Originality vs. eyeball appeal... a never-ending battle

1945 Ford GPW

VIN: GPW247613
  • Real military Jeep
  • Frame-off restoration by noted military Jeep restorer
  • Classic, timeless style and looks
  • Very capable both off-road and on
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than this 1945 Ford military Jeep. Yes, this is a military version and not a civilian converted to military specs. It received a complete frame-off restoration by a renowned specialist of Army Jeeps.

1944 Willys MB

VIN: 280026
  • Discovered in its original crate about 30 years ago
  • Never restored
  • Nicely presented in classic olive drab
  • Rich with character, ample in capability
Discovered by a military vehicle collector a bit over 30 years ago still crated, this mostly unused and never abused Jeep is all-Toledo, OH-built. Save for a repaint done shortly after it was discovered, it is 100% original. Complete with the usual shovel and ax for when things really get down to business, this Jeep exudes more character than even the nicest restored examples ever could.  

SCM Analysis


This 1945 Ford GPW (Lot 305) and 1944 Willys MB (Lot 353) sold for $25,000 and $26,400, respectively, including buyer’s premiums, at Bonhams’ Greenwich, CT, auction on June 2, 2013.

The history of the ubiquitous World War II Jeep has been well told elsewhere, so instead we’ll look at the reality of these Jeeps in the 21st century using these two as examples.

Restored Ford

From the outside, the Ford GPW looks like a quality restoration done to a standard that would make it worthy for Military Vehicle Preservation Association judging for accuracy.

However, that level of inspection does reveal some inaccuracies. The ax and shovel appear to be Home Depot specials rather than the correctly fitting originals or reproductions.

Under the hood, it’s been updated with a modern 12-volt alternator, which is a major deduction in judging and would in fact move it down to the modified class. Unlike most larger military vehicles, a G503 (World War II-era) Jeep doesn’t have enough of an electrical load to warrant converting it to either 12 volts or to an alternator. Since a G503 isn’t used by anyone to commute anymore, especially not to town on a cold winter morning, you’re better off leaving the electrical system in one of these as original as possible.

Heavier wear on the clutch and brake pedals is also surprising, as they are readily available as reproduction parts with the correct F-script cast into them (both authors have a set for their own 1942 GPW restoration projects).

The restoration focus on this GPW was to have a “pretty Jeep” to play with rather than a correct show Jeep. They all have their place, but this I felt sold more for the sizzle than the meat on the bone. And with that, it sold well.

New in the box?

Then there’s the Willys.

The whole “$50 Jeep in a crate” legend is based mostly on ads in magazines in the 1950s and ’60s. Most of these ads were placed by less-than-scrupulous individuals who would sell you a list of sites where you could bid on war surplus, with the tag line claiming you can buy a Jeep for this sum. These listings, by the way, were always available free of charge, but a lot of folks didn’t know that in the pre-Internet era.

During World War II, vehicles destined for bases in the U.S. were shipped directly on car carriers, on flatbeds, or in boxcars if by rail. Only vehicles destined for overseas shipment were crated, for both ease of bulk handling and protection from the elements in transit.

In the case of the MB and GPW, each overseas-bound Jeep was individually crated, but to a certain extent was disassembled to get the maximum volume out of the given space. This meant the freshly built, fully assembled Jeep had its wheels, hood, and steering wheel removed and packed inside its tub.

The windshield was folded flat, the air cleaner loosened and adjusted to allow clearance for a support brace for the top of the crate (hence the removal of the hood), and the steering box and column were unbolted and set loosely on the body. How to do all this (and how to put it back together once delivered) was well-documented in the Army Tech Manual.

Uncrating the myth

Crated Jeeps obviously existed, but I’m skeptical of this one’s claim.

First, the description states that it at least had been repainted. If it came out of the original crate, why did it need to be painted? Did it fade in the crate?

The front suspension is also missing the torque reaction leaf spring on the left front corner. This was added on all Jeeps — Ford and Willys — built after May of 1942, and would have been part of regular production on this November 1943-built example.

And that date doesn’t bode well for the legend, either. In late 1943, the primary thrust for war material was England, setting the stage for the invasion of Fortress Europe on D-Day. We were simply too engrossed in getting as much material “to the boys” to let a few crates of Jeeps get waylaid at a shipping port or warehouse here or in England. They were too important for that. Most crated military vehicles that did wind up at auction were 1945 vintage.

Running the numbers

The dataplates on the Willys pose another problem. These are reproductions and they’re not quite correct, and all of them are attached with Phillips screws rather than the original cold rivets. Most obviously incorrect is the center plate. Not only does the vehicle model decrypt as Canadian, but the indicated Canadian contract number of CDVL505 was completed in 1942 and as such is flat-out incorrect for this chassis serial number.

Also, on the original data plate for the Canadian contracts, the CDVL number was stamped into a blank area similar to the chassis, engine, and date of delivery numbers, not printed on the plate itself. And the original data plates did not have colons and periods.

Then there’s the actual information stamped into the repro data plates. Again, referring to original plates, the engine numbers for contract 505 should be roughly 5,000 higher than the chassis number, not 340,000 higher like our subject vehicle.

There are also issues with the date of manufacture. Originals are stamped month, day, two-digit year, separated by hyphens; for example, 4-22-42. They were not denoted by month/year, and there was no use of 0 as a space keeper as we see here.

Finally, the hood number. For a military Jeep owner to find their correct number by carefully sanding down multiple layers of paint is akin to finding the Holy Grail. 3025500 is wrong for either a U.S. or Canadian Jeep, as that number block crosses to 1½-ton military Chevrolet trucks.

What’s original?

Where should we draw the line for “original” versus “restored”? Does putting a new gas tank, tires, and fan belt on make it unrestored? Does giving it a masked-off repaint make it unrestored? Does taking all the parts off of the tub but leaving the body on the chassis make it unrestored? As far as most serious automotive historians and enthusiasts are concerned, any claims of originality were blown to the wind with the repaint.

Yes, there are still “Jeeps in the crate” out there. Problem is, most of those are on the bottom of the North Atlantic in freighters destined for England and Russia that were torpedoed by German U-boats.

Maybe this Willys did come out of a crate, but there was no evidence here to prove it. Had the story been verifiable, retaining even some of the original crating, or physical proof that it was uncrated 30 years after the end of the war, it would have sold for significantly more than the $26k it brought here. As it happened, it did about the same as the well-restored GPW without a story attached to it.

I’ll go on record and dare say that if only just the crate were to turn up on the market, it would sell for more than this Jeep did. Potentially even more than both of these Jeeps combined.

At the end of the day, both of these Jeeps sold well. But for a driver Jeep with eyeball over originality, I think I would have saved myself the premium and gone with the Ford.

(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Bonhams.)


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