A recent study (by me) showed that the design of the classic Tonka pressed steel toy Jeep of the 1960s is in fact based on the Willys CJ-3B Universal Jeep. Apparently the reason this fact has not previously come to light, is simply the status of the CJ-3B in North America as the "overlooked Jeep" or, as some would say, the "ugly Jeep". My obervations are detailed below.
My friend Doug agreed with the findings, and couldn't resist giving me a Tonka Jeep in a metallic green that happens to match my 1959 Fountain Green CJ-3B very closely. And my friend Frank made up an oversize Tonka sticker that really makes my Jeep look like the toy.
The rest of the pictures on this page show two of the many variations of this 10-inch (250 cm) long toy, both of them made by Tonka Canada. The Tonka "Dispatcher" is painted in a colour similar to the Peacock Blue used by Willys from 1959-62, and has whitewall tires of realistic stock size.
The windshield, like most early Tonkas, is white. Note that the only prototype Jeeps with white windshields were the blue and green versions of the DJ-3A Surrey, which lends some credence to the theory that the Tonka was inspired by the DJ-3A (see The Original Tonka Surreys.)
The Canadian-built snowplow Jeep, painted in mid-sixties Sierra Blue, has oversize tires introduced by Tonka in the late sixties. It also has a red plastic warning light on the hood, and a sticker reading "Tonka CAA Wrecker Truck" on the rear (see a rear view photo, 35K JPEG). The snowplow blade swivels and tilts up and down. Part of the tow hook assembly is missing.
The "Jeep" logo stamped into the sides just behind the front fenders, is not authentic to flat-fender Jeeps (although they did have "Willys" stamped on the sides of the hood). "Jeep" was probably added to the toy to capitalize on the recognition of the Jeep name and the newer round-fendered CJ-5 which did have the name stamped there on the cowl.
Due to its high hood, the CJ-3B was the only Jeep with enough space for a name above the front grille, as found on the Tonka. (The 3B had "Willys" stamped there, rather than "Jeep" as on the toy.) And although wider than any full-scale Jeep, the dimensions of the front of the Tonka are closest to those of the CJ-3B. The position of the headlights, beside and above the top of the grille rather than protruding into it, is also a feature unique to the CJ-3B among civilian Jeeps. (For a comparison of the front clips of several Jeep models, see History of the CJ-3B.)
The slightly raised panel running down the centre of the hood of these toys is a feature not found on any real flat-fender Jeep. The panel is presumably included to add rigidity to the toy (an improvement Willys did not make until the CJ-5.) Early versions of this toy are constructed from separate left and right side sections, which join to the centre/grille section by means of tabs inserted into these two ridges.
Although the first Tonka Jeep didn't come on the market until 1962, it seems clear that this popular and time-tested toy was actually designed in the likeness of the humble CJ-3B which had been around since 1953. Its popularity encouraged Tonka to produce a number of variations, as well as toys based on other Jeep models, and in most cases these were introduced in much more timely fashion, shortly after the debut of the prototype.
Comments or corrections are welcomed. -- Derek Redmond
For lots more on Tonka Jeeps, return to the Toy Jeeps Pages on CJ3B.info.
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