The 1958 Australian Army CJ-3B Trials

In 1958 the Australian Army tested five small 4-wheel-drive vehicles with an eye toward replacing the Austin Champ which had been in use since 1950.

The results of that test appear in a document titled

"Army Design Establishment, Report No. TI 1762C: Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4 (Willys CJ-3B)".

One of the vehicles tested was a Willys CJ-3B, purchased commercially in Australia in May 1958. The fact that the Army apparently tested a standard commercial CJ-3B, rather than a militarized version with heavy-duty options and military lighting, suggests that in fact Kaiser-Willys had not yet introduced their M606 military version in 1958. There would also perhaps have been pressure to consider the CJ-3B as assembled locally by Willys Australia. Meanwhile, other tests included the M38A1 military Jeep (see the bottom of this page).

The summary of the test results is labelled "Restricted" and apparently was kept classified for some time. Recently Jeff Spencer scanned some pages from it, but we were tempted to keep it under wraps a while longer, because on the surface it doesn't paint a very flattering portrait of the CJ-3B. However, you can't really blame the Australians for not wanting to make the 3B their future light reconnaisance vehicle. Although the CJ-5 was not yet available in Australia in 1958, it didn't take the Army long to figure out that the CJ-3B was not the latest in Jeep technology.

Australian Army Test Documents

A Secret dispatch to Army Headquarters from the Australian Army staff in London dated April 1958 discreetly kept earlier British findings regarding the Jeep MJ-3B (and presumably M.O.D. assessments of other 4x4 vehicles) on a "need to know" basis within the Australian Army. The primary reason for the secrecy was undoubtably to keep the "FVRDE conclusions" out of the hands of the vehicle manufacturers competing for the Australian Dept of Supply contract.

A Memo listing the tested vehicles dated May 1958, from The Ministry of Supply and other branches of the Australian (and apparently the British) Army, make up a varied selection of late 1950's 4x4 designs. The group even included the GAZ 67B from Russia (presumably not a contract contender, since the USSR would have been considered a likely enemy at the time.)

The School of Infantry report dated November 1958 found "excessive sway of the driver", "pronounced bounce over moderately rough ground" and a gearshift knob that "tends to come free of the lever." And a 1959 test of the Jeep CJ-3A1 resulted in a cracked frame, according to Bill Munro's book Jeep: From Bantam to Wrangler.

The Test's Summary Page, dated June 1959 and signed by a Brigadier, makes it clear that "the Willys CJ-3B is NOT an acceptable vehicle for the Australian Army," and that the most significant deficiencies are "lack of adequate body strength and visibility, both necessary in the theatres where Australian troops are likely to operate." The details of the complaints about body strength and visibility are unfortunately not included in the pages of the report I have seen. It's hard to see where body strength would have been different from any previous or contemporary Jeep model. The question of poor visibility, however, while perhaps partly related to the location of the spare tire on the right-hand driver's side, must have been mainly related to the height of the hood. This is a factor that is often overlooked in discussions about the (lack of) aesthetic appeal of the high hood.

The importance of the CJ-3B's aesthetics occurred to me when I was writing the article about the evolution of the Cournil Jeep tractor in France, where the original 3B bodywork was replaced by a shortened, sloping front end. And Buck Toenges commented on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board recently, "I was reading Jeep: the Unstoppable Legend by Arch Brown today; on page 148 the author states that there was a prototype 1953 CJ-3B with a grafted downward sloping hood, and that there is a surviving photo of this vehicle. Has anyone seen this photo?" The existence of such a prototype would suggest Willys' awareness of the visibility problem, but it doesn't seem to be a problem which has been raised often in a half-century of off-roading.

The Australian Army Test

Page 1 of the Test Report describes the basic trial conditions, which involved loading the Jeep with a crew of two and a 560lb load in the cargo compartment, and driving it for approximately 4000 miles. Most of the mileage was on the "Mount Charlie" test circuit which was a combination of third class road and cross-country. Speeds were "such as to accelerate the failure of weak components, in order to obtain a measure of the durability of the vehicle in a relatively short test."

Page 4 of the Test Report finishes describing the details of the testing procedure, by mentioning that "various defects in the trial model were discussed with the manufacturer, and it was ascertained that the following modifications have been incorporated in current production of commercial trucks:

It's interesting to speculate on whether this test may have directly led to engineering changes in some of those areas.

The move of the spare tire was apparently related to the conversion of the Australian Jeeps to right-hand-drive, and to the question of visibility mentioned below. The terms "offside" and "near side" are leftovers from the cavalry era, and refer to the right and left sides of a horse (from the rider's perspective).

Page 4 also includes comments from a Lieutenant Colonel, to the effect that the CJ-3B's performance and handling were acceptable, but that it had been superceded in the U.S.A. by the CJ-5. He added that the CJ-3B's F-head engine made maintenance more complicated, the visibility from the driver's seat was extremely bad, the layout of controls was bad for right-hand-drive, and the bodywork was not strong enough.

The Result

After considering the report from the Army Design Establishment the Australian Department of Supply awarded a contract for new vehicles to replace their existing fleet of Austin Champs. The Australian Army brought the new Land-Rover Series 2 "in the financial year 1958-59". Australian Military Land-Rovers 1958-1978 by Stephen Stansfield, and Land-Rover Series 2 by Lloyd Allison are two on-line sources noting the eventual replacements selected by the Army...

Thanks to Jeff Spencer and Raymond Kennedy for scanning pages from the reports. -- Derek Redmond

See also Jeeps in Australia on The CJ3B Page.

CJ3B Home | Site Map | History | Literature | Photos | Toys | Links | Bulletin Board