1946 Willys Overland “Universal Jeep” (“CJ2A”)

 Serial Number: CJ2A 13396


This jeep was manufactured by Willys-Overland Motors Incorporated of Toledo, Ohio in January 1946. 


1946 was the first full year of production for civilian jeeps (CJs).


During World War II (1941-1945), Willys Overland and Ford Motor Company produced about 600,000 military jeeps (known as the “MB” and “GPW” respectively).  During the war, Willys used the MB to build two prototype civilian jeeps (CJ1 and the CJ2 “Agrijeep”).  The final version of the Willys civilian jeep (known to Willys engineers as “civilian jeep 2 version A” or “CJ2A”) was introduced to the public on July 17, 1945 on a Michigan farm owned by Willys President Charles Sorensen.  Beginning in mid-1945, the CJ2A shared the production line with the Willys MB.  Willys manufactured 1,824 CJ2As in 1945.  Production of the MB ended on August 30, 1945 (three days before World War II officially ended on September 2, 1945).  In 1946, Willys produced over 70,000 CJ2As.


Since “very early” CJs (1945 and early 1946 CJ2As are known as “very early CJs” or “VECs”) shared the assembly line with the MB, they have many parts that are from the military assembly line.  This CJ has an MB style body with tool indentations (for an axe and a shovel) on the driver’s side of the body.  The Sparton horn, Oakes air cleaner and split swing-out windshield are from the MB military assembly-line.  The exhaust is an “MB style” system with the muffler mounted under the passenger side of the jeep.  The original “bullet shaped” parking lights are military “black-out lights” with civilian lense covers.  The hinge for the hood is a “Ford buy back hinge” that is stamped with an “F” from the Ford GPW assembly plant.  The rear axle is an MB Dana 25 “full-floating axle” and is stamped with the manufacture date of “9-4-45”; just two days after the end of World War II. 


Serial numbers for the CJ2A start at #10001.  The serial number on this jeep is “CJ2A 13396”; therefore it is the 3396th jeep manufactured for civilian use, and the 1572nd CJ built in 1946.  It is one of 1,629 CJ2As built by Willys in 1946 with an MB style body, the MB “Dana 25 full-floating rear axle” and a 3 speed “T-90” manual transmission with the shifter mounted on the steering column (“three on a tree”, or “a column shifter”). 


The serial numbers on the body, frame and tailgate match for a CJ2A produced in early 1946.   The engine, with serial number “CJ2A 26162”, may not be the original engine (for more details on CJ2A engines click here.).  However, it is a correct early “timing chain” version of the “Go Devil” flathead 4 cylinder engine designed by Willys-Overland and used in all MBs, GPWs and early CJs (Willys switched to a timing gear engine in mid-1946).  The “Go Devil” engine displaces just over 134 cubic inches (2.2 liters) and develops 60 horsepower at 4,000 RPM.  Top speed in “high range” (without the 4 wheel drive engaged) is 60 MPH. 


Willys marketed the first CJs to agriculture and industry as a “do-it-all” vehicle.   The versatility of the vehicle prompted Willys to call it “The Universal Jeep”.  Of course, the “Universal Jeep” is more commonly known as the “CJ2A”.  According to marketing literature from 1946, the “Universal Jeep” (which was geared lower than its military siblings) could tow a 10,000 lbs trailer.  A promotional photo taken in July 1945 shows a CJ2A towing a 9,400 lbs trailer full of hay bails.  A CJ2A weighs about 2,200 lbs and was rated to get about 20 miles per gallon (driving at 35 to 40 mph).  In 1946, a new CJ2A cost $1,195 (a price set by the Office of Price Administration; a government organization created to prevent inflation during the war).


Willys Overland manufactured over 200,000 CJ2As before production of the model ended in 1949.  However, a variation of the CJ2A remained in production in the U.S. until 1964 (see CJ3A, CJ3B and DJ).  Under licence from Willys, variations continued to be manufactured in Europe, Asia, Central America and South American well into the 1970’s.  Mahindra (India) produced a version of the CJ3B in the 1980’s.  Mitsubishi (Japan) produced a version as late as 1995.  No bad for a vehicle designed in 1940!


I purchased this jeep in 2004.  When I bought it the odometer read just over 32,000 miles.  People who are familiar with early CJs (former owners and jeep mechanics) have indicated to me that the mechanical condition of the jeep is correct for the mileage.   The olive drab paint with white star on the hood was added by a previous owner.   This Jeep was originally “Harvest Tan” with “Sunset Red” wheels.  The grey “naugahyde” seat covers have been replaced with original style reproduction covers using the original seat pans, springs and hardware.  The original canvas top (which was olive drab) is long gone. 


So far, this jeep has had a mechanical restoration (new wires, exhaust, fuel system and brakes).  It runs and drives great.  True to it’s reputation, it is smooth running and very reliable.   Its off-road performance is second to no other vehicle; antique or modern.  A “frame off restoration” could be in it’s future, but the usual things are holding up that process; space, time and money.   Right now the jeep serves as a “time capsule” of American engineering, and a very entertaining weekend ride.  It never fails to generate a smile, or a story, from the people I meet when I go for a drive.  It is, more than any other vehicle, a true American icon.


For more on the history of the CJ2A, and the other vehicles in the Jeep family, visit The CJ2A Page.  


A short video produced by the UAW (United Auto Workers) on the history of the development of the jeep can be found at this link:  http://www.wgte.org/wgte/item.asp?item_id=996  (Please email me if this link no longer works.)


Do you have “an early CJ”?  Send me a note.  I’d be glad to hear from you.



Need parts for your jeep?  I’ve been very satisfied with Walck’s 4WD in Bowmanstown, PA.