Early Plastic Jeep Toys
by California Moulders


This photo from Fred Coldwell's book Preproduction Civilian Jeeps shows probably the only toy based on the CJ-2 Civilian Jeep. The total number of CJ-2 Jeeps built for testing in 1944-45 is unknown, but serial numbers as high as CJ2-37 are known to exist. They were the first Jeeps built from the ground up for civilian use, as opposed to the CJ-1 which was a modified Willys MB.

The spare tire mounted behind the passenger-side door on this toy indicates that it was in fact based on one of the first 15 or so CJ-2's, referred to by Coldwell as the "pilot models" and also known as Agrijeeps. The blue/white paint scheme is fanciful, since the actual CJ-2 pilot models were all painted in the same military olive drab as the original CJ-1 Agrijeep. Other features distinguishing it from the military MB include an opening tailgate and a rear drawbar.

Fred Coldwell collection

As seen in the photo above, pieces molded from different colors of plastic were combined to produce two-tone models. This is a bit surprising considering the Jeeps are otherwise pretty accurate to the CJ-2 prototype, but somebody must have decided this made the toys more appealing. There was also a red/cream (60K JPEG) color scheme. They all have clear plastic windshields and headlights.

Some of the CJ-2s were made of a soft plastic which has dried out and curled slightly, but there are also examples made of a slightly thinner, harder plastic which has remained straight. Some have wheels with no tread, and others have NDT tread tires. The toys themselves have no identifying marks; the model number "EP 120" is listed only on the box.

The exact date of the toy, manufactured by California Moulders Inc. of 814 E.29th Street, Los Angeles, is unknown. It is identified on the box as "The New" Civilian Jeep, but Coldwell guesses that the design was actually based on post-war CJ-2A sales literature which included older photos showing the CJ-2. Ilkka Majantie in Finland has one of the toys, with documents showing it was sent from the U.S. in January 1947.

Willys MA
Fred has other similar toys which also appear to be made by California Moulders. This green/red jeep seems to be based on a Willys MA prestandardized military jeep, with its round door openings, rear-mounted spare, and headlights outside the hood.

Military details
A blue example from Gary Keating's collection is similar to Fred's green MA above, but is more obviously military, with a star molded on the hood and rear fenders, plus a shovel and axe on the sides.

Rob Linehan collection

Rob Linehan was inspired by Fred Coldwell's book to try collecting examples of the California Moulders toys. It took some time, but he located a red CJ-2, a blue MA, and a green Jeep which appears to be a CJ-2A.

Yellow and brown California Moulders CJ-2As owned by Gary Keating reveal that some came in plastic bag packaging under the name "Mira-Cal Unbreakable Jeep." Some also came with a windshield frame in colored rather than transparent plastic. Like Rob's green example above, these appear to be slightly later models, with black rubber wheels, metal axles and plastic figures in the front seats.

A Mira-Cal box (140K JPEG) has illustrations of a Jeep as well as other vehicles.

It's very interesting that a toy manufacturer at such an early date would be producing a series of toys with different details, based on different Willys models.

Thanks to Gary Keating, Rob Linehan and Mike Albright, and to Fred Coldwell for the photos reproduced by permission from his book Preproduction Civilian Jeeps. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 20 January 2023 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond