Cool Jeeps You Never Saw
But Maybe You Should Have
We thought you might like to see some Jeep “fantasy football” players that are forever riding the bench of history. Most never got called to play, or play much. Sometimes that was for an obvious reason, sometimes it’s less clear. Some got to show their stuff in “practice camp” but never got to play for real, despite being ahead of the technology curve in some way. Here are some of those lost or rare Jeeps. Let’s just call it a case of the good, the bad, or the ugly. You decide which is which.
1958 Creep—the Name Says It All
Yeah, the Jeep Creep! If the name alone doesn’t dredge up a chuckle, the sight of it will. Several versions were built for tests, including this Post Office rig and an aircraft tug. They were powered by the venerable 134ci flathead four, rear-mounted above the axle, and featured automatic transmission. This was a time when Jeep was experimenting with a lot of interesting hardware, including air-cooled engines, both gas and diesel.
1963 XM-200, X-port Only
This was Kaiser Jeep’s shot at setting up low-cost factories in various industrially undeveloped countries. Take a basic J-series truck chassis built in Toledo and send it CKD (completely knocked down) to some part of the world where truck factories are few and far between. The bodies would be manufactured locally in a very basic factory and the trucks completed using as much local/regional content as possible. The flat panels allowed for easy-to-make parts that needed minimal tooling and low worker skill. This prototype was made and blueprints created for each part. A similar plan was made for CJs.
1960 Turbo F-Head—More Air!
A series of undated photos were found in a factory file that shows Willys Motors experimented with a turbocharged version of its F-head four. The pictures appear to be of a CJ test mule, and details point to a ’60-’66 model. Given that IHC began offering a turbo Scout four in 1965, we can see Jeep’s possible motivation. Power output is unknown, but you can guesstimate (and a “desktop dyno” concurs) that it was somewhere in the range of 90 hp.
1941-44 Super Jeeps
A shortage of 3⁄4-ton trucks led Willys to develop a 6x6 3⁄4-ton based on the military jeep called the MT. The first prototype was built using MA components and mounted a 37mm antitank gun. A small number of prototypes were built in various configurations, including this cargo rig with a fifth-wheel trailer. The MTs used about 65 percent of the existing jeep hardware. Interestingly, the old standard 5.38:1 axle ratio debuted for this product, as did the Model 18 transfer case with a 2.43:1 low range. Eventually called Super Jeeps, these were successful developments with most of the bugs worked out, but there was no defined need for a production version. A few of these super-rare Super Jeeps have survived.
1944 MLW-2 Jungle Jeep
In 1943, a request came in from military units in the Pacific Theater for a compact, highly mobile, half-ton truck for use in the tight quarters of the jungle. Naturally, Willys-Overland was tapped on the shoulder about a modified version of the jeep. Two prototypes were built and tested well into 1945, but by then the need for such a vehicle had diminished and the project was dropped. The MLW (Military Long Wheelbase, the Willys designation), otherwise known as the T24 project, was largely successful in achieving its goals. The MLW trucks were built on a beefed-up jeep chassis stretched to a 92-inch wheelbase from the standard 80. It retained the stock 134ci jeep Go-Devil engine and three-speed Warner T84J trans, but the transfer case was the special low-ratio unit with a 2.43:1 low range developed for the 6x6 jeeps, which was also used later in the civvy jeeps. Axles were wider than stock, with 5.38:1 cogs, and mounted 7.50-20 or 7.50-16 tires. A bulkhead separated the passenger and cargo compartments, the front fenders were raised for tire clearance, and a capstan winch was mounted. Cargo volume was about double the standard Jeep, but weight capacity was only 200 pounds more. Curb weight increased by only about 250 pounds. With much improved clearance and traction, you could call this the Jeep Rubicon of the 1940's.
1950 CJ-4 Missing Link
With the introduction of the more powerful F-head four in 1950, Willys-Overland was scrambling to get that engine fitted into every Jeep. First on the priority list was the military upgrade that became the model MD, M-38A1. Along the way they produced several transitional military vehicles, but also found time to build a civvy version dubbed the CJ-4. Visually, it was almost identical to the military transitional rigs, called the M-38E1 or CJ-4M. You can see it’s a missing link vehicle between the low-hood flatfender and the production roundfender CJ-5. Mechanically, it was a flatfender with the F-head added. The body was unique. Only one CJ-4 civvy rig was built in the ’90s, and this is it, shown here after emerging from many years in a barn. It was sold to Willys Chief Chassis Engineer Mike Ordorica in the 1950s, who used it as a work vehicle at his rural home. Upon his passing, it was sold in the estate auction and stored away. A noted collector has restored it, and you’ll see it again someday.
1958-60 Super Mule, a Stubborn Concept
Having invented the platform vehicle in WWII, Willys was quite enamored of the platform concept and carried it through to a highly developed state. Willys had both a civilian and a military version with modular body panels that could be added or removed. They had fully independent SLA suspension of an advanced design and a 72hp mid-mounted, air-cooled flat four that Willys had developed. A diesel version of that engine was also developed. Shown here is the military M443E1 version, which has outboard drum brakes and seats that folded down to form a cargo platform. The military already had the compact M274 Mule and didn’t bite on this Super version, despite generally favorable performance. Marketing studies showed little civvy interest as well as DOT obstacles, so the platform vehicle idea finally died at Willys Motors for good in the early ’60s.
1957 Commuter, the ’50s 4x4 Minivan
Legendary designer Brooks Stevens created this six-door, 11-passenger, four-wheel-drive people mover design using the cowl of the newly developed Forward Control truck. Several variations of this were constructed, the first using a CJ-6 chassis and this one using a Willys station wagon frame. Rootes of England also developed a body that was considered. By ’50s standards, the Commuter was compact, with only a 1041⁄2-inch wheelbase. It would have been powered by either an F-head four or the 226ci six. A later version was modified to use the same doors on the rear pair of doors as on the front. By the late ’50s, this idea had been dropped, but you can see that the European influence was strong in Kaiser Willys at this time. The development work didn’t go to waste. Some of it was incorporated into the military FCs of the early ’60s, which included crew cab FCs and several van bodies.
1943 WAC Jeeplet
From the initial concept to the final production model, the American Army fixated on ever-lighter military jeeps. One of the lightweight concepts to bear fruit was the WAC (Willys Air Cooled). Also called the Jeeplet, it was quite a techy vehicle for its day, featuring a mid-mounted, 49ci air-cooled Harley-Davidson V-twin engine that made 24 hp, and a fulltime 4x4 system with front and rear independent suspension. It weighed only 986 pounds. The seating was known by testers as one of the most uncomfortable they had ever experienced—and that’s saying something in the military. This concept morphed into the Jungle Burden Carrier and later into the production M-274 mechanical mule used by the Army in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 J-100 Malibu, Almost the Wagoneer
In the late ’50s, Jeep was designing a replacement for the aging station wagon. The project became known as the J-100. By 1959 they had two fiberglass-bodied prototypes, Malibu and Berkeley. They were similar but with different rooflines. There’s no reason why this style couldn’t have worked, but in 20/20 hindsight it looks more like a Rambler station wagon than something Jeep might do. It seems doubtful the Wagoneer would have reached its current legendary status if it looked like the Malibu prototype, but observant Jeep types will note the grille design coming back in later years. The Malibu was favored over the Berkeley due to more interior room, and sat on either a 110- or 112-inch wheelbase (several proposals were considered). A pickup version was drawn up, but it’s unclear if a prototype was ever built. Ditto for a panel delivery model. Curb weights were listed as 3,600 pounds with fiberglass bodies, and the driving prototypes were powered by Super Hurricane 226ci sixes.
1965 Model H, the XJ Role Model
In 1965, Renault and Jeep teamed up to build a light 4x4 vehicle they called the Model H. It was loosely based on the dimensions of the then-new Renault 16 and is reported to have the same 1.4L engine and gearbox but with four-wheel drive added. It had a unitized body, but the top was removable. A station wagon, panel delivery, and light pickup were envisioned. It seems doubtful this could have worked in the USA at the time, but in Europe … maybe. In concept, this was very much like what the Cherokee XJ became when it debuted for 1984. Ironically, the XJ also had Renault input on many levels, with that company owing 49 percent of the company at the time.
1966 FWD Concept Jeepvair
In 1966, a presentation was made for a vehicle akin to the Model H concept shown above. The body in the concept drawing looked similar, but it was the underpinnings that are the most interesting. It was front-wheel drive but with four-wheel drive added to drive the rear wheels. What was interesting is that this rig would have used Chevrolet Corvair running gear, including a second Corvair diff in back, complete with limited slip. The 95-horse Corvair flat six and trans would have been mounted up front, but facing the rear. The item marked “3” was a special transfer case that would supply high and low, send power to the rear on demand, and connect the engine and trans.