Ron Cherry: Veteran ’42 Willys MB Jeep
No vehicle is more appropriate to feature on Veterans Day than an MB Willys Jeep.
From 1941 until 1945, over 360,000 of the almost 650,000 Jeeps built in World War II were Willys MBs, making them by far the highest-produced model.
With its Go-Devil L-head 4-cylinder that cranked 60 horse power out of the 134.2 cubic inch engine, it was dependable and almost indestructible.
Plus it was of simple construction, making field maintenance and repair not a problem.
While the history of the name is unsure, some claiming it is a slurred version of GP from General Purpose vehicle and others pointing to the Jeep character in popular Popeye cartoons, it had its name by 1941.
Whatever the case, jeeping has since become a synonym for rugged off-roading.
When Brian Miner decided he wanted a classic car, the Jeep turned his head.
“I was at that point in life,” Brian said. “I had taken care of my business and my house was paid off. I wanted a classic, but not a lot of trouble.”
He became intrigued by military vehicles, especially the wartime Jeeps.
“Reproduction parts were readily available and they were easy to work on,” he said. “You can open the hood, look and understand what’s there. It’s not like modern vehicles.”
So he went online and started searching.
In 2002, Brian found a company, now defunct, named Mike’s Military Motors in Santa Rosa that specialized in restoring vehicles like Jeeps to their original look and equipment.
Brian contacted them and they had a candidate that they’d found sitting out in a field.
“It was a frame, a stack of differentials and a messed-up body,” he said.
But it had potential. So he made an agreement with Mike’s and they sold it to him and restored it to World War II standards. It took about a year.
Brian’s Jeep, a Willys MB model, has an original Go-Devil engine with a 3-speed trans and 2-speed transfer case for its 4-wheel drive. With a 4.88:1 rear end, it was made for getting out of tough spots rather than speed.
One of a kind
A few interesting features of Brian’s Jeep are unique to the early models. It was one of less than 26,000 made with a grill made from welded flat stock rather than the later stamped-steel ones, a cost-saving idea from Ford.
It has a black-out headlight, a field modification, on the left front bumper instead of on the fender like later models. It has no glove box or Jerry can mounting. There are two wipers on the windshield, both hand operated. In combat, that might have been interesting.
On the plus side, it has more rubber welting and boots than later models when rubber had become scarce. It also has an interesting extra, an option one might say, a “desert cooling kit,” or a radiator over-flow tank, mounted on the grill.
Honoring the past
After Brian had his Jeep, a serendipitous event occurred.
He was looking at old photos of his dad who been a crew chief in the 319th Squadron of the 325th Fighter Group of the 15th Air Force in World War II, where he had serviced P-40, then P-47 and finally P-51 fighters.
They were known as the Checkertail Clan because of the black and yellow checkerboard on the tails of their fighters, painted so American bombers would know they were the ones providing protection.
In the photo, his dad was standing next to a Willys MB Jeep, exactly like the one Brian owned.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” he said. “So I had the same numbers from the photo painted on the hood. ”
He also had his dad’s unit numbers painted on the front bumper. Below the windshield, he put a USAAF insignia, Hap Arnold Wings, in honor of his dad’s service.
Brian joined a group of like-minded collectors, the Northern Recon Group, who take their old military vehicles on runs.
He has taken the Jeep on four-day camping trips to Plymouth National Forest, Bowman Lake and other remote locations without any problems. After all, for an old war horse like the Willys MB, it’s just a jaunt in the park.
However, as great as vehicles like this Jeep are, it’s the men and woman who served our country we honor this Veteran’s Day. At the Grass Valley Veterans Hall, there will be a service to honor them at 10 a.m.
Speakers will include both male and female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, songs by the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir, mustering of veterans during a medley of service songs, concluded at 11 a.m. by a three volley gun salute and Taps.
A BBQ lunch will follow in the dining room downstairs. It is an opportunity to show your support of our local veterans.
Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out before Christmas. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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