Islander likes simplicity, indestructibility of a Jeep
Old Jeeps never die, they just fade into quiet retirement at hunting camps and in beach towns.
It was both in the case of the 1952 M38A1 that found a billet at the West End Galveston home of island musician Kevin Anthony.
When Anthony found the Korean War era veteran, it long had been parked under pine trees at a Minnesota hunting camp.
Anthony’s M38A1 was built by the Willys-Overland Co. and is therefore a direct descendant of the original quarter-ton, four-wheel-drive light utility truck that carried the word Jeep into the global automotive lexicon.
Jeeps were built for war and born through what reportedly was a fierce, three-way competition among Willys, American Bantam and Ford Motor Co. for a U.S. Army contract. Willys won the contract, but all three companies produced variants of the truck for use by U.S. or allied forces during World War II. Something like 1 million Jeeps of various design were built during the war years.
The M38A1 began its military service in 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War, and, along with the Willys M170, was the military’s main light truck until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by the M151, built jointly by Ford and AM General.
No matter the manufacturer or the formal nomenclature, all the little trucks were Jeeps to the soldiers who loved them and hated them, abused them and nursed them and depended on them for just about everything.
Jeeps served the U.S. Armed Forces for more than 40 years, being replaced in the mid-1980s by the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or “Humvee.”
While the Humvee, like the Jeep, has spawned its own civilian versions and cult following, it’s hard to see that ever matching the width and depth of devotion inspired by the original. Jeeps are cheap, small, rugged to an extent approaching indestructible and, most of all, simple, which is what Anthony sought when he called up Craigslist looking for an old Jeep.
“I’m not a mechanic, but I like to tinker,” Anthony said. “What I love about a Jeep is that it’s simple. You can fix anything with a 1/2-inch or 9/16ths wrench.”
Anthony has spent about five years restoring his M38A1 to near original, with a couple of exceptions. The Jeep sports dark olive-drab green paint, a color used in the Korean War era, but originally was painted red, Anthony said.
“I think it must have been an Airforce model used around runways,” he said.
It’s propelled by the power plant from a 1947 CJ-3A, a civilian variant of the M38.
Anthony gave his Jeep bumper markings of the 49th Armored Division, a former Texas Army National Guard unit in which his brother served, and stenciled the names of his children below each door opening (He made them both lieutenants, which is pure fantasy. Every soldier knows you never put lieutenants in both front seats, unless you want to lose the Jeep forever.)
Whatever its military job was, the old Jeep has it pretty easy these days, puttering around the yard or slow rolling in the occasional parade.