Saturday, July 21, 2012

1949-1953 Willys CJ-3A

"4-Wheel Drive  . . . gets thru and gets the job done!"

This colorful Willys CJ-3A from Trinidad del Mar is a direct descendant from the original Jeep MB, the iconic vehicle that once represented the United States of America throughout the world, much like Coca Cola, chewing gum or the Statue of Liberty. Today it's universally just known as the Jeep, but most cuban choferes still refer to the times when this wasn't such an iconic name yet. They don't drive a Jeep. They drive a Willys!

Willys-Overland is well-known for its Jeep, although it was originally neither conceived nor designed at Willys-Overland: the company inherited the blueprints for its most famous product from a direct competitior in the industry.  At the dawn of the Second World War, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps started a contest for an all-wheel driven compact scout vehicle. The requirements were set really high and the deadline extremely short: participating companies should deliver their running prototypes within just 49 days. Finally, only a small company named American Bantam could finish their proposal in time to match this demanding deadline. The proposed design, however, still was anything but the final Jeep. The Army Quartermaster passed the Bantam blueprints on to Ford and Willys-Overland, assuming that these big corporations would have the power to develop and fabricate the car with much more vigor. Ford and Willys-Overland developed their own proposals, based on the Bantam prototype. After a long refinement phase, involving thousands of "prototypes" that were evaluated in regular Army service, the Willys-Overland proposal eventually was selected for mass production, and massive orders went to Ford and Willys-Overland alike. American Bantam, ironically, was left out.

The actual look of the Jeep, by the way, wasn't defined by any of the involved parties. It's claimed that the doorless silhouette of one of the most iconic cars of the last century was penned down by an unknown member of the Army's Quartermaster office when the first prototypes didn't show the expected simplicity.

However, the Jeep showed up at every frontline of the Second World War, and contributed heavily to the victory of the allied forces. Incidentally, US soldiers were renowned in postwar Europe for only moving their feet when they could push a pedal. This is certainly exaggerated, but it speaks a lot about the american lifestyle, that was so much more related to cars than anywhere else in the world.

Already amid the Second World War, Willys-Overland's top management envisioned a peacetime future for their cash-cow. The CJ-2 (read: "Civilian Jeep-2"), presented in 1944 and built from 1946, was a conversion of the Army vehicle to match the higher speeds and different demands of normal on-road driving. The CJ-2 was mainly intended for use in a rural environment, and if you ordered the rear and/or front "power take-off kit", multiple additional tools made it a quite versatile farmhand. In 1949, the CJ-3 arrived at the dealer's, distinguished by a one-piece windshield including a vent and wipers at its bottom edge. The front seats moved a bit backwards to allow for a more comfortable driving position. This was the last "classic" Jeep, before a bigger and more refined version took its place after a five year production run.

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