The assembly of Willys Jeeps in Belgium in the 1950s is an interesting story, although one that we don't yet have all the details of. We know of several surviving examples, and when Jan Hogendoorn uncovered a large copy (180K JPEG) of this very nice 1953 photo, it seemed to be a good time to try piecing the story together.
The photo was taken at the 33e Salon Belge l'agriculture (33rd Belgian Agricultural Show) in Brussels, 1953. Jan comments, "You will see some interesting details such as the movable innner windshield, the front bumper weight, Michelin tyres, and the signal lamp on the front fender."
Those lights and tires are the only visible unique features suggesting local assembly of the Jeep. The bumper weight (actually a CJ-2A weight) and the absence of a tailgate, suggest the Jeep is set up for operating farm equipment from a rear 3-point hitch. (See Farm Jeeps on CJ3B.info.)
But then there's the paint. It's certainly not the dark green or dark red used by Willys in 1953, or even the Cadet Gray. Could it have been yellow? That would have been a striking display. The windshield is painted body color rather than black, and the wheels are possibly body color or white.
According to an article on Belgian Jeep Heritage from Jeep Club BeLux, the Belgian distributor for Willys Overland Export Corporation in the early 1950s was Wilford S.A. ("Wilford Ltd.") of Brussels, who had been distributing Willys vehicles since before World War II. Wilford had an assembly plant in Haren (northeast Brussels) but it's unknown how much of the assembly was done in Belgium.
Wilford published this ad in Belgium in 1953, inserting their address at the bottom. It's a French-language version of the "More Power" ad used in the U.S.A. (see 1953 Farm Journal Ads on CJ3B.info.)
See also the Belgian version of "More powerful than ever!" (370K JPEG). Thanks to Jan for sending the ads.
Serge Pacolet restored a 1953 Wilford CJ-3B in Belgium in 2010. Although the information Serge uncovered suggested Wilford (like Willys) was focussed on Jeeps for farm use, he says, "The Jeep I found was completely standard without any adaptation for agricultural use. When I found the Jeep, she was completely original but the body was in a bad state."
Serge decided to remove the marker lights from the fenders, and paint his CJ-3B as a U.S. Navy version. See also a rear view photo (40K JPEG).
The Wilford serial number plate carries the number 20636, which could be the same as the 1953 Willys serial number, which would have had the prefix 453GB2.
See also a plate with lubrication instructions (80K JPEG).
An undated advertisement for Wilford S.A. shows the "one and only" Jeep Universal CJ-3A.
According to Belgian Jeep Heritage, when the Belgian military wanted to replace their Willys MBs in 1950, the Willys CJ-2A was put into competition with the Land Rover Series I. The Land Rover was selected because of economic incentives including revitilization of a factory in Antwerp which had built the very successful Minerva luxury cars prior to World War II. This led to the unique Minerva Land Rover (90K JPEG) in 1952.
Belgian paratroopers considered the Land Rover unsuitable for quick deployment, and continued to use their existing fleet of Willys MB's. Under continuing pressure from the paratroopers, the government purchased some Willys CJ-3As through Anciens Establissements Berg, a Willys dealer in Brussels who was in business until about 2000.
The Belgian Army CJ-3As were assembled at Ateliers de la Dyle in Louvain, which had also been assembling Willys Jeeps for the military and civilian market in the Netherlands. Jan Hogendoorn reports that according to a former employee of Willys distributor Sieberg in the Netherlands, this arrangement continued until 1953 when Kaiser purchased Willys in the U.S. and NEKAF ("Nederlandse Kaiser-Frazer") took over assembly and distribution in the Netherlands.
This example of a Belgian Army CJ-3A belongs to Philippe Deweerdt. See also a rear view (180K JPEG).
It's possible Wilford in Belgium also lost the rights to distribute Willys as a result of the Kaiser purchase. Ateliers de la Dyle took over as the Belgian importer until 1956.
Ateliers de la Dyle means "Workshop on the Dyle River". Didier Dochain says, "This river crosses Louvain (Leuven), a town close to the capital Brussels. Apparently this factory was used also by the Germans when they occupied Belgium. They assembled many types of metal parts but mainly cars and trains." (And the Ateliers had to be rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing toward the end of World War II.) This photo postcard of Ateliers de la Dyle is undated.
A CJ-3B advertised online in Belgium in 2020 has a serial number plate which indicates it was assembled by Ateliers de la Dyle. It's dated 1956, and has what appears to be a 1956 Willys serial number followed by a letter suffix, often added by Willys to vehicles intended for export (see Surviving CJ-3B Jeeps for details.) As of early 2020 this is the only example I have seen of a "Z" suffix.
The Jeep has had a set of turn signal lights added to the front grille, rather than on the fenders as seen on both the Wilford 1953 3Bs above, and the later 3Bs below.
See also a rear view (120K JPEG).
A Belgian CJ-3B owned by Edmundo Alonso also has a plate stamped with year of manufacture 1956, but the chassis number "CJ3 17010" would indicate a 1955 model -- if it is actually the Willys serial number. The plate states it was "imported" rather than "assembled" by the Ateliers.
Edmundo lives in Toledo, Spain, the namesake of that other Toledo in Ohio, USA, where Jeeps have been built since 1940. Ironically though, this Jeep was purchased not from Toledo but from Louvain, Belgium.
See also the tailgate (100K JPEG) which is unusual because it lacks the small square cutouts in the top lip (for installing the tailgate spare tire mount.) This is a distinctive feature we have run across only on a few 1954 Jeeps (see Tailgate Reading.)
Another Belgian Jeep in Spain: John Carroll grabbed this photo along the roadside in 2003, and said, "Here's the info: the chassis plate says 'Chassis No. 304192, Year 1956, Assemble par SA Ateliers de la Dyle, Louvain, Belgium.' It now belongs to Manuel Ortiz from Santiago de Cartes, Cantabria, Spain, but when new it was owned by Electra de Viesgo SA, the company who built electricity pylons in Spain during the mid-fifties."
The Jeep has a transplanted 1800cc Perkins 4-cylinder diesel. It's not clear why the chassis number is so different from the other Jeeps above.
The two Jeeps above made me suspect that Jeeps were exported from Belgium to Spain, and confirmation came from an unlikely source. Jan found an article about IKA in a magazine in Argentina, which happened to include a photo of a "troop" of CJ-3Bs with this caption: "These 300 Jeeps were assembled and shipped to Spain by the Societé Anonyme des Ateliers de la Dyle, which produces them in Belgium, as does IKA. They are installed in special French cars, capable of transporting 8 vehicles each."
Jeeps were not built in Spain until 1960, and it makes sense that an assembly plant in a small market country, such as Belgium or Israel, would pursue export opportunities if their agreement with Willys did not prevent it.
An article in Globetrotter magazine (200K JPEG) for March/April 1956 indicates Anciens Establissements Berg was now involved in importing Jeeps, and shows both CJ-3Bs and CJ-5s on display at that year's Salon l'agriculture. I don't know if that means assembly of Jeeps by Ateliers de la Dyle in Louvain ended in 1956.
This undated brochure shows that Anciens Establissements Berg began to import a range of Willys vehicles.
Berg was apparently ambitious, and focussed on the agricultural and industrial market -- the reverse side of this sheet (260K JPEG) was titled "Some Jeep Tools" and showed a variety of accessory equipment that was available.
Leo Leclair owns two 1957 CJ-3Bs with consecutive serial numbers, and they both have serial number plates indicating they were imported by Berg.
This photo of the first of the two when he purchased it, shows a marker light on the front fender, apparently identical to the 1953 Jeeps at the top of the page.
Leo has done a nice restoration of the green Jeep, and has replaced the fender marker light with one on the cowl. See a rear view photo (140K JPEG) with other required lights.
The second Jeep still has marker lights on the front fenders.
Meanwhile, Minerva in Antwerp had continued to produce Land Rovers under license, and in 1957 they built a prototype "Model C22" with an obvious Jeep influence. It did have a slightly Landy look -- see also a rear view and a left side view (160K JPEGs).
Photos by André Ritzinger under a Creative Commons license.
The C22 (86-inch wheelbase) and the shorter C20 (80-inch) were powered by a 2.3 liter Continental engine, but only a handful were built. It's not clear whether this was due to limited market access, or perhaps difficulty in negotiating a license from Willys for a vehicle which appears to be based on the CJ-5.
What in fact made the C22 very different from either a Jeep or Land Rover, was unibody construction, with the engine and front suspension attached to a separate sub-frame.
Thanks to Jan Hogendoorn and Philippe Deweerdt, and also to Tamorlan for the Minerva Land Rover photo under CC 3.0. -- Derek Redmond
See also The Belgian Army CJ-3A on CJ3B.info.
Elsewhere on the web, see the blog Belgian Jeep in French.
See more Jeeps Around the World.
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