At last year's NASCAR fall race in Avondale, AZ (Phoenix) you expected to see some fast cars. Eventual Monster Energy Series Champion Kyle Busch captured his first and only pole of the season at the IMS Raceway with a speed of 140+ mph. But along the spacious infield were two conspicuous vehicles that were clearly not speedsters. But given that the race was just before Veteran's Day, their presence made more sense and was fitting. For in the display were two restored veteran's - a 1950 CJ 3A M38 V35U which was a Marine Corp Radio Jeep. Next to it was a 1943 Willys MB.
The owner of the 1950 Willys, Mike Wixom, had acquired the unit in 2010 and spent considerable time and effort to get it into the shape it is seen today. These units were the only Jeeps produced for the military between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War. It seems that each branch of the military had their own idea of what a vehicle should look like, but the Marines wanted something rough and tough and reliable. Willys took civilian units off the production line and outfitted them with a variety of parts for the military version. Willys' only military contract for vehicle production during this period was with the Marine Corp.
The V35U designation meant that the units could be submerged underwater and the dash has several plaques describing the process to prepare the unit before "deep water fording". They came with snorkels, extended exhausts, and generators to power the military radios. Only 1,000 units were produced under the contract and few managed to stick around all these years.
The 1943 Willys MB was acquired when the owner, Jeff Abrahamson, was purchasing some land in 2000. It sort of came with the deal. He took a year to acquire parts before restoring it and estimates that over 70% of the parts are original. Not bad for a vehicle that is over 75 years old. Over 600,000 units were produced during the war effort but relatively few survived the war. And those that did were often scrapped or abandoned after the war.
Abrahamson noted that the four cylinder "Go Devil" engine is rated at 50 HP and can chug along contentedly at 45 MPH. Plop it into four wheel drive and the speeds naturally drop down. The Go Devil engine was one of the pivotal selling points for the Willys vehicle getting selected for the military contract. Abrahamson has traversed the Great Western Trail which crosses five states between Canada and Mexico several times so you know this Willys is meant for the trail and not just for shows. And that "Rubicon" blazed along the sides is a gentle nudge at his Rubicon Jeep driving friends, reminding them of the heritage behind their Jeeps.
Both owners are part of the Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors Club which holds a big military vehicle show in January of each year here in Arizona. So it was nice to see some veteran military vehicles out at the IMS raceway honoring our real heroes, the country's veterans.
(c) 2020 Mark C. Bach
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