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History of Jeeps in Australia


Australia is one of those many places which, due to an abundance of surplus Willys MB's and Ford GPW's immediately after WWII, didn't see many new civilian Jeeps until the advent of the CJ-3B in the 1950s. The CJ-2A, produced in large numbers in the U.S. in the late 1940's and still the most commonly-seen flatfender in North America, is very rare in Australia.

The Australian market has never been large enough to support local manufacture of Jeeps under licence, particularly given the strong competition from Land Rover in the 1950s and from Japanese automakers since then. Still, the local assembly and modification of Willys Jeeps to meet the demands and preferences of the market, has resulted in some interesting variations.

CJ-3BThe CJ-3B in the photo, used for many years by Ivan Collins on his farm near Brisbane, can be identified as a 1958 factory right-hand-drive version, by the blue ID plate reading "WILLYS MOTORS AUSTRALIA PTY LIMITED, VEHICLE No. CJ3B 1100" below the Willys Toledo serial number plate. The rear-mounted spare, and tool brackets on the right side, reveal that it was used by the Royal Australian Air Force, and as of 2007 it is being restored as an RAAF Jeep by Ross Holdway.

There were at least three importers of Jeeps prior to the establishment of Willys' Australian subsidiary in 1958: Dominion Motors in Brisbane, Stokoe Motors of Melbourne, and M.S. Brooking Pty. Ltd. in Perth, Western Australia.

Dominion Motors assembled CKD (complete knocked down) vehicles in Brisbane. Vaughn Becker says "Dominion's main role was to assemble English Austin products and they took on the assembly of Jeeps to take up some slack in the assembly line. For various reasons they were restricted as to the numbers of Jeeps they could assemble and this was only about 36 per year."

Serial Numbers

1958 tagsThere is a good deal of confusing information regarding serial numbers on Australian Jeeps.

From 1954 through 1958, most of the CJ-3B Jeeps exported from the U.S. had a hand-stamped letter added to the end of their VIN tag. The letters L, R, S, T, U or X appear on Jeeps sent to Australia (see CJ-3B Serial and Engine Numbers.)

A look at the Willys and Dominion tags (right) on the firewall of a 1958 CJ-3B (70K JPEG) reveals the usual 57348 prefix before the Willys serial number 46201L, but the prefix on the Dominion tag is 57648. Possibly just an error.

Meanwhile, a 1958 memo to Australian Willys dealers (30K GIF) from Dominion Motors, gives an apparently confused account of the meaning of Willys U.S. serial numbers, suggesting that the first two digits 55, 56, 57 etc. indicate the model year.

David McCallum reports that on his 1958 CJ-3B, VIN 57348 44476L, "There are two brass tags under the bonnet. One is from Stokoe Motors and has serial number 7017 on it. The other has 'Produced by U.K. Motors PTY. LTD. Brisbane' stamped on it."

Mark Guest has left-hand-drive 1954 CJ-3B, 454GB2 39855U, and says, "I did speak to a Mr. Don White at Stokoe Motors who said that, from the I.D. plate info I provided him, this was imported via Holland. When I spoke to the original owner he said he purchased it from Maugham Thiem Motors, Adelaide."

In the bush The first modification made to most Jeeps sold downunder has been conversion to right-hand-drive (RHD), to meet Australian regulations for on-road licencing. Some early imports were sold as LHD, and were either never licenced or were given aftermarket RHD conversions.

There's a lot of outback for going offroad Jeeping in Australia, so it's not surprising that some Jeeps may never have been licenced for driving on the left side of the pavement. The bush scene photo here was shot in the mid-1970's by John Keane, with a CJ-6 standing guard for a CJ-3B.

AssemblyThis photo taken on on 29 March 1957 shows assembly of Jeep trucks and a CJ-3B, at M.S. Brooking Pty. Ltd., a vehicle importer and dealership in Perth, Western Australia. Clearly a workshop rather than an assembly line operation. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia

Willys Motors Australia

Brochure photoIn 1958 the import and assembly of Jeeps was taken over by Willys Motors Australia Pty. Ltd. (WMA) at their plant known as Building 27 in Brisbane, Queensland.

This nice action photo comes from a WMA CJ-3B brochure (240K JPEG) which also includes photos showing the Brisbane assembly line and a locally-produced hardtop. See more on Promoting the Australian-Made CJ-3B on CJ3B.info.

The Jeeps had a blue WMA stock number tag (30K JPEG) below the Willys serial number tag on the firewall.

CJ-3B Early right-hand-drive conversions were criticized for having the spare tire on the right, obstructing the rear view mirror, so WMA experimented with mounting the spare tire on the left. It's not known how many CJ-3Bs had this change.

To comply with Australian regulations, Willys moved to maximize the percentage of components made in the country, soon advertising More than 50% Australian! (130K JPEG).

The Foreword from a Willys Motors Australia Parts Book for Universals and Trucks 1941 through 1959 gives information on the numbering used for Parts Made in Australia which are identical to, or different from, U.S. parts.

DashAn interesting feature of the RHD 1958 CJ-3Bs is the presence of the T-handle parking brake which was not used on 3Bs in the U.S. until 1961.

Electrical parts were logical items to be sourced locally, and Ian Hall's 1958 CJ-3B "was fitted with Australian-made Lucas 12V electrical parts, including the starter and generator (dated 1958), regulator, headlights and wipers."

Daryl Day adds that "at least some were fitted with Lucas distributors. Took me a while to find out exactly what brand I had, and the caps on these have the old-style screw-in acorns to hold the leads in place."

6-230 truck Along with the CJ-3B, pickup trucks were assembled in Brisbane starting in 1958. Many left the factory as cab-and-chassis units, to be given enclosed or open bodies like this dropside 6-230.

An advertisement for the trucks (160K JPEG) mentions the "mighty Hurricane power" in the 4-cylinder 475 truck, but the illustration in the ad actually shows neither the Hurricane nor the 230 Tornado, but the flathead 226 "Super Hurricane."

6-226 wagon The first CJ-5 arrived in 1959, and station wagons, Forward Control trucks and J-series trucks expanded the line during the 1960s. This posh example of a 6-226 wagon was apparently a company demonstrator, with the address of the WMA head office in Sydney on the side.

Model line An unfolded brochure shows distinctive downunder variations like the hardtop CJ-6s, stakebody trucks, CJ-5 with spare tire on the hood, and the red ambulance.

Willys Australia Production Figures, 1958-1970


Model Units Built
CJ-3B & CJ-3BL (long)   1020
CJ-5 & CJ-6 4 Cyl   1560
6-226 2WD Station Wagon   6
6-226 4x4 Cab/Chassis & SW   1133
475 2WD Station Wagon   236
6-230 2WD Station Wagon   18
6-230 4 x 4 Station Wagon   36
6-230 Cab/Chassis   366
FJ3 Fleetvan   1
FC-150 Truck   1
FC-170 Truck   126
CJ-5 & CJ-6 Falcon 6 Cyl     604
J-Series (photo at left)   527
M38A1   12

Some light trucks were apparently included in the Station Wagon and Cab/Chassis production figures above. The production figures were compiled by hand by an employee at the Willys plant in Brisbane. See the complete factory records of the 1,020 CJ-3Bs in Willys Australia Serial Numbers on CJ3B.info.

Long Wheelbase Jeeps

Australians have always been fond of their "utes" or utility (pickup) trucks, explaining why WMA lengthened some of their 3Bs into an LWB version, and even stretched many of the CJ-5s into CJ-6s.

CJ-3BLA long-wheelbase CJ-3B was never built for the domestic U.S. market, and it is unclear how many of the 1000 3B's listed in the records from the Brisbane factory were given the longer CJ-3BL frame. Chris Waters saw this nice example in September 2008 at a Jeep Jamboree.

Vaughn Becker comments, "My son had a CJ-3BL (120K JPEG) which is the same as the short wheelbase with 20" added into the chassis and body. I have only seen one other." See also a photo of the frame (80K JPEG).

Long CJ-5 Likewise, the Australian CJ-6s were modified CJ-5s which had the frame and body lengthened at the same time as they were converted from left to right-hand drive. Reportedly the cost of doing this, even with the side body panels apparently seamless as seen in this WMA photo, was less than the additional shipping cost for the larger CJ-6.

WMA ad This advertisement claims the CJ-6 comes "from Willys Australian factory... designed and engineered for Australian conditions," and this was demonstrated in 1969 when two of the CJ-6 "Overlanders" and a CJ-5 became the first vehicles to make the difficult east to west crossing of the Simpson Desert, with its 1,100 red sand dunes.

Overlander ad The "Overlander" was a CJ-6 designed for this specific market, and the name survived to be used also for the CJ-8 (below).

Vaughn says, "The Overlander was a modified CJ-6. The cab was metal forward of the windscreen, and fibreglass was used to form the rear and roof of the cab. They were usually fitted with a dropside tray body."

See also the dropside version specs (100K JPEG), and an ad for a version with a steel pickup body (130K JPEG).

CJ-6 The long Jeeps were popular as working vehicles in the outback, because of the lack of other 4x4 pickups in the 1960s.

A CJ-6 that had apparently had a long working life (90K JPEG) was photographed by Paul Rundel in Queensland circa 2000. It had a Willys CJ-5 serial number (57548 69723) but was now a CJ-6 according to both the dimensions and the Willys Australia tag in the engine compartment stating "CJ-6 1171".

Other Models

FC-170, 1964 Vaughn Becker took this photo at the 1964 Brisbane Exhibition, where Willys promoted the stakebed FC-170. The Forward Control trucks did not turn out to be any more successful downunder than they were in North America, and WMA was still selling its stock of FC-170s (all with 3-speed T-90 transmissions) into the late 1960s.

Wagoneer, 1964 The other end of the display showed off the new Wagoneer (price to be announced, according to the sign on the windscreen) and also included a map showing the Australasian market.

J-trucks Willys Motors Australia was the distributor for the surrounding smaller countries including New Zealand and Indonesia. These J-trucks at dockside in Brisbane were destined for Papua New Guinea.

Combat 6 brochureThe "Combat 6" was a CJ-5/6 fitted with an Australian Ford Falcon 6-cylinder motor, starting circa 1965. Initially it was the 144 cu.in. unit, then later 170 cu.in. and 188 cu.in.

The brochure shows the version of the Combat 6 powered by the 170 cu.in. engine. The reverse side of the brochure (100K GIF) has specs for the CJ-5 and CJ-6 versions, and drawings of the cab options.

Sportster ad Meanwhile, another marketing idea, possibly inspired by the American CJ-5A Tuxedo Park model, was the Jeep Sportster, which added flashy paint and chrome trim (and limited slip differentials) to the straight six.

The Sportster was introduced in 1967, and the best that can be said about the package is that it may have sold slightly better than WMA's previous failed "fun car" experiment, the 1961 Beach Car. This effusive ad is courtesy of Justin Kennedy and Jeep Action magazine.

Kaiser Jeep of Australia

Willys Motors Australia was finally renamed Kaiser Jeep of Australia in 1969, six years after Kaiser in the U.S. had dropped the Willys name. A Kaiser Jeep of Australia CJ-5 and CJ-6 brochure (90K GIF) shows the "Combat 6" name was dropped in favor of the good old "Universal Series." (And the hyphens in the model numbers CJ-5 and CJ-6 were also dropped!)

Late 1960s lineup A great promotional photo from the late sixties lines up a Sportster with a couple of CJ-6s, a Wagoneer and a Gladiator fire truck. (See also Willys Fire Trucks in Australia on CJ3B.info.)

Perth, Western Australia Jeep in the U.S. was purchased by American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970, and Kaiser Jeep of Australia folded by 1974. Distribution had been shrinking even before that, although this photo from Perth, Western Australia, shows an early-seventies Wagoneer on display, along with the Universal Jeeps. (Note also the optional "kangaroo guard.") During the rest of the decade Jeeps were only imported privately.

Jeep Australia Established by AMC

CJ-8 Overlander brochure A new corporate entity known as Jeep Australia was set up by AMC in 1978, just in time to begin assembling the new CJ-8, which was known as the Overlander in the Australian market. (A right-hand-drive steel hardtop CJ-8 was also sold by AMC to the U.S. Postal Service, for use in Alaska.)

See also the Overlander features and specs from the brochure. (140K JPEG).

Long CJ-10The new company also assembled the CJ-7 and SJ Cherokee, and imported short and long versions of the rare CJ-10 truck, built by AM General in Michigan and by VAM in Mexico. The CJ-10 was based on AMC's J10 chassis, and sold in the U.S. only in a short-wheelbase version as a military aircraft tug (90K JPEG). In Australia in the early 1980s it was widely known as the J10 or "1-tonner", and was available with the AMC 258 six cylinder, or a Nissan diesel -- see CJ-10 specifications (220K JPEG).

Military J10 Jeep Australia modified a few J10s for possible use by the Australian Army, but as with the CJ-3B two decades earlier (see The 1958 Australian Army CJ-3B Trials) the truck was not adopted by the military. Three examples were tested in the 1982 Perentie Trials (170K JPEG) against the Mercedes-Benz 300GD, the Unimog and the successful Isuzu-powered Land Rover 4x4 and 6x6.

Jeep imports were again halted by 1984, as the dropping exchange rate of the Australian dollar made them too expensive. After AMC was sold to Chrysler in the US, Chrysler Australia began importing the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler in the 1990s.

Mascot Motors Photos taken by Jim Rowe, the owner of Mascot Motors in the Sydney area, show lineups of used Jeeps in the 1980s and 90s. This photo appears to date from the mid-80s, with most of the Jeeps being J-10 trucks and SJ Cherokees.

Mascot Motors Another photo is dated 1993, by which time there are many more CJ-7s in the selection of vehicles.

There is still a CJ-6 on the roof (70K JPEG), seen above a white Jeep "Hawk," a Jeep Australia CJ-7 package. At this time Mascot Motors was selling parts and used vehicles near the Sydney Airport. The business later moved to Nowra, NSW, and closed in 2012.

Photos courtesy of Mick Broomfield and ausjeepoffroad.com.

Thanks to Vaughn Becker for tracking down a lot of information and literature. Thanks also to Mick Broomfield, Mike Kelly, Raymond Kennedy, Michael Gilders, Ian Hall and Ted Robinette. -- Derek Redmond

See more Jeeps in Australia on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 12 February 2024 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond