The CJ-3A Universal Jeep

Another Sibling of the CJ-3B

by Reed Cary

Willys Run 1998Direct descendant of the CJ-2A (and progenitor of the CJ-3B), the Universal Jeep CJ-3A was launched in the Fall of 1948. For the casual observer the 3A differed from the 2A only by its new one-piece windshield. But there were subtler differences: where Willys-Overland had moved the driver seat further back on the 2A, perhaps to accommodate husky farmers as well as thin GI's, they did it again with the 3A.

The windshield was simplified with the wipers at the bottom, and made taller for more headroom. And the suspension was beefed up a bit, perhaps in answer to calls from the agricultural community who by now had a wide array of implements to choose from, designed to be mounted on and operated by a Jeep CJ.

This photo, taken by Chuck Wootton at the 1998 Willys Run in Westfield, Massachusetts, gives a good look at the windshield differences between the three civilian flatfenders, although they are raised to different heights here by various tires and body lifts.

From Willys brochureThe lack of ads for the CJ-3A except in the farm journals, at the same time as W-O was lavishly advertising its trucks and station wagons in full-color ads (80K JPEG) in the mainstream press, would suggest the community to which the 3A was aimed. The dash-mounted info plates with their pictures of farm and industry side by side, also demonstrate the markets in which W-O was hoping for sales.

See also a Willys-Overland Export Corporation German-language ad for the CJ-3A (90K JPEG) featuring drawings of a flooded road and a buzz saw cutting firewood.

Willys-Overland in 1948

Consider the era into which the 3A was delivered. Slumping sales of the 2A in 1947 had perhaps caused Willys-Overland to look for a "new" model. The initial postwar hype for a new "civilian jeep" must have waned considerably, at least in terms of appeal to the broad public. W-O, despite its sales of jeeps during the war years, was still a lean corporation. It did not have the assets to compete in the emerging postwar passenger car market like Ford and GM.

Joe Caprio's CJ-3ATrue, Willys had produced the small "Americar" before the war which had sold fairly well. It had successfully launched itself back into the pick-up market. And sales of the first all-metal Station Wagon were going well. But a dispute was raging at W-O about re-entering the passenger car market. Simultaneously, sales figures show that the market for the CJ was not expanding. So it is not too surprising, considering also the utilitarian nature of the Jeep CJ, that redesign was held to a minimum. The photo by Bill Lagler shows Joe Caprio's all-original 1951 CJ-3A.

Bill Lagler's CJ-3AOne of the postwar developments at W-O prior to the debut of the CJ-3A, was the consolidation of the production of major parts. Prior to the war, Willys had been, like most of the other smaller auto manufacturers, primarily an assembler of parts purchased elsewhere. But the purchase of the Wilson Foundry allowed for in-house casting of motor blocks.

The body fabrication, which had been largely (if not all) done by American Central, was now also brought in-house, with the bringing home of the die sets and the acquisition of the presses and other related machinery to be able to produce the bodies and frames. This photo shows Bill Lagler's 3A.

M38The U.S. military, who had been experimenting together with W-O on many forms of "improved" jeeps since before WWII had ended, were interested in an improved version of the "Go-Devil" L-134 engine. The FA version (later the FB or "Hurricane") was on the drawing boards at W-O in the fall of 1947. So W-O decided to first launch its upgraded civilian Jeep.

The M38 (left) was then introduced in the Fall of 1950, as well as the limited-edition Navy CJV-35 (40K GIF), delivered in the Spring of that year. Both were still basically military adaptations of the 3A. Photo by Alex Houle.

See also Bruce Agan's M38 and The Belgian Army CJ-3A on CJ3B.info.

Changes in the CJ-3A

CJ-3A dashModification to the body tub, i.e. the reconfiguration from 2A to 3A, was likely a far-sighted reappraisal, as it seems to have carried over pretty much unaltered into the model 3B. Basically, these modifications were as mentioned above: more head room with the increased windshield height, and more "corpus" room behind the steering wheel, as seen in this photo of Joe Caprio's 3A. This entailed moving the wheel wells back and a consequential shortening of the rear deck. Other modifications came along with production. The first 3A's came out with the 42-2 rear axle, a continuation of the development of the late 2A. In the Spring of 1951 the rear axle was changed to the 44-2, which has a history of its own.

Gary Keating's 3ASmaller changes, such as the starter push-rod set-up, may also have been made to the model CJ-3A during its production run, but these are undocumented, at least by this author. For more detail see The CJ-3A Information Page.

The 3A continued in production into early 1953, overlapping the introduction of the 3B by several months (and qualifying it as a "Sibling of the CJ-3B"). Total production was approximately 130,000, less than either the 2A or 3B, which largely accounts for the 3A's relative scarcity on the trails and on the web. This 1949 CJ-3A was restored by Gary Keating.

Much is still to be learned about that transitional period in 1953, when Willys-Overland was sold to Kaiser-Frazer -- both in regard to the changes in lesser details from the 3A to the 3B, and the inner workings of the company and reasons for transfer of ownership. More information is always welcome. -- Reed Cary

Thanks to Reed for the text, Reinhard Klug for the German ad, and Lee Martin for the 1947 truck ad. Thanks also to Chuck, Bill, Alex, Joe and Gary for the photos. -- Derek Redmond

See the full story and lots more photos of Joe Caprio's unique CJ-3A, in From Broadway to Halfmoon Valley Road on CJ3B.info.

See also The Belgian Army CJ-3A and The Swedish Army CJ-3A.

Return to Siblings of the CJ-3B.

See also the Pictorial History of the Universal Jeep on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 4 March 2001 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond