UPDATE: The Ford “Junior Jeep” lightweight prototype still exists and was featured at Hemmings. The article provides a great deal of information about the jeep.
The image below shows an unusual look at four of the prototype lightweight jeeps built for the Army as solutions for small vehicles that could be easily dropped or flown into a variety of situations. This program resulted in a variety of different vehicles that have been showcased across the web, mostly through old photos. I believe this post provides the most up-to-date look at most of these vehicles (I don’t have pics of all versions of every vehicle).
The photo-shopped image above combines two separate images, taken by Patrick Coovert in 2008 at Hallsville, Ohio, to show how four lightweight ‘jeeps’ were parked together for the event (I’m assuming a military vehicle show of some kind). In order, from left to right is a CT3 Crosley Pup, the Chevrolet Extra Light (CEL), Willys WAC (Willys Air Cooled), and a Kaiser Extra Light (KEL).
If you aren’t familiar with the lightweight ‘program’, then you are in for a treat. And if you are familiar with these vehicles, you’ll enjoy seeing some color photos you’ve likely not seen (such as the image above).
Getting Vehicles on the Ground
During World War II, trying to get vehicles, especially Jeeps, onto the ground where military personnel could use them was of paramount importance for obvious reasons. But, how to accomplish that goal was less clear. A variety of strategies were used. One of the ideas that surfaced was a program to create an air droppable Jeep, a lightweight version that would be more feasible for dropping or flying into whereever they were needed. Below are a variety of lightweight pilot and prototype vehicles developed.
The MB/GPW Glider (very unique story):
I’ve never run across another reference to this story, but Sam’s friend Lee told him a story the other day about the Jeep Glider. Not unlike the Rotabuggy, which was a jeep transformed into a helicopter, the Government also transformed a Jeep into Glider, built to carry 8 personnel plus the jeep. The Army accomplished this by attaching glider pieces to a jeep. The jeep was then pulled into the air, like any other glider, and it would fly to a landing spot. Once down, charges would be ignited and the pieces would fall off. The Jeep could then drive away.
Unfortunately, while the tests were successful in the U.S. in anticipation of the D-Day invasion, a test of the glider system in Britain failed to the point that the army considered this idea unfeasible, with the differences in climate said to be the main reason they succeeded in the US and failed in Britain.
I have yet to run across any photos or drawings of this project, but perhaps someone else has?
The Lightweight Jeeps:
As an alternative to flying in the standard Jeeps, the army proceeded forwarded with the development of a lightweight jeep-like vehicle known as extra lights (EL) or lightweight jeeps or jeeplets. Below are many examples of these. Some of these are restored and some are replicas rebuilt from scratch. For a fuller story of the history behind the lightweights, check out this 1977 article from Hemmings on the right.
THE LIGHTWEIGHT CROSLEYS:
CT-3 Pup: According to Hemmings, 36 Crosley CT-3 Pups were built during 1942 and purchased for testing in several locations. of the 36, 6 of these would make the trip to Europe. This would make the Pup the most successful of all the early lightweights produced. The Pup had a 2-cylinder 13hp engine and weighed 1125 lbs. Hemmings notes, “they could only carry the driver and one passenger, and the military testers, initially enthusiastic about the Pup, found weak steering knuckles, weak springs and a weak steering column.”
According to the Crosley Auto Club, there are at least 7 known to still exist. One is housed at the museum in Ft. Eustis, Va, and one at the Mighty Eight Air Force Museum in Pooler, Ga. These were taken by a Flickr User name Skeggy at the Mighty Eight Museum.
Here’s an image from the 2006 MPVA convention in Dayton, Oh, and uploaded to webshots by haasjo
I have not located much information about the Nuffield, though it was featured in one of my early favorite book called The Jeep. I believe this was based primarily on Willys parts, though it was lightened as much as possible, with a removable steering wheel and fold down windshield to maximize compactness. The tests of this were successful, though it was deemed unnecessary by the time it was completed in 1944. Nuffield would go on to develop another 4wd vehicle called the Nuffield Gutty.
Here are some images of an exact copy (as possible) of the Nuffield lightweight jeep from a british website.
And some photos of the original:
CHEVROLET EXTRA LIGHT (CEL): Hemmings reports Chevrolet developed 2 prototypes with an “Indian 90-degree V-2″ 45.44 cid motor. They adapted it from the Indian Military motorcycle. One prototype is located in the Militia Museum of New Jersey. This image was taken by Bill Maloney.
This image was taken at the 2006 MPVA Convention by hassjo and uploaded to webshots.
Here’s an image of the CEL this is in a variety of places.
KAISER: There were several versions of the Kaiser Extra Lightweight Jeep. Mark Askew in his Rare WW2 Jeep book has images of a couple different versions. For example, the Kaiser ‘midjet’ weighed about 1370lbs and the ’1160′ weighed 1520lbs.
The below pic was uploaded to webshots by haasjo:
FORD “JUNIOR JEEP”: This prototype still exists and is owned by Ted Wisniewski of Belleville, Michigan and was highlighted in an article at Hemmings. A commenter to the article noted he had done some jeep research in the Ford archives and uncovered a wooden model of this prototype, images of which I have never seen.
From Fred Crimson’s Book “U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles,”, via the Hemmings website, comes this paragraph explaining more about Ford’s prototype.
“For reasons which can only be speculated on, the little miniature Jeep was not entered in the competition, and the tests proceeded without Ford’s contribution. The engine for this vehicle was a 71 cubic inch agricultural tractor powerplant which produced good torque, but not much horsepower. Perhaps ford realized that the combination of low horsepower and downsized components resulted in an unacceptable vehicle. The other manufacturers did not seem to realize this until the tests were completed and all vehicles had failed. The tires were 5.00x17s with agricultural type tread. It was a clean and well integrated design, even if the offset grille looks a little strange. The radiator had been offset to allow clearance for the steering column. A blackout driving light is recessed below the left headlamp.”
WILLYS: Naturally, Willys also developed a series of light jeeps. Here are a few. Mark’s Rare WW2 Jeeps has some pics of both the Willys MB-L and L2.
Willys Pilot WAC or Jeeplet (harley davidson engine) uploaded to webshots by haasjo
Willys WAC or Jeeplet (harley davidson engine)
Willys Aero Jeep (bobcat). This looks very similar to the CJ-4 prototype.