Willys M38a1

Willy’s m38a1 is a jeep that was produced from 1952 to 1957 and was based on its predecessor the m38 which was the first post-war civilian jeep and was based on the 1949 war vehicle, the CJ-3A model; the m38a1 was the first jeep with a rounded fender to accommodate the new Hurricane engine that was inside it.

The m38a1 was developed and modified in 1955 to become the CJ-5 and there was also an ambulance version called the m170 which later became the CJ-6 civilian vehicle. Other variations of the m38a1 are the m38a1c which is equipped with a recoilless rifle, the m38a1d which is the nuclear variation, the USMC variation which was specially designed for extreme wet conditions, USAF DJ variation which was build specifically for the US Air Force, the Dutch variation which were simply m38a1s built for the Dutch, the Canadian variation, and the Welding unit.


To fully understand and appreciate the m38a1 requires learning a little about its background; in the late 1930s when tensions were building and it seemed that war was imminent, the US army asked its automobile manufacturers to come up with a military vehicle to replace the lighter and older vehicles that they had. Not long after World War II (WWII), bids were received by the US army from American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company and Willys-Overland Motors which were the only three companies that took on the challenge; Bantam won the bid because they promised to deliver in the shortest time period.

However Bantam could not deliver on the scale that Ford and Willys could, so Ford and Willys continued work on their models for testing. By the time all three models were ready and tested, the army was so desperate for vehicles that all three models were accepted and they ordered 1500 units from each. Then in 1941 it was decided that a single manufacturer had to be chosen and Willys won the bid because of their more powerful engine and lower cost.


The design of the m38a1 was different from the later civilian CJ-5 as can be expected since it was used for military purposes; the m38a1 had a stronger chassis and reversed front spring shackles, had standardized GI instruments and used a 24 volt electrical system.

There were also differences in design between the first 1952 models and the later 1953 models; for instance the securing mechanism for the Battery Box top of the 1952 model was made up of 8 thumb screws around the lid while the 1953 model used a cam-lever strap assembly. Some 1952 models had a hole in the center of the front bumper for the hand crank that was needed to start the vehicle, while later 1953 models did not have this hole.

Other variations in design are that the radiator of the 1952 model was freestanding and its front grill mounting was made up of two 45 degree hinges so it was easy to remove. The 1953 model had its radiator secured with two support rods and its front grill mounting was simply a large bolt in the center of the grill, so it was harder to remove.

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