My interest in Jeeps started back when I was in high school, in the early 1970s. A school buddy of mine, named Jim Little (who is still a friend of mine today) had a 1953 Willys Jeep CJ-3A in his family. It was used primarily up at their cottage in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, Quebec. As was typical, it was a utility vehicle, used to: pull gang mowers to cut the lawn; haul cut wood for the fireplace; carry tree trimmings to the compost pile; etc. Other than having wider and softer tires than the original tires, it was an original Jeep, authentic and without major alterations, from what I remember.
I frequently visited Jim’s cottage and became accustomed to the effortful chores required to maintain such a large cottage property. The Jeep was involved in most projects around the cottage and it always seemed to run without any problems. Getting to use the Jeep recreationally was the most fun however.
There was a golf course that ran along the side of Jim’s family property. At dusk Jim would challenge his brother and I to drive the Jeep through the course, vaulting the sand traps and blowing through the creeks. The only rule they stipulated was to: “Stay off the greens!!” Jim’s entire family were excellent golfers, so I was never sure if the rule was to prevent being identified by the distinctive tire markings, or to ensure that they could still expect a great round of golf the next morning. To my recollection, no one was every caught with the Jeep on the golf course.
Near the cottage, there were also lots of dirt roads and trails into the woods, which were fun to explore. I was in awe of how stable this vehicle was. We trusted it to ascend almost any steep elevation, undeterred by rocks, roots or fallen trees. This Jeep seemed to enjoy powering through rutted and boggy wooded areas or rocky creek beds. The memories of carefree and reckless times with Jim’s family Jeep are all about youthful adventures and warm Canadian summers. Today, 40+ years and a generation later, the same Jeep is still being used to maintain Jim’s family cottage property.
About five years after restoring and selling a 1972 BMW 2002tii, I got the itch to seek out another vehicle project. Since the 1953 Jeep CJ-3A had such fond memories for me, I began conversations with my friend Jim, to see if he would be willing to sell me his family Jeep, to use as a restoration project. Initially, he gave it some thought, but eventually, my heightened interest in his Jeep seemed to stimulate his thoughts of keeping it and perhaps someday completing his own restoration project.
So, with a focus on post-war Jeeps, in April of 2017, I began a search for my own vintage “diamond-in-the-rough” style Jeep. Very early on, I connected with a retiree, just outside of Ottawa, Ontario, who was a collector of Jeeps. He had at least thirty-five of them, and Jeep parts too, many of which were military. In my initial telephone conversations with him, I let him know that I was looking for a non-military or civilian Jeep. Fortunately for me, he said that he had a few and that he wanted to get rid of them. He began sending me pictures of the civilian Jeeps that he had. It appeared that he might well have something that would match my criteria.
As we were narrowing down our conversations to one Jeep in particular, I noticed a bright green Jeep in the background of one of the photos that he had sent. This green Jeep had not been part of any of our prior dialogue. As we were closing in on a verbal agreement for one of his other Jeeps, I decided to ask about the green one. I will never forget his answer.
“Oh! That’s a very unique and special Jeep. I had completely forgotten about that one. I think you might be really interested in it.”
“Why is that?” I said.
“Well, it’s a 1947 Willys Jeep CJ-2A, but it was also a Boyer Fire Jeep and it only has 8,842 original miles on it.”
This Jeep had been driven a mere 8,842 miles (14,229 kilometers), which means barely ‘broken in’ by some standards. While he was explaining all of the fascinating details, I was madly scouring the Internet, trying to verify what he was telling me. Within minutes we had a verbal, photos only, deal.
The Willys Jeep has an interesting history. What would later become “Willys-Overland Motors,” started as an automotive company in 1908, building mostly luxury cars. In 1941, Willys-Overland won the bid to produce a lightweight truck-style military vehicle, for the US War Department, introducing MA-MB models. It was to be the world’s first mass-produced 4-wheel drive. During World War II, the military found this vehicle to be tough, durable, versatile and very capable as a recognisance vehicle. In 1943 Willys-Overland trademarked the term “Jeep.” Some say that the origin of the name Jeep stems from the abbreviated GP for “General Purpose.”
In a somewhat desperate need to find a market for the Jeep, post war, Willys-Overland developed the first full-production civilian Jeep in 1946. The CJ-2A was produced in Toledo, Ohio. These versatile, ‘go anywhere’ vehicles were marketed to ranchers, farmers, hunters and utility companies. The CJ-2A looked very much like a civilianized MB, except it had the addition of a tailgate and side-mounted spare tire. The noticeable difference between the military Jeeps and the CJ-2A civilian Jeeps were the grills of the two vehicles. The MB had recessed headlights and a nine-slot grill, while the CJ-2A had larger headlights, which were flush-mounted and a seven-slot grill. In place of the MBs T-84 transmission, the CJ-2A was equipped with the beefier Spicer T-90 three-speed transmission. The CJ-2A was still powered by the reliable Flathead L-134, or what has become known as the Go-Devil engine, producing 60 HP.
CJ-2As were being sold for multiple uses. At one point, the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company of Logansport, Indiana, received a letter from Willys-Overland Motors, suggesting that they would be willing to convert 50 Willys Jeeps into a small type of fire vehicle, with the help of the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company. They agreed and the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company went about making or acquiring the necessary materials to help complete these conversions. Some of the typical equipment would have included: large-scale, side mounted toolboxes; fire hose boxes; ladder racks; fire axes; hoses; nozzles; lights and a siren. The most substantial piece added to the Jeep, was a Barton Fire Pump U-40, made by American-Marsh Pumps, of Battle Creek, Michigan. portable fire fighting pump