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History of Jeeps in Australia


Australia is one of those many places which, due to an abundance of surplus Willys MB's and Ford GPW's immediately after WWII, didn't see many new civilian Jeeps until the advent of the CJ-3B in the 1950s. The CJ-2A, produced in large numbers in the U.S. in the late 1940's and still the most commonly-seen flatfender in North America, is very rare in Australia.

The Australian market has never been large enough to support local manufacture of Jeeps under licence, particularly given the strong competition from Land Rover in the 1950s and from Japanese automakers since then. Still, the local assembly and modification of Willys Jeeps to meet the demands and preferences of the market, has resulted in some interesting variations.

CJ-3BThe CJ-3B in the photo, used for many years by Ivan Collins on his farm near Brisbane, can be identified as a 1958 factory right-hand-drive version, by the blue ID plate reading "WILLYS MOTORS AUSTRALIA PTY LIMITED, VEHICLE No. CJ3B 1100" below the Willys Toledo serial number plate. The rear-mounted spare, and tool brackets on the right side, reveal that it was used by the Royal Australian Air Force, and as of 2007 it is being restored as an RAAF Jeep by Ross Holdway.

There were at least three importers of Jeeps prior to the establishment of Willys' Australian subsidiary in 1958: Dominion Motors in Brisbane, Stokoe Motors of Melbourne, and M.S. Brooking Pty. Ltd. in Perth, Western Australia.

Dominion Motors assembled CKD (complete knocked down) vehicles in Brisbane. Vaughn Becker says "Dominion's main role was to assemble English Austin products and they took on the assembly of Jeeps to take up some slack in the assembly line. For various reasons they were restricted as to the numbers of Jeeps they could assemble and this was only about 36 per year."

Serial Numbers

1958 tagsThere is a good deal of confusing information regarding serial numbers on Australian Jeeps.

From 1954 through 1958, many (though not all) of the CJ-3B Jeeps exported from the U.S. had a hand-stamped letter added to the end of their VIN tag (see the list of CJ-3B Serial and Engine Numbers on CJ3B.info.) The letters L, R, S, T and U and possibly others appear on Jeeps sent to Australia between 1954 and 1958.

The significance of the choice of letters is not known, but they appear on Jeeps in a number of countries, so they were probably added in Toledo. For some countries, the first letter of their name was used: "D" for Denmark, "B" for Brazil, "M" for Mexico. "A" appears once in our list, in South Africa, which may be why it wasn't used for Australia. "H" shows up in several different countries.

A look at the Willys and Dominion tags (right) on the firewall of a 1958 CJ-3B (70K JPEG) reveals the usual 57348 prefix before the Willys serial number 46201L, but the prefix on the Dominion tag is 57648. Possibly just an error?

Meanwhile, a 1958 memo to Australian Willys dealers (30K GIF) from Dominion Motors, gives an apparently confused account of the meaning of Willys U.S. serial numbers, suggesting that the first two digits 55, 56, 57 etc. indicate the model year.

David McCallum reports that on his 1958 CJ-3B, VIN 57348 44476L, "There are two brass tags under the bonnet. One is from Stokoe Motors and has serial number 7017 on it. The other has 'Produced by U.K. Motors PTY. LTD. Brisbane' stamped on it."

Mark Guest has left-hand-drive 1954 CJ-3B, 454GB2 39855U, and says, "I did speak to a Mr. Don White at Stokoe Motors who said that, from the I.D. plate info I provided him, this was imported via Holland. When I spoke to the original owner he said he purchased it from Maugham Thiem Motors, Adelaide."

See also Willys Australia serial number tag 1095 on a Retired Australian Air Force Jeep.

In the bush The first modification made to most Jeeps sold downunder has been conversion to right-hand-drive (RHD), to meet Australian regulations for on-road licencing. Some early imports were sold as LHD, and were either never licenced or were given aftermarket RHD conversions.

There's a lot of outback for going offroad Jeeping in Australia, so it's not surprising that some Jeeps may never have been licenced for driving on the left side of the pavement. The bush scene photo here was shot in the mid-1970's by John Keane, with a CJ-6 standing guard for a CJ-3B.

AssemblyThis photo shows assembly of Jeep trucks and a CJ-3B, at M.S. Brooking Pty. Ltd., a vehicle importer and dealership in Perth, Western Australia. The photo was taken on on 29 March 1957, and preserved by the Historical Records Rescue Consortium (HRRC) Project. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia

Willys Australia

Brochure photoAfter 1958 the import and assembly of Jeeps was taken over by Willys Motors Australia Pty. Ltd. at their plant known aas Building 27 in Brisbane. This nice action photo comes from a Willys Australia CJ-3B brochure which also includes photos showing the Brisbane assembly line and a locally-produced hardtop. The back of the sheet (270K JPEG) has detailed CJ-3B specs.

See more on Promoting the Australian-Made CJ-3B on CJ3B.info.

CJ-3B Author Bill Munro in Jeep: Bantam to Wrangler says Willys Australia was also intended to supply the Philippines and Indonesia. The CJ-3B and CJ-6 were assembled in Brisbane starting in 1958. Trucks, station wagons and CJ-5s arrived in 1960.

This unfolded brochure, courtesy Vaughn Becker, includes distinctive downunder variations like the hardtop CJ-6s, stakebody trucks, CJ-5 with spare tire on the hood, and the red ambulance!

CJ-3B This CJ-3B equipped with a tow boom has the spare tire moved to the left as part of the conversion to right hand drive. Early RHD conversions were criticized for the spare on the right obstructing the rear view mirror.

To comply with other Australian regulations, Willys moved to maximize the percentage of components made in the country, soon advertising More than 50% Australian! (130K JPEG).

DashAn interesting feature of the RHD 1958 CJ-3Bs assembled by both Dominion and then Willys Australia, is the presence of the T-handle parking brake which was not used on CJ-3Bs in the U.S. until 1961.

Electrical parts were logical items to be sourced locally, and Ian Hall's 1958 CJ-3B "was fitted with Australian-made Lucas 12V electrical parts, including the starter and generator (dated 1958), regulator, headlights and wipers."

The Foreword from a Willys Motors Australia Parts Book for Universals and Trucks 1941 through 1959 gives information on the numbering used for Parts Made in Australia which are identical to, or different from, U.S. parts.

Willys Australia Production Figures, March 1958 to May 1968


Model Units Built
CJ-3B & CJ-3BL (long)   1020
CJ-5 & CJ-6 4 Cyl   1560
6-226 2WD Station Wagon   6
6-226 4x4 Cab/Chassis & SW   1133
475 2WD Station Wagon   236
6-230 2WD Station Wagon   18
6-230 4 x 4 Station Wagon   36
6-230 Cab/Chassis   366
FJ3 Fleetvan   1
FC-150 Truck   1
FC-170 Truck   126
CJ-5 & CJ-6 Falcon 6 Cyl     604
J-Series (photo at left)   527
M38A1   12

The production figures above were compiled by hand by a former employee at the Willys plant in Brisbane. See the complete factory records of the 1,020 CJ-3Bs in Willys Australia Serial Numbers on CJ3B.info.

Some 475 and 6-230 light trucks (160K JPEG) were apparently included in the 475 Station Wagon and 6-230 Cab/Chassis production figures above. Although an advertisement for the trucks mentions the "mighty Hurricane power" in the 475 truck, the illustration shows the L6-226, not the 4-cylinder F-head.

1964 Vaughn Becker took this photo at the 1964 Brisbane Exhibition, where Willys promoted the stakebed FC-170. The Forward Control trucks did not turn out to be any more successful downunder than they were in North America, and Willys Australia was still selling its stock of FC-170s (all with 3-speed T-90 transmissions) into the late 1960s.

See also the other end of the display, including the new Wagoneer (140K JPEG) and a map confirming that a number of other South Pacific nations were considered part of the Australian market.

Long Wheelbase Jeeps

CJ-3BLThe long-wheelbase CJ-3BL is not commonly seen in Australia today, and it is unclear how many of the 1000 3B's listed in the records from the factory had the longer frame. Chris Waters saw this nice example in September 2008 at a Jeep Jamboree. It is unlikely that the long frames were included in any of the CKD CJ-3B kits shipped from Willys in Toledo, who never built an LWB version for the domestic U.S. market.

Vaughn Becker comments, "My son has a CJ-3BL (120K JPEG) which is the same as the short wheelbase with 20" added into the chassis and body. I have only seen one other." See also a photo of the frame (80K JPEG).

Long CJ-5 Likewise, some or all of the new CJ-6s were modified CJ-5s which had the frame and body lengthened at the same time as they were converted from left to right-hand drive.

This advertisement claims the CJ-6 comes "from Willys Australian factory... designed and engineered for Australian conditions," and this was demonstrated in 1969 when two of the CJ-6 "Overlanders" and a CJ-5 became the first vehicles to make the difficult east to west crossing of the Simpson Desert, with its 1,100 red sand dunes.

Long CJ-5Paul Rundel photographed this CJ-6 located in Queensland. It has a Willys CJ-5 serial number (57548 69723/71) but is now a CJ-6 according to both the tub and chassis dimensions, and the Willys Australia tag in the engine compartment which states "CJ-6 1171". See also a front view photo (70K JPEG).

It's not clear why Jeeps like this one were shipped as CJ-5s and lengthened in Australia. It has been suggested this was to save shipping costs, although that isn't completely convincing.

Overlander adAustralians have always been fond of their "utes" or utility (pickup) trucks. This is probably much of the reason why the CJ-6 appeared downunder before the CJ-5, and why the 3B appeared in an LWB version.

The "Overlander" was a CJ-6 designed for this specific market, and the name survived to be used also for the CJ-8 (below).

Vaughn says, "The Overlander was a modified CJ-6. The cab was metal forward of the windscreen, and fibreglass was used to form the rear and roof of the cab. They were usually fitted with a dropside tray body."

See also the dropside version specs (100K JPEG), and an ad for a version with a steel pickup body (130K JPEG).

The Combat 6

Combat 6 brochureThe "Combat 6" was a CJ-5/6 fitted with an Australian Ford Falcon motor, starting circa 1965. Vaughn Becker: "They first used the 144 cu. in. unit then later the 170 cu. in. one and finally an industrial Ford motor of 188 cu. in."

The brochure shows the version of the Combat 6 powered by the 170 cu.in. engine. The reverse side of the brochure (100K GIF) has specs for the CJ-5 and CJ-6 versions, and drawings of the cab options. See also a Combat 6 advertisement (90K JPEG) with a variation of the water photo.

A later Kaiser Jeep of Australia brochure (90K GIF) has specs for the CJ-5 and CJ-6. The "Combat 6" name has been dropped in favour of the good old "Universal Series" (and the hyphens in the model numbers CJ-5 and CJ-6 have been dropped.)

The Sportster

Sportster ad New Another marketing idea, possibly inspired by the American CJ-5A Tuxedo Park model, was the Jeep Sportster, which added flashy paint and chrome trim (and limited slip differentials) to the straight six.

The Sportster was introduced at about the same time Kaiser gave up on the Tuxedo Park, in 1967, and the best that can be said about the package is that it may have sold slightly better than Willys Australia's previous failed "fun car" experiment, the 1961 Beach Car. This effusive ad is courtesy of Justin Kennedy and Jeep Action magazine.

Jeep Australia Established by AMC

CJ-8 Overlander brochureDistribution of Jeeps in Australia had been shrinking even before Jeep in the U.S. was purchased by American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970. Jeeps were imported only privately during most of the 1970's.

A new corporate entity known as Jeep Australia was set up by AMC in 1980, just in time to begin assembling the new CJ-8, which was known as the Overlander in the Australian market. (A right-hand-drive steel hardtop CJ-8 was also sold by AMC to the U.S. Postal Service, for use in Alaska.)

See also the Overlander features and specs from the brochure. (140K JPEG).

Long CJ-10 The new company also assembled the CJ-7 and SJ Cherokee, and imported short and long versions of the rare CJ-10 truck, built by AM General in Michigan and by VAM in Mexico. The CJ-10 was based on AMC's J10 chassis, and sold in the U.S. only in a short-wheelbase version as a military aircraft tug (90K JPEG). In Australia in the early 1980s it was widely known as the J10 or "1-tonner", and was available with the AMC 258 six cylinder, or a Nissan diesel -- see CJ-10 specifications (220K JPEG).

Military CJ-10 Jeep Australia modified a few CJ-10s for possible use by the Australian Army, but as with the CJ-3B two decades earlier (see The 1958 Australian Army CJ-3B Trials) the truck was not adopted by the military.

Jeep imports were again halted by 1984, as the dropping exchange rate of the Australian dollar made them too expensive. After AMC was sold to Chrysler in the US, Chrysler Australia began importing the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler in the 1990s.

Mascot Motors Photos taken by Jim Rowe, the owner of Mascot Motors in the Sydney area, show lineups of used Jeeps in the 1980s and 90s. This photo appears to date from the mid-80s, with most of the Jeeps being J-10 trucks and SJ Cherokees.

Mascot Motors Another photo is dated 1993, by which time there are many more CJ-7s in the selection of vehicles.

There is still a CJ-6 on the roof (70K JPEG), seen above a white Jeep "Hawk," a Jeep Australia CJ-7 package. At this time Mascot Motors was selling parts and used vehicles near the Sydney Airport. The business later moved to Nowra, NSW, and closed in 2012.

Photos courtesy of Mick Broomfield and ausjeepoffroad.com.

Thanks to Vaughn Becker for tracking down a lot of information and literature. Thanks also to Mick Broomfield, Mike Kelly, Raymond Kennedy, Michael Gilders, Ian Hall and Ted Robinette. -- Derek Redmond

See more Jeeps in Australia on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 9 August 2018 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond