COAL: 1944 Willys MB – Chapter 16, My Real Jeep – Part 2

1944 Willys1944 Willys in California (2004)

As part of the Return to Flight effort after OV-102 Columbia was lost Boeing Space Systems got authorization to add to their System Safety staff in Houston.  I returned to working in the Space Shuttle Program in May 2004 and drove my Talon to Houston.  I commuted to Houston from my home in Pennsylvania.  I flew down on Sundays, worked four 10 hour days and flew home on Fridays.  That fall I went to Huntington Beach, CA and stopped by to visit my Jeep.  When the photo above was taken I didn’t know that it was still technically mine.  They offered it back to me but didn’t tell me about the title issue until 2007.  Apparently they had never transferred the title into their name and had no idea where the title was.  Early in 2005 I got permission to work remotely and drove the Talon back to Pennsylvania.

In February 2006 I became a NASA employee and that July we moved down to Houston.  I drove the Talon down to Houston at the beginning of February and brought the Voyager down (with our cats that I didn’t think would survive a plane flight) at the end of June.  The Town & Country went on an Auto Transporter a couple of days after the moving van departed with our household goods.  We stayed a few days with friends (to give the moving van time to get to Houston) and flew down to Houston on July 5th.  Early in 2007 the museum explained the title issue and I decided to take the Jeep back.

1944 WillysIn Houston (2007)

A friend offered to let me park it in his driveway.  It sat there for about six weeks.  The Houston humidity quickly exposed the pinhole cracks in the 20+ year old paint and I decided that the Jeep needed to be stored in my garage.  The hose in the photo is evidence of the first time that I ever washed the Jeep.  My friend kept both of the Volvo’s pictured on the road until they flooded in the 2015 Memorial Day storm.

The issue with the title was fairly straightforward.  The museum had never transferred it into their name, had no idea where it was and did not want to incur the expense and effort of getting it titled.  Resolving the issue took some time (and money).  The Jeep had been last titled in Arizona (in my name) when I bought it in 1985.  It had been last registered (also in my name) in California in 1990.  California fairly quickly (at no cost) provided documentation of that registration that indicated the Jeep had been registered in California (with an Arizona Title) but did not have the Arizona Title number.  Arizona at some point in the early 2000’s had digitized their records but had not scanned the records of any vehicle that had not been registered in Arizona in more than 10 years.  I paid them $60 to search the microfiche records.  After two months they replied that they couldn’t find the record.  I had a copy of an appraisal for the agreed value insurance policy that I’d had on the jeep.  I also had a scan of the previous owner’s application for title.  I obtained a notarized statement from the previous owner regarding his sale of the Jeep to me.

There was a gentleman in a neighboring state that would (at the time) issue a title for an antique/historic vehicle that was transferred on a bill of sale.  I “sold” the Jeep to him and provided the documentation I had (California statement, Previous Owners application for Arizona title, Previous Owners Statement and the appraisal).  He successfully titled it and “sold” it back to me.  The Jeep resided in my garage while I was getting it retitled and I didn’t invest any money into getting it running.  By early 2008 (after 8 months and about $500) I had a Texas Title.

Once I had a title I embarked on getting the Jeep back on the road.  First order of business was replacing the fuel tank that had developed multiple pin holes while sitting without fuel for the better part of 10 years.  Along with the new fuel tank I replaced the under tank body well that had rusted out (before I bought the Jeep), the fuel lines, the brake lines and the brake pads.  I also bought new canvas.  The museum had not returned the seat cushions and top that the Jeep had previously had.  I took this opportunity to buy more accurate reproduction canvas.

I’d learned a bit about these Jeeps over the years and realized that my Jeep had a post war engine block.  The engine block met the characteristics of a batch of replacement blocks that the Army had procured in 1947 and the serial number stamped was stamped consistent with the manner that the Army had stamped replacement blocks with a number that was in the range that the original block would have had.  Additionally with the exception of the starter that I’d replaced back in Tucson the engine accessories appeared (by date codes and/or serial numbers) to be original to the Jeep.  While this was probably a military block it needed an overhaul and I decided to procure a wartime motor.  I purchased a January 1943 motor and proceeded to swap the engines.  The post war motor was sold to someone who was trying to get an early CJ2A back on the road.


Oct 1942 Willys MBT Trailer

In September 2009 I bought an Oct 1942 Willys MBT.  This trailer came off a farm in Martinez, CA.  It was advertised on craigslist as a 1949 Willys Trailer.  While fairly complete it had a later axle and the rear panel had been cut for a tailgate.  A couple of years ago I secured a correct axle for it and recently swapped the axles.  I’ve got a replacement for the rear panel for when I eventually get around to restoring it.  That was probably the year that it was sold at surplus.  When I called (late on a Friday afternoon) the seller walked out to the trailer and confirmed the date and model on the original data tag.  An old neighbor (from my childhood) lived in Oakland, CA and as fate would have it was working (as an electrician) on a job site in Martinez.  The following Monday he picked the trailer up (paying the seller in cash) and brought it to his house where it sat until I could get it shipped to Houston.  I contacted the shipper that had brought me my Jeep and arranged for transport on a non-critical basis.  Three weeks later he had space on pickup from the Bay Area and picked my trailer up.  In mid-December he had a load headed to Houston and added my trailer.  I couldn’t find the photo’s I took when it arrived.  Shortly after I got it to Houston it went to be sand blasted and primed.  It’s  still primer gray.  This accessory for my Jeep earns its keep by hauling stuff for the yard (mulch, soil, decorative stone).

Hood NumberThe Original US Army Registration Number

I was fortunate to find indications of the the original US Army Registration Number (20620361) on the hood (on three layers of paint).  I’m 100% certain of the first four digits as well as the 8th digit.  I have high confidence in the 6th digit.  The fifth and 7th digit are the best I could interpret from the right side where the repaints were not lined up.  On the left side the 5th digit was missing.  I’d sanded down to bare metal when I was first trying to find the number (back in 1985).  On the left side the 7th digit was also not clear.

Click Link Below for First Drive VideoClick for First Drive Video

In October 2010 I started the Jeep for the first time since getting it back.  A few days later I started it a second time and when I tried to back it out of the garage realized that the brakes were frozen.  By the following May I was ready to drive the Jeep for the first time in 20 years.  About the time I got the Jeep running I purchased a July 1944 motor whose stamped engine serial number was a few hundred higher than the number that had been stamped on the block my Jeep had when I bought it.  This engine, serial number MB 440361, was cast on 7/1/1944 and machined on 7/6/1944 and could have been original to my Jeep.  I know that it’s not and would never say that it was.  Presumably it was original to the generator set that it was removed from several years before I bought it.

July 1944 Motor

During the Federal Government shutdown in 2013 I installed the July 1944 engine in my Jeep.  I decided to keep the January 1943 engine as a spare.

Dec 1942 Willys MBT TrailerDec 1942 Willys MBT Trailer

In 2014 I acquired a second 1942 Willys MBT Trailer. This trailer was uncut and overall in much better condition.  I had it sandblasted and repainted and added the light switching vehicle interconnection cable.  I also replaced the dry rotted tires.  I still need to rebuild the parking brake handle and replace the parking brake activation cable. Everything else on this trailer is as far as I know original to the trailer.  I was also fortunate to find recover the original US Army Registration number on the rear of the trailer.

Jeep & Trailer at Tannehill State ParkJeep & Trailer at Tannehill State Park for MVPA Bankhead Convoy

I belong to the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA).  In 2015 I decided to participate in a Historic Military Vehicle Convoy sponsored by the MVPA in honor of the 1920 Bankhead Convoy.  The MVPA convoy retraced the route of the original convoy from Washington, DC to San Diego.   I met the convoy at the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in Alabama with the intent of driving to San Diego.  On my first day with the convoy my engine started running rough and I was unable to continue when the convoy left Jasper, AL the next day.  Troubleshooting revealed that my engine block had cracked.  The local Toyota dealer loaned me a car to head home to get my tow vehicle, trailer and spare engine.  The round trip to Houston took three days.  Swapping the engine took another day and a half.  At this point 5 days behind the convoy and with an extra vehicle I chose not to rejoin the convoy.

Jeep at start of 2021 Santa Fe ConvoyJeep at NRA Whittington Center for Santa Fe Convoy

In 2021 I participated in a convoy held in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe trail.  This closed loop convoy began at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM and followed the route of the Santa Fe Trail from there to Santa Fe where we participated in their July 4th celebration.  From Santa Fe we continued up to Taos and then back to Cimmaron, NM.  Several of us after the end of the convoy went to Antonito, CO and took a trip on the Cumbrus & Toltec scenic railroad.

Over the years I’ve taken the Jeep to many events including several Veteran’s Day Parades, the Wings Over Houston Airshow, Commemorative Air Force (West Houston Airport) open house, Historic Military Vehicle Rally (HMVR) at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos), Chamber of Commerce Salute to Veterans, Memorial Day Observances, Classic Car Meets, Jeep Meets and to work.

Veterans Day 2011Veteran’s Day 2011

Veterans Day 2013Veterans Day 2013

Veterans Day 2014Veterans Day 2014

Veterans Day 2019Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day 2021Veterans Day 2021

Wings Over Houston Airshow 2011Wings Over Houston Airshow 2011

Wings Over Houston Airshow 2015Wings Over Houston Airshow 2015

Jeep with B-17 at West Houston AirportJeep with B-17 at West Houston Airport Apr 2022

This is the B-17 that crashed at the Dallas Airshow in November 2022.  Several of the people on board in Dallas were at West Houston the day I took this picture.

Jeep with P-51 at West Houston AirportJeep with P-51 at West Houston Airport

While this is an authentic WWII P-51 it is not Chuck Yeagers plane.

Historic Military Vehicle Rally 2019Historic Military Vehicle Rally 2019

Somewhere on the tank trails out on the range.  This is one of my favorite photo’s of my Jeep.

2019 Salute to Veterans2019 Salute to Veterans

2020 Big Jeep Meet2020 Big Jeep Meet

I’ve graced that patch of dirt at the center of the meet four years running.  Occasionally there have been other vintage military jeeps.  This year (2023) mine was the only one.

At JSC June 2022With friends at Johnson Space Center June 2022

I’m going to finish with my favorite photo.  Houston Hobby Airports original 1940 Air Terminal is now a museum.  One day in 2015 I was out for a drive and realized that I was only a couple of blocks away and decided that I needed to stop by and take a photo.

Jeep at 1940 Air Terminal Museum1940 Air Terminal Museum

We talk a lot on this site about forever cars.  I’ve owned this Jeep for nearly half its life.  It was 41 years old when I bought it.  On July 11th it will be 79.  My younger daughter, who accompanied me on the Santa Fe Convoy and participated with me at the 2020 Historic Military Vehicle Rally has already laid claim to the Jeep when I can no longer enjoy it.

This Jeep is not an unmolested original but it’s never been restored.  I refurbished the Jeep in the mid 1980’s when I bought it and again when I got it back from the museum in 2007.  It’s mostly original and most of the parts I’ve replaced (excluding canvas, rubber & wiring which are accurate reproductions) are vintage WWII parts.  I don’t know if a full restoration is in its future.  The July 1944 block which cracked in 2015 has been repaired and will eventually be reinstalled.  When I retire the Oct 1942 trailer will be restored and the dents (and leaky floor) on the Dec 1942 trailer will be repaired before I consider restoring the Jeep.  For now I’ll continue to enjoy it and live up to the MVPA’s motto of “History In Motion”.