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."
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.
The only visible unique features suggesting local additions to the Jeep, are the Michelin tires and the marker lamps on the fenders. 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.)
And then there's the paint. It's certainly not the dark green or dark red used by Willys in 1953. Possibly the Cadet Gray, although it seems lighter than that. Could it have been yellow? That would have been a striking display. The windshield is painted body color rather than black, but the wheels appear to be white.
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).
A 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 MB's 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" in Brussels, a company which was still 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, but it's not clear how long Anciens Establissements Berg was involved in importing Jeeps. By 1956 "Ateliers de la Dyle" was listed on the serial number plates as the Belgian importer, but an article in Globetrotter magazine (200K JPEG) for March/April 1956 indicates Berg was still involved, and shows both CJ-3Bs and CJ-5s on display at that year's "Salon l'agriculture."
Didier Dochain supplied some background on Ateliers de la Dyle: "Firstly this means 'Workshop on the Dyle' (a river flowing through parts of Belgium). 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 1956 Belgian CJ-3B owned by Edmundo Alonso has a serial number plate which indicates it was imported by Ateliers de la Dyle. It is stamped with year of manufacture 1956, and CJ3 chassis no. 17010, which would indicate a 1955 model if it is the Willys serial number.
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 assembled not in Toledo but in 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 1956 CJ-3B above, and whether it's just a coincidence that the two Belgian Jeeps ended up in Spain.
It's unknown when assembly of Jeeps ended in Louvain -- more information is welcome. But they were still in operation in 1957.
Leo Leclair has owned his Belgian 1957 CJ-3B since 1975, and this photo of how he purchased it from the first owner shows a marker light on the front fender, apparently identical to those in the 1953 photo at the top of the page.
Leo has done a nice restoration of the 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 chassis number is 40765, and engine number 4J172443, both numbers corresponding to the correct numbers for a 1957 Willys.
Meanwhile, Minerva in Antwerp had continued to produce Land Rovers under license, and in 1957 they built a prototype Jeep "Model C22". It was based on the CJ-5 and powered by a Continental engine, but never went into production. It's not clear whether this was due to market assessment, or difficulty in negotiating a license from Willys.
See also a rear view and a left side view (160K JPEGs). Photos by André Ritzinger under a Creative Commons license.
Thanks to Jan Hogendoorn and Philippe Deweerdt, and also to Tamorlan for the Minerva Land Rover photo under a Creative Commons license. -- Derek Redmond
See also The Belgian Army CJ-3A on CJ3B.info.
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