The 1958 Australian Army CJ-3B Trials


Replacing the Champ

DrawingsIn 1958 the Australian Army tested five small 4-wheel-drive vehicles with an eye toward replacing the UK-built Austin Champ, which had been in use by the Army since 1950. The Champ seen in this photo by by Alf Van Beem is a 1954 model in Britain.

One of the vehicles tested was a Willys CJ-3B, purchased commercially in Australia in May 1958. The results of that test appear in a document titled Army Design Establishment, Report No. TI 1762C: Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4 (Willys CJ-3B).

The Contender

DrawingsThe Army apparently tested a standard commercial CJ-3B, rather than a M606 military version with heavy-duty options and military lighting, which Kaiser-Willys had not yet introduced. There would also perhaps have been pressure to consider the CJ-3B as assembled locally by Willys Australia. Meanwhile, other tests included the M38A1 military Jeep (see the bottom of this page).

The summary of the test results is labelled "Restricted" and apparently was kept classified for some time. Recently Jeff Spencer scanned some pages from it, but we were tempted to keep it under wraps a while longer, because on the surface it doesn't paint a very flattering portrait of the CJ-3B. However, you can't really blame the Australians for not wanting to make the 3B their future light reconnaissance vehicle. Although the CJ-5 was not yet available in Australia in 1958, it didn't take the Army long to figure out that the CJ-3B was not the latest in Jeep technology.

The Test

Page 1Page 1 of the report (50K GIF) describes the basic trial conditions, which involved loading the Jeep with a crew of two and a 560 lb. load in the cargo compartment, and driving it for approximately 4000 miles. Most of the mileage was on the "Mount Charlie" test circuit which was a combination of third class road and cross-country. Speeds were "such as to accelerate the failure of weak components, in order to obtain a measure of the durability of the vehicle in a relatively short test."

Page 4 of the report (35K GIF) finishes describing the details of the testing procedure, by mentioning that "various defects in the trial model were discussed with the manufacturer, and it was ascertained that the following modifications have been incorporated in current production of commercial trucks:

(a) Driver's seat re-located 2 inches to the rear.
(b) Windscreen wiper turned 180 degrees to give better visibility.
(c) Clutch actuating shaft replaced by a cranked type to prevent fouling of the front propeller shaft.
(d) Spare tyre carrier transferred from the offside to the near side.
(e) Removal of access steps (optional equipment)."

It's interesting to speculate on whether this test may have directly led to engineering changes in some of those areas.

The move of the spare tire was apparently related to the conversion of the Australian Jeeps to right-hand-drive, and to the question of visibility mentioned below. The terms "offside" and "near side" are leftovers from the cavalry era, and refer to the right and left sides of a horse (from the rider's perspective).

Page 4 also includes comments from a Lieutenant Colonel, to the effect that the CJ-3B's performance and handling were acceptable, but that it had been replaced in the U.S. by the CJ-5. He added that the F-head engine made maintenance more complicated, the visibility from the driver's seat was extremely bad, the layout of controls was bad for right-hand-drive, and the bodywork was not strong enough.

The Conclusions

PhotosThe appendices to the report include CJ-3B drawings and dimensions (20K GIF), and photos of the CJ-3B (50K GIF).

The Summary Page (20K GIF), signed by a Brigadier, makes it clear that "the Willys CJ-3B is NOT an acceptable vehicle for the Australian Army," and that the most significant deficiencies are "lack of adequate body strength and visibility, both necessary in the theatres where Australian troops are likely to operate."

The details of the complaints about body strength and visibility are unfortunately not included in the pages of the report I have seen. It's hard to see where body strength would have been different from any previous or contemporary Jeep model.

The question of poor visibility, however, while perhaps partly related to the location of the spare tire on the right-hand driver's side, must have been mainly related to the height of the hood. This is a factor that is often overlooked in discussions about the (lack of) aesthetic appeal of the high hood.

Its importance occurred to me when I was writing the article about the evolution of the Cournil Jeep tractor in France, where the original 3B bodywork was replaced by a shortened, sloping front end. And Buck Toenges commented on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board in 2000, "I was reading Jeep: the Unstoppable Legend by Arch Brown today. On page 148 the author states that there was a prototype 1953 CJ-3B with a grafted downward sloping hood, and that there is a surviving photo of this vehicle. Has anyone seen this photo?" (See the photo in New Universal Jeep Designs, 1949-53.) The existence of such a prototype would suggest Willys' awareness of the visibility problem, but it doesn't seem to be a problem which has been raised often in a half-century of off-roading.

The M38A1

The Ministry of Supply and other branches of the Australian (and apparently the British) Army, were also testing the M38A1 Jeep in 1958, against four other vehicles (20K GIF). The group even included the GAZ 67B from Russia (presumably not a contract contender, since the USSR would have been considered a likely enemy at the time.) See a "SECRET/DISCREET" dispatch to Headquarters from the Australian Army staff in London on 15 April 1958 (20K GIF). A School of Infantry report on the M38A1 in late 1958 (20K GIF) found "excessive sway of the driver", "pronounced bounce over moderately rough ground" and a gearshift knob that "tends to come free of the lever." And a 1959 test of the A1 resulted in a cracked frame, according to Bill Munro's book Jeep: From Bantam to Wrangler.

The Result

In the end, the Australian Army chose the new Series 2 Land-Rover. Meanwhile, the RAAF bought the civilian CJ-3B as a Royal Australian Air Force Jeep.

Thanks to Jeff Spencer and Raymond Kennedy for scanning pages from the reports. Thanks to Alf Van Beem for the photo of Paul Jackson's 1954 Austin Champ. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 5 November 2000 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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