Christián Podlesker bought this Transport Yellow 1956 Willys CJ-3B in 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and spent the next five years doing a very detailed restoration to factory specs.
The Jeep originally belonged to Mexico's Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia ("Secretariat of Health and Assistance"), one of hundreds of vehicles used in a national campaign to fight paludismo (malaria), until in 1976 it was sold as surplus by the government.
The Sheller steering wheel, oil, temperature and fuel gauges, and brake and clutch pedals were among the many parts that Christián replaced, as he returned this 3B to the condition it would have been in when an anti-malaria team first drove it out into the Mexican countryside in 1955.
Mexico had the worst malaria problem in the Western Hemisphere in 1955, and decided to attack the disease with logistics on a war-like scale. Eight Generals were assigned to the campaign to eradicate malaria by spraying DDT to kill the mosquitos that spread the disease.
Here an officer inspects 285 yellow Jeep trucks and CJ-3Bs donated by UNICEF. The World Health Organization also provided Jeeps to the CNEP (Comisión Nacional para la Erradicación del Paludismo or "National Commission for the Eradication of Malaria.") Photo by Maxine Rude, courtesy WHO.
CNEP sent out motorized columns and even "malarial cavalry" with mounted spraymen and packhorses climbing the paths into the High Sierras.
Seen here is one of the new yellow Jeeps being ferried across the Rio Tonto, on the way from Veracruz to Tustepeo. The hood is labelled "S y A" (Salubridad y Asistencia) and Paludismo (Malaria). Photo by Eric Schwab, courtesy WHO.
The CNEP plan called for spraying DDT, which would kill mosquitos for up to five months, inside some three million homes across Mexico. The United States supported the program with equipment and materials, and saw it as an opportunity both to exert influence against communism in Latin America and to boost U.S. business interests, including Willys Motors, with funds that were donated to the effort.
Surprisingly, the campaign did not include treatment of people infected with malaria, which would have helped break the cycle of transmission from mosquito to human and back to mosquito. (Cold War Deadly Fevers: Malaria Eradication in Mexico, 1955-1975 by Marcos Cueto, reviewed by Filiberto Malagón, at US National Library of Medicine.)
Photo from the journal World Health, March/April 1960, "Special Issue: Malaria."
By the way, Mexico was not the only country where fleets of Jeeps carried the fight against mosquitos into rural areas. This photo from Delhi, India, in the same issue of World Health, shows workers with their drums of DDT, sprayers and vehicles.
When five years passed and malaria had not been eradicated in Mexico, it was reported that demoralized workers got sloppy, and the disease began to return to some areas where it had supposedly been eliminated. The campaign was never completely successful, and as of 2021 the future of malaria prevention is seen to lie with the vaccination of populations, and the elimination of poverty. (Cold War Deadly Fevers: Malaria Eradication in Mexico, 1955-1975 by Marcos Cueto, reviewed by Filiberto Malagón, at US National Library of Medicine.)
This battered Paludismo CJ-3B was photographed in Guerrero state, circa 1961. Photo courtesy Fernando Ramirez, and Luis Ruvalcaba, whose 1956 CJ-3B has a dash plate indicating "This equipment was provided by the World Health Organization, the United Nations."
Christián tells the story of restoring his Paludismo Jeep:
"My passion for Jeeps began when I was a kid in Argentina and my father bought a 1943 Ford GPW. The first restoration work began when I was seven, and the magic happened! As an active member of the Asociación Argentina de Coleccionistas de Vehiculos Militares I participated in events aiming to preserve the history of these Jeeps.
"In 2013 I moved to Mexico City for work, and I looked for a new project to continue my passion. I was finally able to acquire a quite well preserved 1956 CJ-3B in Guadalajara, Jalisco."
Probably all of the Jeeps used in the malaria campaign were later sold by the government, despite its having received many of them as donations in 1955-56. As of 2021, four out of nine CJ-3Bs in Mexico listed in Surviving CJ-3B Jeeps are 1956 models and are likely former Paludismo Jeeps.
Christián's Jeep was sold as surplus in 1976, and the Official Receipt seen here lists it as coming from the Sria. Salubridad y Asistencia ("Secretariat of Health and Assistance"). It identifies the vehicle as a 1955 Willys, which reflects the year when it was delivered. According to its serial number 57348 24289 it would have been built in summer 1955, early in Willys' 1956 model year. The surplus selling price was 7,821 pesos (which is probably roughly equivalent to about US$700 in 2021.) See also the Acta de Venta (240K JPEG) or "Record of Sale," including sales tax stamps.
The CJ-3B then remained in the same family until Christián bought it, and he says, "The family was somewhat reluctant to sell it but finally we made the deal in February 2016. A colleague from the office helped me with the deal and brought her home."
"The Jeep was in pretty good condition but had been repainted, in the original Transport Yellow (later confirmed with the factory color found behind the dash.) Some missing original parts were the steering wheel, spare tire carrier, generator, horn, drawbar, tailgate chains, brake and clutch pedals, gauges, and radiator fan shroud.
"In March 2016 I removed the first bolt. First I took hundreds of pictures of every detail, but today I would say it was not enough! I didn't know how far I would go with that restoration. It ended up being a complete ground-up, five-year restoration project.
"Engine and frame were completed first. I sourced many parts from Walcks, others from eBay vendors and a few from a local vendor in Mexico City, and good friend now, Mr. Enrique Yever.
"Axles, steering and brakes were next. I did the first rolling chassis drive in May 2019 (see a YouTube video.)
"Body work was the hardest part and took too long. Most of the work was done at my father-in-law's shop, until July 2020 when I decided to bring her home for the final assembly and detailed work.
"That's actually when the fun part began. I exchanged tons of messages with Rus Curtis and Luis Mariano Paz, asking for measurements and advice. This Jeep wouldn't be like this if it weren't for Rus and Luis Mariano! And I know that I still need to complete a few more things (side steps, top bows, skid plate and some factory correct bolts.)
"I am in the process of certifying the restoration to get Classic Car license plates. This will allow me to drive her daily without further inspections, but some limitations.
"What's next? Well, it is a never-ending process but I have two more projects to kick off, a 1948 Willys CJ-2A and a 1957 Willys CJ-5. But now I will not be alone. My five-year-old boy Martin is passionate about Jeeps too, so I am sure there will be more hands to help!"
Thanks to Christián for the photos and story of his Jeep. -- Derek Redmond
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