The year 1955 was a big one for Willys Motors (by then part of Kaiser Industries), as they dropped out of the passenger car market, but had more new Jeep models in one year than ever before or since. It marked the end of that brief period in the limelight for the Jeep CJ-3B, the two years when it was the newest Universal Jeep in production.
Willys had produced a few examples of the CJ-5 late in 1954, but now began to turn them out in earnest. Based on the Korean War M38A1, with its rounded-front-fender design, the CJ-5 would become the all-time-classic Jeep, and be produced with only minimal changes for the next 28 years.
The first and last (seventh) slot in the front grille were "squeezed" to accomodate the headlight openings on the CJ-5. The M38A1s smaller headlamps, like those of the WWII Willys MB, were mounted on a hinged bracket so that they could be swung inwards to illuminate the engine compartment. The civilian CJ-5 used the same grille but had larger fixed headlights and hence had the squeezed first and last slots. (The CJ-3B, in fact, was the only U.S.-made civilian Jeep that didn't have the squeezed grille, until the Wrangler TJ in 1997. The Mahindra CJ-540 Indian-made version of the CJ-5 had smaller headlights without the squeezed grille.)
The CJ-6, similar to the CJ-5 but with a longer wheelbase, was advertised as a half-ton, and would carry 7 people or a 1500 pound payload. This illustration of the 6 is from Willys Form No. W-250-B, a 1950s Universal Jeep Brochure. See also a side view photo (80K JPEG) of a 1967 CJ-6 restored by Buck Toenges, which gives a good look at the extra capacity.
Both models had a new instrument cluster and new and brighter paint, including for the first time the bright President's Red, which would become a favourite Jeep color. Craig Evins' nicely restored 1956 CJ-6 (left) is in Julep Green (see also a front view and the F-head engine, 40K JPEGs).
"All-New and More Rugged Than Ever," says this March 1955 ad in Successful Farming magazine (see the complete ad, 250K JPEG).
The Dealer's Merchandising Manual touts the following new features of the CJ-5:
The CJ-5 hood was the same as the M38A1, with a cutout on the right side (60K JPEG) for accommodating a snorkel when the military Jeep needed to be driven in waist-high water, until 1972 when American Motors stretched the frame and hood to fit the straight-six 232 cu.in. engine.
The pre-1972 CJ-5 can also be identified by the lack of reflector/sidemarker lamps in the front fenders, and the battery box (accessible without opening the hood) in the cowl. Bow sockets on the rear of the tub held the supports for the non-folding soft top. Joe Caprio's restored 1958 CJ-5 seen here has a Kayline Luxair top (see also a rear view, 100K JPEG).
The CJ-5s and 6's had the already-familiar "Hurricane" F-head 134 cu. in. 4 cylinder engine for the first ten years, with the "Dauntless" V6 available as an option starting in 1966.
This 1966 Jeep Universal ad (see a larger copy) stresses recreation and colorful options, including the Tuxedo Park models (70K JPEG) which had their own CJ-5A and CJ-6A designations from 1964-68. See also an ad for the Tuxedo Park Mark IV (100K JPEG). These ads are a big change from earlier Willys advertising aimed at farmers and industry.
The other new Jeep for 1955 from Kaiser-Willys was actually a recycling of the CJ-3A body and the aging L-head engine, in the form of the first two-wheel drive Jeep Universal. The DJ-3A "Dispatcher" was advertised both as a recreational vehicle and a practical delivery vehicle. See The Jeep Dispatcher for more details.
In addition to trying to sell this sportier version of the Universal Jeep, Willys continued to pursue the suburban market in 1955 with its Station Wagon, which later was replaced by the Wagoneer and then the Cherokee.
The CJ-3B itself did eventually appear in a somewhat updated form the following year, starting with serial number 57348-34452. The most noticeable change was the new instrument cluster on the dashboard, replacing the instrumentation that had been unchanged from the CJ-3A (see Dating a CJ-3B by Interior Details). The 3B would be around for another ten years as the ugly duckling, the unsung hero, the economy model Jeep Universal.
Thanks to Mike Boyink, Ram Rao, Eric Lawson and Jack Ahlberg for their contributions. -- Derek Redmond
See also a 1969 CJ-5 built in Canada.
Return to Siblings of the CJ-3B.
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