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1954 Willys M-170 - Army Ambulance Resuscitation

Saving an M-170

Christian HazelPhotographer, Writer

It’s sometimes not what ya know, it’s who ya know. Such was the case with my most recent old-Jeep purchase. My buddy’s wife is a realtor. One day she called me out of the blue to say one of her clients 15 miles down the street from me needed to clear out an old long-wheelbase Willys. The only hitch was that I had just bought a non-running 1971 Jeep CJ-6 a week earlier, and it was still sitting on my trailer. Real Jeepers never say die, so after a few more phone calls and some assurance that the Jeep was a runner, I headed to his place with my towbar and a wad of cash.

There in a shed on his 15-something acre property sat a mostly complete ’54 M-170. Essentially a stretched M38A1, the Jeep M-170 is a Korean War-era military Jeep. Most were utilized as litter-carrying ambulances, but a few were used as less-common radio platforms, such as the one sitting before me. Although the UHF antenna, AN/MRC-87 radio set, and even the stock 24-volt generator were missing, the drivetrain, suspension, and most of the major mechanical systems were present and accounted for. I traded him cash for the title, borrowed an angle grinder to remove the ’70s cop car pushbars that had been welded to the bumper some time in antiquity, and pointed the tow rig for home.

Thankfully the trip was only 15 miles, because at speeds over 25 mph, the Willys began to death wobble, shake, and hop side to side so violently that I thought it was literally going to flop on its side. I peeled off tarmac and took dirt roads the rest of the way home to avoid horrified stares and angry honking from drivers around me. Once home, I began the process of making it safe to drive on the street in its current state so I could tinker on and modify what would’ve been the next Jpproject Jeep. But as you no doubt read in my farewell Trailhead editorial, recent corporate events means that’s not gonna happen. So here’s your last Hazel junk Jeep purchase story. Appropriately, it’s a real oddball.