This 'One Owner' 1946 Farm Jeep Has A Fascinating And Mysterious History

All images: Pat

I still own my first car. It’s a 1992 Jeep Cherokee XJ that I bought in college in 2010. It’s a vehicle that I crashed, hydrolocked, and ruined with a lift kit, and yet I can’t get let go. That’s why this “one owner” 1946 Willys CJ-2A is so fascinating to me. I get why somebody would want to own a car this long, but how? That’s just one of many questions I have about this mysterious machine.

Most people end up selling their first cars. Over time, even the most reliable of machines turn to shitboxes, and even if they don’t, life’s circumstances often make owning a vehicle hard to justify. (I myself am the caretaker two decent XJs and a rust-free ZJ, so there’s no reason to keep my junky 1992 Cherokee, but I just can’t let go—most people aren’t as weak as I). Plus there’s a chance that the car gets wrecked, there are social and economic pressures to own something different—you get the idea: Maintaining ownership of a vehicle becomes less probable as time approaches infinity.

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So when I saw “1 owner from new for 73 years” on this Willys CJ-2A Craigslist ad (which has since been taken down), I didn’t believe it. And to an extent, I remain skeptical, since the seller isn’t the original owner, nor can he put me in touch with anyone related to that owner. That said, he did provide me with some documents and photos of the Jeep from decades ago, and they are amazing.

“The gentleman that owned it got out of the service in 1945,” the seller, Pat, claims. “And he used it on his farm [outside of Utica] for 72 years” after having purchased the flat-fender in Syracuse in ‘46. He apparently passed away recently, and so did his wife, Pat told me.

It seems there’s some drama surrounding the Jeep, as Pat said he couldn’t put me in touch with the person he bought it from because that would go against a condition of the sale since “all were not happy [the Jeep] was passed on.”

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Pat says he’d been looking for a flat fender Jeep after having used an early column-shift CJ-2A as a plow for a number of years before someone came by and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He regretted the sale and has since been on the hunt for a nice old Jeep to add to his large collection of ~40 cars—a collection that includes a 1956 Willys CJ-5.

He found two other flat fender Jeeps similar to this one, which is why he threw this Jeep up for sale. But after talking with forum members, he’s convinced this one is special and has decided to hold onto it.

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There’s a lot I don’t know about this old CJ-2A, which is just a modified-for-farm-use World War II MB marketed in the mid/late 1940s for its plowing and stump-pulling abilities by Willys-Overland. Like when did the original owner pass away? Was it a while ago, but the Jeep stayed in the family and was never re-registered since it was a farm vehicle? How long did one person truly own this vehicle? Who knows, but I hope it really was over 70 years, as there’s something romantic about that.

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Regardless, what’s fascinating is the condition this Jeep is in, and the provenance records that Pat received with the machine, such as the photos above, dated from 1983 and 1952. Look at the cars in the backgrounds of each photo; amazing!

Here’s an even older photo dated 1950. Check out the winch, which Pat says he still has:

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And here’s one showing the Jeep towing a trailer filled with children. Notice how the family appears to have installed wood benches on top of the Willys’ rear wheel wells so that rear passengers sit facing inwards.

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This, I’ve always found, is much smarter packaging than what Willys came up with in the 1940s—a forward-facing bench seat between the wheel wells that held only two people and left the tops of the wells as useless space (on World War II models, the wheel wells were little storage bins).

The two parallel-bench arrangement, used by Land Rover Series I/II/III and Defender and Toyota Land Cruiser, holds four people at least (so six or seven people in total depending upon if there’s a front bench) and maximizes the limited rear space. So, good on this family for improving Willys’ design.

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Speaking of kids and Willys Jeeps, look at this little dude pointing at who knows what—the parking brake in the dash, maybe? Man, that steering wheel looks gigantic compared to the size of this small human, who I assume grew up to become a supreme Jeep collector (how could he not?).

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Just as cool as the family photographs are all the documentation that came with the Jeep.

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Look at this one! “Oil & filter changed,” it reads, with the date January 8, 1967! You can see the other oil changes up to 1976, when the Jeep apparently also got a new head gasket.

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As for how the Jeep looks today: it’s actually quite nice. I contacted my friend Brandon (the hero who recently helped me limp an old manual Grand Cherokee across the country, and a genuine world expert on flat fender Jeeps) to learn more, and he was impressed with the body:

It’s definitely been repainted with paint close to the original colors, but it seems to be a nice original with some rare factory equipment (Monarch governor, rear PTO)

Body looks immaculate. Floor pans even look original and solid

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Brandon went on to talk about some of the Jeep’s rare original content:

[The Willys has an] original voltage regulator and what looks to be original tail lamp , which is very rare. Interestingly, it just has a rear PTO shaft coming out the back with no factory gearbox, so that’s probably a bit of a home brew setup. 

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You can see there’s a bit of damage at the rear of the tub, and you’ll also notice that there’s a forward-facing bench in the back now.

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Pat was asking $10,500 before pulling down the ad. That doesn’t seem like a bad price if this thing is as legit as it appears.

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Even the frame and floors look nice from underneath (note that rectangle welded to the frame; Brandon suspects this is a modification used to facilitate a plow attachment), spared by the ruthless rust devils that tend to ravage such farm Jeeps:

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So really, I have to leave you all with more questions than answers, but in my head, I’m going to give this Jeep the benefit of the doubt, and say that one man bought this new in 1946, and owned it for over 70 years, hauling children and hay and other useful farm equipment around all the while. Because that’s what civilian Jeeps were for back then. They were absolute beasts.

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About the author

David Tracy

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).