by Bart McNeil
A lot can be learned through examination of a Jeep tailgate, but there are also false clues. This article was much more complicated than I thought it would be. As usual, assumptions are made and destroyed as evidence accumulates, and often the conclusions are the opposite from what the writer had assumed they would be. This article began with my own doubts about the authenticity of my CJ-3B tailgate. There were enough differences to make me believe I may have a reproduction tailgate. Sometime in the early part of this article I realized that my tailgate is authentic, but not for my CJ-3B. It turns out to be an original CJ-2A or very early 3A tailgate, on which someone had done some customizing or repair.
Thanks to Keith Buckley's research we now have dates of many of the significant changes, from Willys documents. But as Keith says, "These dates are when the specifications changed and I do not know the time lag before these parts were installed."
Under the best of circumstances it took Willys-Overland time to use up old inventory and begin distributing new stock. Likewise Willys' habit of re-titling unsold CJ's with current dated titles can throw a monkey wrench into accurate dating of changes. So in this article some dates must be taken with a small grain of salt.
The Jeep tailgate was introduced experimentally for CJ-1 as E-50916 on 13 March 1944. The drawing for part number E-50916 shows straight ribs and no raised pad in the center.
The tailgate was modified for CJ-2 as E-51213. Seen here in a detail from the drawing (70K JPEG) is the raised pad in the center with the word "JEEP". It can also be seen in a photo of the CJ-2 (50K JPEG) from a 1945 promotional film. Thanks to Keith Buckley for photographing the drawings.
There are separate part numbers for the tailgate panel, and the complete tailgate assembly. Part number 663187 Panel was used for the 663188 Tailgate Assembly, on CJ-2A and CJ3A until the specification was changed in 1951.
If one examines the flange just under the rollover on the top of this tailgate you will notice that the flange is straight the full distance; there are no interruptions. This tells us that the above tailgate dates from 1945 through 1951.
On 4 May 1951 that lip was changed and four cutouts (or indentations) were introduced into it to accommodate the military spare tire carrier and rear seat of the M38. This was to be special order only, as Panel 685458 for Tailgate Assy 685459, but this part is also listed for CJ-3B/5/6/DJ-3A and Surrey. These cutouts remained on all civilian and military tailgates until the end of this tailgate's production in 1982.
The M38 used a slightly modified standard tailgate, and as is normal with military Jeeps, it was unstamped with "WILLYS". It was bolted shut; the spare tire and gas can would do damage to the tailgate if it were allowed to swing down as a matter of course. The four indentations, or cutouts, appeared on the top flange just under the rollover on top of the tailgate. Bob Westerman, an M38 and CJ-3A owner, explains the flange cutouts and rear seat operation on the M38, in production from 1950 through 1952:
"The spare tire mount is high on the passenger side of the tailgate and uses the two small three sided cutouts for installing two bolts of the mount to the tailgate. The inside of the tailgate has stiffeners welded on to strengthen the tailgate to carry the gas can and spare tire. All M38 tailgates have knockouts or holes for footman loops.
"The rear seat operates similarly to the GPW and MB rear seats from WW2. As the seat folds up, the back slides down. There are two J shaped guides for the rear seat vertical frame tubes and these allow the back rest to descend about 4 inches to lower the seat profile when not in use. The J guides use the two large end cutouts for bolting to the tailgate. Because of the back seat and the added weight on the tailgate it was permanently bolted shut for military use."
The tailgates for the CJ-V35 Jeeps -- modified 3A's built for the U.S. Navy and Marines in 1950 -- were apparently a missing link in the transition to the notched flange. Bob Westerman's photo of the tailgate from CJV-35 10588 shows the two square cutouts for the spare tire carrier, but not the curved cutouts for the seat brackets. This is because the V35 didn't have a rear seat; it was designed to carry a radio in the back. It also has Willys stamped in the center. The tailgate in Bob's photo does have a few extra holes drilled by previous owners.
Although the M38 was only built for two years, the cutouts remained throughout the production of the CJ-3B and CJ-5. As of 5 November 1955, Panel 694152 was created for Tailgate 694155 which was for the later DJ-3A and Surrey. The only difference was the holes for the license plate light and holder.
Derek Redmond's 1959 CJ-3B tailgate shows the two small square cutouts in the top flange, as well as the right curved cutout.
This owner-identified CJ-3B tailgate can be dated fairly closely. The flange cutouts tell us that it dates from 1950 or later. The second-style stencil dates it not earlier than 1956. The WILLYS stamping on the center panel of the tailgate means that it precedes mid-1963, when the stamping was discontinued. The best estimate is that it was manufactured sometime between 1956 and early 1963. The footman loops tell us that at one time it had an original style canvas top.
Just when you think you've got it all figured out along comes an exception. It is an authentic 1954 CJ-3B tailgate with original paint and stencil, but lacks two of the cutouts which are supposed to be in the top flange. Stuart Lovelady sent this photo of his tailgate with the rear seat cutouts like every other 3B tailgate, yet it lacks the small three sided cutouts for installing the military spare tire mount. It is hard to imagine why Kaiser-Willys would have done this; but there it is. Perhaps an idea which went nowhere as they thought about military uses and possibilities.
Notable is the fact that Stuart's CJ-3B, serial no. OB54 12231, is one of the first batch of about 2500 1954 CJ-3Bs, which have the unusual OB54 serial numbers. We have confirmed that the same tailgate is found on OB54 10160, owned by Jim Kearney. This is the only distinctive feature we have yet found on the OB54 Jeeps.
John Folk in North Carolina has serial no. 454GB2 24802, and says, "I also have the odd-style 1954 tailgate. After carefully examining the tailgate and comparing it to the samples, the only theory I have is that the metal was cut and then flipped over (horizontally end-over) and then finished through the process. If you look carefully, the cutouts are there, but mirrored to the expected pattern."
Keith Buckley also mentions that his research indicates "Willys also made something special called out as part number 693234 from 18 July to 14 September 1955. I do not know the features of this part."
The "WILLYS" stamping was officially removed as of 14 May 1963. A near-mint 1963 CJ-3B is one of the first with the unstamped tailgate (90K JPEG). The Jeep was purchased in late June of 1963 and has no Willys stampings except on the hood. That tells us that Kaiser was still using up stamped parts, but was for the most part using unstamped parts such as the grille and tailgate.
Joe Caprio's award-winning 1964 Navy Jeep illustrates that CJ-3Bs purchased for military use were not heavily modified. His Jeep, which is designated a CJ-3B rather than an M-606, looks remarkably civilian with the spare tire on the side, and the non-bolted-shut tailgate. His tailgate is, of course, not stamped with Willys.
Luis Mariano Paz's 1966 M-606 demonstrates that this version of the CJ-3B, delivered to the Argentinean army, also used the unmodified civilian tailgate. With the side mounted spare tire and the civilian style rear seat there was no need for an M38 style reinforced tailgate, nor did the tailgate need to be bolted shut.
In addition to non-stamped military versions of the tailgate, the M170 ambulance tailgate had a special panel, 684072.
This CJ-5A Tuxedo Park Mark IV (circa 1964) in the 1965 edition of the Jeep Universal Service Manual, is shown with chrome bumper and deluxe lighted license plate holder, but no Willys stamping. The bow sockets, lowered a little over an inch compared with a CJ-3B, tell us it is a CJ-5.
The raised area on the CJ-5 tailgate remained blank until 26 March 1969 when the center panel was roughly doubled in size and stamped with "Jeep" in ultra-bold lettering fairly shouting "This is a Jeep!" Just in case you needed more help, as of 17 March 1970 they installed a tag with the AMC logo and in this example a CJ-5 tag. This tailgate lasted until the end of the CJ-5 era in the early 1980's. Tailgates were galvanized as of 29 March 1978.
Early civilian Jeep tailgates through the CJ-5 were equipped with humps for attaching footman loops so the canvas top could be cinched tightly without the strap chafing the paint on the rolled-over top of the tailgate. Unless you bought a canvas top you didn't need the footman loops, so Willys provided 7/32-inch knockouts on the humps so that the dealer or the owner could easily and accurately install footman loops by simply punching out the knockouts with a drift. Over the years most knockouts have been removed from tailgates, but Lars Svensson provided us with detailed photos of the knockouts from a 1947 CJ-2A tailgate.
The knockouts are knocked in from the outside of the tailgate. It appears that the metal holding the knockouts in is paper-thin. The intact knockouts are shown in the photo of the CJ-5A Tuxedo Park Mark IV (40K JPEG) from the Service Manual.
Some owners of unrestored civilian Jeeps have stated that their footman loop knockouts were removed (knocked out or drilled out) prior to painting in the factory. Lars has seen NOS CJ-5 tailgates with the knockouts removed before underpainting. This might suggest that some were meant to have soft tops, which required having footman loops installed. Otherwise there seems to be no reason to remove the knockouts.
As of 18 October 1973 the holes for the footman loops were eliminated.
There is an aura of mystery surrounding reproduction tailgates. There are said to have been several manufacturers over the years, but no one seems to be able to name the manufacturers nor identify their products. This confusion may stem from the fact that the current manufacturer, MD Juan of the Philippines, distributes its products under several brand names. These include: Repli-tub, Omix-Ada, Ameri-tub, Bemak and possibly other brand names including the MD Juan name. The giveaway is that most of the dealers, no matter what brand name is used, use the same photographs of their products supplied by MD Juan. One dealer does work on the body for easier installation, but for the most part one brand-name tailgate is the same as another. This rather strange way of doing business serves only to confuse the customer and makes me wonder if there ever was more than one manufacturer of reproduction steel tailgates.
One version of the MD Juan tailgate is meant to duplicate the military M38 jeep tailgate. The M38 tailgate is based on a standard Willys-Overland civilian Jeep tailgate. The flange modifications (cutouts) are not found on the MD Juan repro tailgate but the end reinforcements are duplicated accurately. The military did not allow brand names on their jeeps so the raised center panel has no WILLYS stamping. Until fairly recently this was the tailgate available from American suppliers of MD Juan reproduction parts. If you wanted a tailgate this is the one you received. In most advertisements it is still the only tailgate pictured, as in a photo from a JC Whitney advertisement (20K JPEG).
Robert Firth compared the repro and the real thing, and said, "I have made the following observations: original tailgates weigh 14 to 14-1/2 pounds (6.5 kg) and are .070 thick sheet metal. Reproduction tailgates weigh 11 to 11-1/2 pounds (5 kg) and are .048 thick sheet metal.
This reproduction tailgate, though rusty, had never been installed. The unstamped central panel, the top corner reinforcements and end vertical reinforcements suggest an M38, but the top flange without cutouts and the lack of footman loop knockouts identifies it as a reproduction.
Occasionally MD Juan produces and sells "WILLYS" stamped tailgates. D&L Bensinger are advertising them as of 2001. Lars Svennson sent this photo of his MD Juan tailgate purchased in Denmark. See also a closer view of the side of the tailgate (40K JPEG). The photos show what appears to be quite a good reproduction of a civilian tailgate. Two things might be pointed out. The top (under rollover) flange has no cutouts as do 1950 and later civilian Jeeps, and there are no knockouts for footman loops. But it is nice to know that a good looking "Willys" stamped tailgate is once again available... maybe.
Many thanks to many folks who sent photos and information detailing the variations in tailgate construction through its history. I am always impressed when an article becomes international with participation from Sweden, Denmark, and references to vehicles in four continents. Keith Buckley, Bob Westerman, Lars Svennson, Roger Bensgard, Adam Charnok, Jim Allen, Rodney Walker, Joe Caprio, Luis Mariano Paz, Karl Morton, MD Juan, D&L Bensinger, JC Whitney and a guy just named Adam were helpful whether they knew it or not. Your contributions allowed me to correct my errors. -- Bart McNeil
Thanks to Bart for another piece of deduction (and the cartoon at the top.) -- Derek Redmond
Also on CJ3B.info, see the history of the "4 WHEEL DRIVE" Tailgate Stencil, and see Dating a CJ-3B by Interior Details.
See more Universal Jeep History on CJ3B.info.
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