by Bart McNeil
This article was inspired by a discussion on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board. I had accepted a theory that the later CJ-2A rear seat was actually a CJ-3A seat and that it was used into the early years of the CJ-3B. This was based on commonly held beliefs which I now know to be inaccurate, and this article attempts to clarify the identification of civilian Jeep rear seats from 1945 through the end of the CJ-3B era.
The majority of flatfender CJ's were delivered without the optional rear passenger seat. The shortage of original rear seats means that many current CJ-3B owners looking for a seat will have to use seats designed for Jeeps other than their own. To my knowledge there is only one rear seat frame currently being manufactured as a reproduction, and that is the early CJ-2A frame pictured below. Fortunately all of the early rear seats can be interchanged, as the floor mounting system is the same.
The WW2 military rear seat folds in a rather interesting manner. The seat bottom folds up to a vertical position, while the backrest slides down about 4 or 5 inches to create a lower profile and perhaps to allow greater carrying capacity. See a photo of a GPW seat partially folded up (40K JPEG). The backrest is beginning to slide down. Note the "hooks" holding the back vertical tubing in position. They do not grip it but allow the entire backrest system to slide. See also the GPW seat folded (40K JPEG). The backrest is down as far as it can go. Below the tire pump is a horizontal tube. That is the pivot point for the seat allowing the backrest to move up and down. In the down (folded) position the backrest is only slightly above the rear sheet metal. This type seat, though interesting, would be impractical in a CJ with a tailgate.
Kurt Willinger and Gene Gurney's The American Jeep in War And Peace included this endorsement of the military rear seat: during the Battle of the Bulge, "a Belgian sentry... stopped a jeep bearing three soldiers in American uniform and immediately ordered them in German to surrender. When asked how he knew they were Germans... he said, "One, the colonel was riding in back and the aide was driving. The real American colonel drives and the aide sits next to him. Besides, the real American colonel never rides in back because it gives them -- what you call it -- the piles."
Although it did not fold, the first CJ-2A seat was similar in appearance to its military predecessor, with its narrow, 2-1/2 inch thick backrest.
Like many other parts on the early CJ-2A, the rear seat design probably had more to do with a pile of surplus military seat parts than with any serious attempt to design a more comfortable seat for civilian use. This very early 2A with tool indents and column mounted gearshift is from Stig Edqvist's book The Jeep in Sweden.
With very short legs and 2-1/2 inch thin padding, the passenger's bottom was only a few inches off the floor. The seat itself is directly above the legs with the back in an upright position. The passenger is forced to sit almost on the floor with his back close to vertical. This must have been an uncomfortable seat on a long or bouncy trip. The original early-CJ-2A seat is the rarest of early CJ rear seats.
The photo shows Marshall Rimland's 1945 CJ-2A (serial no. 10284), originally bought by Harold Sterling Vanderbilt in 1945 for use on his farm in Mt. Jackson, Virginia, where he would drive the CJ on weekends when he came up from New York. See also a recent reproduction of the early CJ-2A seat frame.
The second development of the rear seat, apparently an attempt to focus more on creature comfort, was also during the CJ-2A era. Todd Paisley has found that according to General Service Letter No. 808, dated 17 January, 1947, the change occurred at serial number 77568 and was implemented on the assembly line on 12 December, 1946.
In this version the legs were lengthened, the rear sheet metal and upholstery dropped down to cover the entire back, and the padding on the back was increased to four inches. Interestingly though, they did not increase the seat padding, but kept it at 2-1/2 inches.
The seat frame is moved about four inches forward of the front legs, allowing the seat and back to tilt to a more comfortable position. The longer legs on this second version of the CJ-2A seat (seven inches from the floor to seat pan) raise the passenger's bottom to about eight and one half inches from the floor. Perhaps not perfect, but a great deal more comfortable than the early version of the CJ-2A rear seat. The seat is hinged to the inside of the front tube (70K JPEG) with upholstery and five screws, a feature of military and all CJ-2A seats. The seat does look a little funny with the small seat padding, but that's the way it is supposed to be.
The seats were offered in three colors: Olive Drab, Slate Gray, and Barcelona Red. Also shown are the front feet in the recessed floor and the rear legs secure in their under-floor spring clips. Roger Bensgård photographed this late CJ-2A Barcelona Red seat in Sweden. See also a rear view photo (60K JPEG).
One interesting thing about these seats is that I have found no photographs or illustrations of them in Willys-Overland literature, but W-O seldom took new photos of something if they could get by with the old ones. Often they are described (on the internet) as CJ-3A seats but I think we have proved, through W-O parts lists, that they can only be the late version of CJ-2A seats. In this rare photo from Stig Edqvist's book The Jeep in Sweden, several 2A's are lined up ready to demonstrate their virtues as farm and industry machines. The 2A on the far right has the second 2A rear seat with full back.
The spring clips (or locks) for the rear legs are something of a mystery to many CJ owners. Exposed to road salt and water, almost all have disappeared long ago, and they were always an accessory purchased only with rear seats, so most civilian Jeeps never had them. Fortunately reproduction clips are now being sold. The oddly shaped extension at the foot of the rear leg, seen clearly in this photo by Karl Russell, is inserted in the spring clip mounted under the floor (8K JPEG) and is held there by spring compression until the seat is jerked upward to remove.
See a photo by Luis Mariano Paz of the seat leg and clip on a 1967 M606 military CJ-3B. Combined with tabs on the front legs (8K JPEG), which slip under metal straps, this made the seat fairly easy to install and remove. All CJ-3Bs are ready for the bolt-on spring clips -- there are two knockouts in place on vehicles without rear seats.
There apparently was a late modification to this version before it was discontinued in favor of the more comfortable CJ-3A rear seat. Rodney Walker photographed a rear seat back (70K JPEG) in the rafters of Fred Coldwell's garage. This photo is difficult to read because there are two seats in view. Look only at the leg and the top sheet metal back as seen from the rear. Notice that just "below" the tube frame at the top of the back there are two of three square holes visible. These holes are found on the later CJ-3A/3B seat but not usually on the second version of the CJ-2A seat. They are in fact three-sided holes with the sheet metal bent in, to form a hook to hold the back springs in position so that they don't slide down and distort the seat back. Logically then, a CJ-2A rear seat with these holes must be a late one, close to the introduction of the CJ-3A rear seat.
Roger Bensgård found this photo of two rear seats. The un-upholstered seat is the CJ-3A/3B seat frame with the short legs. It is somewhat difficult to see but I am almost certain that the seat with the black upholstery is the transitional seat with the three back holes as seen in Coldwell's garage. Its frame is the long-legged one (late CJ-2A), however its seat springs and padding are unlike the standard late CJ-2A seat with the 2-1/2 inch padding. In this case the seat padding is identical to the CJ-3A/3B seat.
What we can't see is the back sheet metal of the black upholstered seat. I'd be willing to bet it has the three holes. Also notice that the seat bottom does not hinge as on the standard late 2A seat. It is attached with screws around the outside of the seat frame tubing. I'll bet this is one of very few existing rear seats of this style.
Erik van de Peppel photographed the original rear seat in his 1954 CJ-3B in Holland prior to restoration. Notice that it has the 4-inch back padding as well as the 4-inch seat padding, with the original seat upholstery surrounding the seat frame. Luis Mariano Paz sent a 2011 photo of the springs (140K JPEG) under the rear seat in his 1966 M606.
Frank Wood sent a photograph of his seat frame, which he purchased from a man who told him it was from a CJ-3A. At the time he sent this I thought this could only be a CJ-3B seat. But I later learned, through Reed Cary, John Hubbard, Chuck and others that my theory was all wet and that this is indeed the standard CJ-3A rear seat frame. It is also the seat used throughout the CJ-3B era and similar to the CJ-5 rear seat. However, the legs are attached to the body using the same system as the second 2A seat above.
The frame of this seat was redesigned to accommodate thicker padding in the seat. The seat upholstery attaches to the outside of the frame and does not act as a hinge. The legs are shortened roughly two inches so that although the padding is now four inches thick, the passenger's bottom rests at the same height as on the late CJ-2A seat (about 8-1/2 inches). The square openings in the seat back sheet metal can be seen on the frame. These holes, with the sheet metal forming hooks to hold the back springs, are a characteristic of original CJ-3A/CJ-3B rear seats.
A period photo of Tom McCahill's 1953 CJ-3B (30K JPEG) shows this rear seat installed and the tailgate down. See also some detail photos of this seat as installed in a 1954 CJ-3B.
I still found it hard to believe that this seat was used as early as the beginning of the CJ-3A era (1948). Bob Westerman though, sent proof that this seat was the only seat specified as a CJ-3A rear seat. This photo from the 1949 Parts List (see the full page) shows that this seat (part number 670561) was in use during early CJ-3A production. That same part number, which can be seen in the 1956 CJ-3B Parts List, was apparently in use through CJ-3B and into CJ-5 production.
The full stuffed quality of the seat contrasts with the 2-1/2 inch padding of the CJ-2A seat. The very short rear legs, as well as one of the floor sockets for the rear legs, show clearly in this illustration. According to Todd Paisley, early CJ-5s had the floor fixtures to install the CJ3A/CJ-3B style civilian Jeep rear seats. The only upholstery color listed in the 1956 CJ-3B Parts List for this seat is slate gray. That is interesting because it supports the idea of the CJ-3B as a bare-bones utility model advertised as a workhorse, not a fashion plate.
A reproduction CJ-3A/3B rear seat frame (35K JPEG), no longer manufactured, was photographed by John Hubbard in his 1954 CJ-3B. On this reproduction, there were no square holes and hooks for the springs.
There may have also been several aftermarket rear seats offered for early CJs, including one made by Husky. See also Modifying A CJ-2A Back Seat on The CJ-3A Page.
The early CJ-5 rear seat differs somewhat from the 3B rear seat. It appears similar with the same full springs and stuffing of both back and seat, and the same frame. However, its legs and mounting are different.
Bill Oakes provides this photo and comments, "I think that between '55 and '81 there were three different seats. First '55 to approximately '66, then up to '72 or '73, then to '81. I think this early one is from a Tuxedo Park as I don't know another model that had fancy upholstery prior to the Renegade." See also a rear view photo (40K JPEG).
There are subtle differences in the floor of the CJ-5 as compared with the 3B. The primary difference is that the CJ-5 has no indentations in the floor to accept the front legs of the rear seat. Instead of the indent with the strap for inserting the front leg tab, there is a retainer "strap" bolted directly to the floor. The center of the strap rises about 1/4 inch to allow the leg tab to be inserted under it. But this time the leg is inserted from the front and pulled back into position. The rear leg works the same way in that it is pulled under a similar bolted-on strap. A latch (30K JPEG) is raised and dropped into a hole in the rear strap and held in position by a spring.
It is a little difficult to figure out exactly why the changes to the mounting system were made. Perhaps the military specified an absolutely flat rear bed, which would not allow for the indentations found in earlier Jeeps. Without the rear seat straps installed it is a perfectly flat cargo bed with only the ribs rising above the floor.
Although this system may be an improvement in some aspect (perhaps less costly) it does not appear to be much, if any, safer. I would guess that even in a small accident the seat would rip out of the retainer straps and become airborne. It may even be less safe than the 3B rear seat, which wins no prizes for passenger safety.
On both the 3B and CJ-5 the floor "ribs" begin just behind the riser behind the fuel tank and toolbox. On the 3B all of the ribs run almost to the end of the bed stopping about an inch from the edge. The CJ-5 is different with the ribs running to the front leg retainer straps, stopping, and then starting again and running to the rear leg straps, stopping about five inches short of the tailgate to allow the rear leg straps to rest on the bottom near the tailgate. Only the two center ribs are full length.
The thing that I find interesting about the CJ-5 rear seat mounting system is that it alters the function of the cargo bed, perhaps not intentionally, but it violates a norm established by all previous Jeeps both military and civilian. I measured the height of the straps and found they rise higher than the tops of the ribs on the tailgate floor. Therefore when the rear seat mounting straps are installed the bed ceases to function well as a cargo bed. Sliding a heavy large cardboard box into the bed would be much more difficult because it would have to be lifted to prevent the straps from ripping open the box and possibly damaging the cargo. There may be a message here. Could it be that Kaiser-Willys had begun to think of the CJ-5 more as a recreational vehicle than a workhorse? Unlike earlier CJs, including the CJ-3B, once you install the seat and its retainer straps on a CJ-5 the cargo bed is less useful. This may seem like a small item, but if one is using the Jeep to haul awkward large water heaters you don't want the carton to be ripped open exposing the heater to damage.
The seat frame seems almost identical to the CJ-3B frame, even having the three square openings in the upper back sheet metal and a maximum width of 32 inches. There appears to be little reason why this seat couldn't be used on other CJs, or modified to be used with the earlier system.
Note -- see a modification by Dick Williams to hang the CJ-5 seat from the fenderwells of a CJ-3B.
Prices of Jeep parts can vary dramatically so shopping around is always a good idea for expensive items.
Some dealers sell a CJ-2A rear seat frame (pictured above). Beachwood Canvas can provide period style upholstery and padding for any of the early civilian rear seats. I understand that Walck's 4 Wheel Drive now sells the floor clips ("locks") for the rear legs of civilian rear seats.
-- Bart McNeil
Thanks to Bart for straightening out the seat story. We're interested in any comments or further information. -- Derek Redmond
Also on CJ3B.info, see CJ-3B Front Seats and some ideas on how to Build Your Own Rear Seat or Re-Covering Jeep Seats.
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