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How the Korean War Changed Jeeps For Good

Without WWII the birth of the jeep would most likely not have happened!


The Willys MB model is what started it all. As World War II was heating up in 1941, the United States Military awarded automaker Willys-Overland a contract to produce 16,000 MB models for just under $740 a piece — equivalent to about $12,840 per unit in 2019, after adjusting for inflation.


Following WWII, the United States Military and its allies had thousands of left-over Willys MBs. Some of the left-over MBs were sold as surplus; others were left behind for civilians to use overseas.


Sadly, most of the left-over Willys MBs from WWII ended up at the bottom of the ocean. The U.S. Military had no choice but to dump most of its heavy equipment to make room for hundreds of thousands of homebound troops.


Additionally, returning all that equipment to the United States would have hurt the economy by flooding the market with cheap, ex-Army alternatives to trucks, bulldozers, and Jeeps that Americans would have otherwise had to purchase new.


But as far as Jeeps go, the Korean War had another huge impact on the history of the jeep.


Between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Korean War, Willys-Overland started making “Civilian” Jeeps known as the CJ-2A and CJ-3A models. But as international tensions rose again leading up to the Korean War in 1950, Willys upgraded the CJ-3A for war-use, calling the militarized version the M38.


Willys produced more than 60,000 M38s before completely overhauling the design in 1952, upgrading it once more with an even newer name: the M38A1. The M38A1 Jeep was more spacious than the M38 model, and a more powerful F-head engine replaced the M38's L-head motor. This bumped the Jeep’s horsepower up from 60 to 72.


Between 1952 and 1963, over 90,000 M38A1 units were manufactured, and it was this design that went on to become the prototype for the now famous CJ5 Jeep model in 1954. The M38A1 Jeep design is what ultimately set the stage for the modern-day Civilian Jeep market.

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