The Willys M38A1 Jeep

This is the story of my jeep.

In 2009 it transpired that my niece’s family were trying to upgrade transport and wanted to sell their old jeep, was I interested in getting it?  It had been used by them on the farm for ploughing in the rice paddies amongst other things. Here it is in its cleaned up condition ready for sale…..certainly not one careful previous owner!  Oh and there are no papers with it so no one knows much of its history.

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At this point (as a Brit) I had absolutely no knowledge of Jeeps at all. Anyway for 80,000 Philippine Pesos it seemed like a worthwhile project.

My relatives kindly drove my new jeep down from Bulacan to Mindoro and it quickly became clear that it was far from road worthy, the brakes and radiator were completely useless and the clutch not much better.  It turned out that it had stayed in second gear for most of the journey to Mindoro with a big tank of spare water on board for fear of being able to stop or boil the engine.  So I knew there would be lots of good business for the local jeep repair guys as a result.

But more interesting for me was what had I bought and what was its history?  It was obviously 40+ years old and from the sticker on the windscreen had been owned by the Philippines Telecommunications Authority in its earlier life.  The big question was whether it is a CJ5 or the militarised version the M38A1? It turns out that there are lots of differences but to a non Jeepee bloke most of them were not immediately obvious.

The identification process was not helped by the fact that the vehicle ID plate has been removed and there have obviously been some serious modifications done to it over an obviously chequered history including possibly the CJ5 badge.   But given that we are in Philippines, I would have been surprised if this were not the case – the mods include:

  • Willys 2.2L petrol engine replaced with 2.5L Mitsubishi 4DR5 2.5L diesel
  • Steering column (1980s Japanese)
  • Battery compartment sealed up
  • Doors, rear hood and steel superstructure
  • One piece windscreen with wipers at the bottom not the top
  • Wheels and tyres
  • Exhaust altered
  • The chassis number is completely different to anything I have seen listed and might have been added locally

My enquiries to the ex-military jeep owners fraternity in the US got me absolutely nowhere as it became clear they were much more interested in trying to stop me (a non Yank) proving that it was a military grade 38A1 than to try to form any objective opinion. But thankfully there are some useful sites that list the differences and there is still much remaining evidence.

The most telling of these is that the electrical system including the regulator, starter motor ignition system etc. etc. is 24V.  It is also a fact that from a driver’s perspective it is quite heavy, more like driving a small truck than something car sized.

The good news is that I have now fixed most of the serious issues and have converted (sorry not restored) as appropriate for its ongoing use to carry people and other materials.

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Anyway at this point I still do not know the exact year of manufacture although I have established that it is the M38A1 which were produced from  1952-1957. That makes my car older than me which is the first time that’s happened although I did get close once before with a 1963 MG Midget.

Some minor modifications made by November 1953 after Willys Overland was acquired by Kaiser in 1953 and became Willys Motors so this narrows it down to 1953 – 1957.  Some further details and old pictures of this model as follows:

  • This model is known as the ’round-fender’ Jeep that would eventually become the CJ5.
  • 101,488 units manufactured (80,290 domestic use / 21,198 foreign sales)
  • The M38A1 was modified as a platform for the 106mm recoilless rifle and was quite different that the CJ5, having a stronger chassis and reversed front spring shackles, in addition to the military accoutrements such as standardized GI instruments and a 24 volt electrical system.
  • Ford of Canada built the M38A1 CDN version as did Kaiser-Jeep.
  • Finally, an affiliate of Kaiser in Holland assembled M38A1 jeeps in Rotterdam using US-made parts.
  • The M38A1 military jeep was replaced in the 1960s by the M151 jeep.
  • In the US Military it was known as the quarter Ton Jeep since its inception in 1941 as one of the preparations for the USA’s entry into WW2
  • Quarter Ton was the payload, this model actually weighed 1.2T in its original form with a design payload of about half a Ton.

1952 Willys M38A11955m38a1small1975 Model SWB J26 Mitsubishi Jeep which is based on the CJ3B

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The history of the Jeep is another long story in its self, originally commissioned by the US army in 1941 it involves many famous American car brands including Bantam, Willys, Ford, Kaiser, AMC and Chrysler.

Although probably not related to this particular Jeep the M38A1C was the version equipped with the M40A1 and M40A2 recoilless rifle. These were used extensively by the USMC including in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Egypt.  Its design included a parallel mounted M-8C .50 cal. spotting rifle. Rounds provided were HEAT, high explosive plastic-tracer (HEP-T), and antipersonnel-tracer (AP-T) (flechette) rounds.

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This is a serious weapon, it is 3.4m long and weighed 209kg and has a range of 6,870m and can pierce 400mm of armour. It is the same weapon as the six that were fitted to the Gavin ONTOS tank.  I was interested to know whether such a big calibre weapon could really be recoilless when mounted on a relatively small Jeep? There are many youtube  of it being used, mainly in testing / marketing demo as it still features in the armoury of many militaries around the world and the answer judging by the videos seems to be yes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjXutT92BwM

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