepers out there. Yeah, there was really no excuse. They tried to foist off column shifts on the Army with the pre-standardized MA in 1941, and they didn’t like it. They were cranky, wore out quickly, and could get bound up when the chassis flexed. The apparatus on the early CJ-2A was very similar to the MA and had all the same problems. Not long into ’46 production (38221 to be exact), the column shift was replace by the more familiar cane shift. Nobody cried at the time. Some 70 years down the road, the column shift makes a Jeep so equipped in a very rare class. Most Jeeps that had them from the factory no longer do all these years later. The parts are very hard to find, and the presence of it on a very early CJ has a big influence on the price.
Mike Myers, an Ohio firefighter found the Jeep in 2006 and couldn’t resist the unique challenges of restoring a Jeep just two steps away from being a prototype. While it only has 2,700 original miles, that doesn’t mean it was pristine when Myers got hold of it. It had spent a lifetime working on an Alabama farm and was “ridden hard and put away wet,” as the old saying goes. Still, it was complete, unmolested, and with the low serial number, a diamond in the rough. It had never been registered until Myers did so in 2013.
Meyers started the restoration in 2006 and finished in 2013. About 60 percent of the body is still original, which took some work. He acknowledges the particular help the late Jake Ladd, an old-school master body man did on the body with the help of Myers’ father-in-law Jerry McCoy. Myers is quick to point out that there is less than a quart of bondo on this Jeep. Scott Hall finished up the bodywork and applied the Harvest Tan paint. Jeff Petrowich reproduced the early top, and Myers himself did the bows. The mechanicals needed refreshment but weren’t in horrible condition because of the low miles. Whenever possible, which was a good part of the time, NOS parts were used. Mike also acknowledges the wisdom of Keith Buckley, a well-known Jeep historian who supplied him with the period-correct details, plus a lot of encouragement to do a faithful restoration.
Yep, some people might call this a bit over the top. Mike Myers thinks it was worth every minute of work and every dollar spent to make it as original as possible. He sees it as a testament to an American icon. This is not the earliest CJ-2A known to exist. The third civvy Jeep exists but is a rockcrawler (hold your laughter, please, built-not-bought guys), but the fourth is still original, and there may be 30-40 ’45 CJ-2As remaining in total. If you want a restoration challenge, a ’45 or early ’46 will provide it.