Jeeps in the Philippines

I f there is any country in the world that can lay claim to a long and enduring relationship with the jeep outside of the United States, it is the Philippines. Consider that the relationship of the Philippines with the jeep began months before the start of WWII in December 1941, and would continue through the present date. At any rate, the relationship with the jeep goes much farther back than the start of World War II. When the liberating American forces came back in 1945, Filipinos already were familiar with, and had a strong affinity for, the totally functional vehicle. The interest of Filipinos in the jeep shows no signs of slackening to this day!

BRC WERE FIRST TO ARRIVE
    
    The first jeeps that came to the Philippines arrived months before December 1941. These were not Willys MBs or Ford GPWs, though. Rather, they were the (now extremely rare) Bantam BRC, Ford GP, and Willys MA. Japanese jeep historian, Yasuo Ohtsuka, noted that during the war years, a BRC was brought to Japan from the Philippines, together, most probably, with a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a Brewster F2A Buffalo, and a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that had all been captured from Clark Field in Pampanga, Philippines.

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Soldiers from the 192nd Tank Bn. are seated together with Japanese prisoners in  a Bantam 40 BRC in this April 9, 1942, photos. D. Dizon

FIRST ENCOUNTER
    
    The first encounter of this writer with the jeep happened in early February 1945. The Americans had just entered Manila, and the Japanese forces were being pushed out to the provinces. Their efforts to resist were accompanied with strong intentions to leave death and destruction behind them–a true scorched earth policy. To remain in Japanese occupied territory was of great danger to the population. Consequently, the writer’s family moved from the province of Batangas, which was still in Japanese hands, to the town of Naujan in the island of Mindoro, which had already been liberated. It was just half a day away by boat.

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1st U.S. Cavalry Division jeeps crossing the Pampanga River in early 1945.
    
    As we neared the island, we were observed by two U.S. Navy boats, one a square-shaped vessel that I later found out was a landing craft with bow ramp, the other a sleek, extremely fast PT Boat. We were examined minutely through binoculars. One of those in our boat was a guerilla fighter, a Col. Hidalgo, who was bearded and extremely fair. When our boat beached shore, there was a welcoming committee to meet us, probably thinking our companion was a rescued American flier.
    
    At any rate, this welcoming committee provided my first encounter with the jeep. To me it looked quite ancient, having the square shape of the Ford and Chevrolet cars of the early thirties. Its canvas top looked like a hurriedly thrown together, slapdash affair. Not what a young boy of 12 would consider a weapon of modern war!
    
    My second meeting with the jeep was at one of the numerous parties thrown by the townspeople of Naujan in Mindoro celebrating the approaching end of the war. I recall 2 GIs had been invited and they came in a jeep. I was amazed that for the two or so hours that they were partying, they left their jeep engine running, purring quietly away, awaiting their return. This writer, then a young boy of 12, admired it all the while. The total disregard for the gasoline they were burning, is completely inconceivable 60 years later! But my impressions of the vehicle included that characteristic smell of gasoline mixed with the unforgettable fragrance of GI canvas from the seats and top.

THE JEEP IN POSTWAR PHILIPPINES
    
    Of course one of the greatest deficiencies in a country that had been devastated by war and was just recovering, would be transportation. All of the passenger and cargo vehicles in the country were junk, having been commandeered by the Japanese Forces. The country was totally dependent on the vehicles brought by the liberating forces, except for the handful of cars and trucks that had been repaired and put back into service. This writer recalls their prewar family car, a 1936 Pontiac 4-door sedan which was converted to a “jitney” to carry passengers to and from the provinces to Manila.

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This rare photograph shows a Willys MA outside of Hospital #1` in Bataan, Philippines. D. Dizon
    
    During these times, the chaotic traffic situation was being managed by U.S. Army traffic control groups which, of course, used jeeps for their operations. This was the time the country was converting to driving on the right side of the road. It was not a problem since most of the vehicles running were U.S. military left-hand drive vehicles anyway.
    
    The Provost Marshal’s office faced two problems. One was enforcement of traffic rules and regulations to control such things as speeding, illegal use of the road, etc. The second was the problem of stolen jeeps and trucks due to the burgeoning black market at the time. (This writer recalls the US Army use of Piper L-4 Grasshoppers and Stinson L-5 Sentinels for air traffic controls.)
    
    To distinguish between U.S. Army jeeps and jeeps that had been sold to the civilian population or given to Philippine Government agencies, U.S. Army jeeps had a 3-inch wide white line painted across the center of the hood, running from the left to the right of the U.S. Army registration numbers (which were effectively their license plate numbers). This also facilitated identification of U.S. Army vehicles from the air. Further, to identify official U.S. Army vehicles, the last few digits of the registration number were outlined with a series of 1?4″ holes drilled on both rear left and right panels, just above the rear wheels.

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A very early GPW jeepney with a fringe on the top that sported a solid framework. Note the slightly lengthened body with unaltered wheelbase, and the spare mounting, which carries over to the jeepneys of today. The passenger capacity would be 6 in the back and 2 in front. D. Dizon

    
    The surplussed U.S. Army jeeps and trucks were invaluable in filling this need for transport equipment. The WC-51/52 and the CCKWs were also used for passenger transport but were much better suited to carrying cargo than passengers. The jeep, on the other hand, was particularly useful for people transport. The simple expediency of opening up the rear panel allowed 6 passengers to be carried in addition to the driver–2 in front and 2 each on left and right rear inner fenders. A step mounted on the rear facilitated entry and exit at the rear, and thus the “jeepney” was born. This was effectively a mechanized calesa or caretela horse drawn rig. The jeepney exists to the present day, ubiquitous, indestructible and the headache and frustration of modern traffic planners who envision modern efficient mass transport systems.
    
    Initially, jeeps were obtained from the various military disposal units. The writer’s family bought a jeep in 1948 for the equivalent of $850 or P1,700 at the peso/dollar rate then prevailing. The going price from the surplus yards had been closer to $500, but we paid more since we were not lucky enough to buy when jeeps were being surplussed 2 years earlier. The jeep was a Ford GPW with consistent engine, body, and chassis numbers. It had battle damage at the rear, and sported 7.50-16 tires. It also had a large spare tire support and spacers for the spare tire bracket to suit the large tires. It remained in the author’s family for 15 years.
    
UTILITARIAN–NOT COLLECTOR–VEHICLES
    
    During the 1940s and 1950s, the jeep could hardly be called a collector item–it was purely and simply an essential implement. It fulfilled the essential need of transport for a population recovering from the ravages of war and subjected to a road system that had seen little repair and maintenance for almost a decade. The author recalls driving from their farm to the town, a distance of only 4 miles, and taking an hour to get there, constantly in low-low and 4-wheel drive.
    
    Numerous unconverted jeeps would habitually carry as many as 12 passengers squeezed into nooks and crannies of the vehicle. This, of course, was nothing compared to the 30-40 passengers carried by later 18-passenger jeepneys that carried numerous passengers on the rigid metal roof! However, it is fair to say that these later larger extended-wheelbase jeepneys shared no parts in common with the MB or GPW, except the shape. Practically all the parts were either fabricated locally (body and frame) or were Japanese surplus (engine, power train and wheels).

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This Subic jeep sports a fringed top. These were probably set up to do passenger service within the base to ferry workers from the base gates to their place of work.
    
    One of the developments for transportation purposes was the use of jeeps as taxis, in this case early CJ-2As. This writer recalls that the first taxicabs of the Manila Yellow Taxicab Co. were these early jeeps, running without the front passenger seat and providing comfortable seating for two on the rear seat, and not so comfortable seating for two more on top of the rear wheelhouses. The CJ-2A was complete with a taxi meter.
    
    Meanwhile, from the early 1950s, the U.S. Army maintained its presence in the country through the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG). Their jeeps were characterized by paint (most probably applied by brush) in the standard postwar glossy OD. The inner front and rear fenders and all the running gear–axles, differential assemblies, etc.– were painted a bright orange, probably to facilitate inspection. This writer recalls that these jeeps always sounded smooth, silent, and were invariably driven by a Filipino service driver who always kept them spic and span. But they were used by the personnel and dependents of American JUSMAG personnel as official as well as private transportation, since U.S. Government staff cars were only for the higher ranking officers. When disposed as surplus, the JUSMAG vehicles were in great demand, and prices were extremely high.
    
    The Philippine Government was also a significant beneficiary of the U.S. Amy when it came to vehicles and equipment. After the end of the war, the Philippine Army had no equipment. All the subsequent inventory of weapons, transport equipment, combat equipment, etc., came from the U.S. Army. In particular, jeeps were transferred to the Philippine Army (PA) on a “running” and “for repair” basis. The Philippine Army set up an Ordnance Base Shop where repair and maintenance were performed to include total strip down and overhaul of all units of transport equipment and weapons.
    
    Maintenance in the PA was initially very good. The author recalls the practice of the commanding officer of the then Philippine Army Supply Center, whose regular inspection of jeeps and trucks included running a clean handkerchief on surfaces of the engine compartment. The Philippine Army Signal Corps maintained the cleanest, best-serviced jeeps and trucks. Their base was on the road to the University of the Philippines, and their jeeps and trucks were always lined up neatly, were clean, and displayed complete equipment on them.
    
    The different government agencies were also recipients of jeeps and trucks, but here, the maintenance practices were rather less than perfect, and their equipment did not last too long compared to those in armed forces use, and were soon replaced with new CJ units. When the supply of jeeps and trucks in country to support the fledgling Philippine Armed Forces ran out, JUSMAG sourced them out from the various overhaul facilities in Japan. In particular, the OPPAMA facility was one of the largest and most professionally run of these overhaul depots. In fact, it later formed the nucleus of the manufacturing facility of one of the major Japanese car manufacturers.

THE BEGINNING OF THE LOVE AFFAIR
    
    Since the supply of surplussed jeeps from the war years had dried up by the mid-1950s, enterprising importers scoured the different bases in Okinawa, Japan, and eventually the great surplus yards in the Netherlands. They shipped boatloads of jeeps which were gobbled up by a public that still saw the need for 4-wheel drive vehicles.
    
    By the 1960s, dressed up jeeps were beginning to emerge. The author recalls reinstalling the axe sheath and all the axe and shovel brackets on the left panel of his GPW which a commercial body repairman and painter had thoughtlessly torn out to ease his painting and repair job. At this time, the rear seat mounted to the right of the driver was replaced by a proper paseenger seat.  Many other Filipinos started to do the same thing to their jeeps.

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A Mitsubishi CJ-3BJ4C (supplied by U.S. government to Military Assistance Pact nations) at a Jeep Motor Show. Note the headlight guards, the Japanese winch (made under license from Koenig) and the bridge plates.
    
    By this time, the M38 was beginning to come into the surplus scene, and this was considered the prime jeep model (the M38A1 has never attracted Filipinos in any great numbers). Filipinos coined a method of naming each of the jeep models during the 1960s. The Ford GPW and the Willys MB were termed the “MacArthur jeeps.” The M38A1 was called the “Eisenhower jeep” and M151s were known as the “Kennedy jeeps.” Similarly, the WWII WCs were called “Mac- Arthur weapons carriers” and the M37 series the “Eisenhower weapons carrier.”

A JEEP INDUSTRY EMERGED

    
    In order to support this demand for the jeep and to supplement the importations of jeeps and parts from abroad, a number of entrepreneurs emerged, each making body parts, accessories, and even whole bodies for the WWII jeep. At least four companies were engaged in making bodies plus windshields, fenders, hoods and grilles. Only one of these companies has survived: MDJuan Inc. It remains the only manufacturer of military jeep bodies in the world. They now make the full line of military and commercial jeeps and jeep trailers, with the exception of the unitized body M151 series. It is probably fair to say that, of their entire output, only a very small percentage goes to truly functional use, most going to support collectors, rally and racing enthusiasts. They prospered where the others went bankrupt because of a strong commitment to quality and development of new products.

REDISCOVERING JEEPS
    
    Interest among jeep enthusiasts in the Philippines remains strong and, in fact, shows significant signs of growth. More and more enthusiasts are going to the provinces to locate restorable jeeps, hoping to find that elusive “jeep in a barn.” When found, a lot of jeeps are a mix of parts without regard to Ford and Willys models. Surplus jeeps came from the Swiss, French, German, Dutch, and Norwegian Armies. Generally well regarded were those from the Swiss and Norwegians.

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An M38 with an early MDJuan reproduction body. This restoration would not have been possible without the availability of repro parts.
    
    This is particularly true of the jeep most desired in the Philippines, the M38. The first surplus examples came in during the mid-1950s, and it was love at first sight to Filipinos who had been used to, and were perhaps a bit tired of, the large number of WWII jeeps in the country. A large percentage of these received M38 windshields, grilles and tailgates. If looked at dispassionately without the emotions that a hard- core enthusiast would have, these modifications actually made for a functionally better vehicle: better lighting, more headroom in front, and very convenient loading of cargo or luggage from the rear.
    
    But many jeep enthusiasts do not agree. Thus, at the current time, many of these modified MBs and GPWs are now being reconverted back to original configuration. For instance, surplus MB/GPW grilles used to sell for about $2 about 20 years ago, and now sell for around 40 times that: truly the workings of the principles of supply and demand. Likewise the various repro M38 grilles (of excellent quality) are going for much lower prices.
    
    The average Filipino jeep owner is now conscious of the value of originality. Of course print media and the various jeep Web sites are largely responsible for this. Consequently, budding jeep enthusiasts scour old out-of-the-way auto supply stores, not just in the larger cities, but more especially in the remote provinces in the hope of finding that elusive F-marked top bow pivot, blackout marker lights still wrapped in the original wax-dipped fabric, those M series taillights in their characteristic sealed cylindrical black cardboard container or, even better, an NOS capstan winch in its original crate and wrapping!
    
    Actually the Philippines is an ideal place for this sort of thing. Around the early 1960s, hundreds of tons of NOS parts were imported into the Philippines by traders who bought them from various surplus disposal agencies at U.S. bases abroad, or more probably from the surplus yards in Holland. These were scattered throughout the islands. Thus, as early as the early 1990s, military vehicle parts buyers from Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the U.S. and Europe would come regularly to the country to buy up these NOS parts. Though these buyers have virtually depleted the supply of NOS parts, parts are still to be found in the Philippines.

THE STRENGTH OF THE HOBBY

    
    The beneficiary, at least for the short term, is the Filipino hobbyist who has at his disposal, comparatively cheaper NOS parts for his restorations. This has given rise to many jeep collectors and restorers entering the jeep hobby.

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A restored GPW with MDJuan galvanized iron body, and an early MB with original” block Willys” body, capstan winch, modified with 7″ headlights, but with a GPW frame and blackout marker lights modified for turn signals.
    
    Some notable developments have been the design and development of a 6×6 version of the jeep by the Dizon brothers of Angeles City. They also do first class restorations of the standard models of jeeps. The collectors in Cebu city have always gravitated to the WWII model, and excellent restorations can be found there. In the province of Bulacan, restorers lean towards M38s and MB/GPWs. The same is true of those in the province of Nueva Ecija. Cavite City restorers generally like the Mitsubishi “high hood”. Restored jeeps can also be seen being driven around in the gated subdivisions, where well-heeled owners drive them around to just “work the kinks out of their mechanical muscles.” The love for the jeep is clearly alive and well in the Philippines!

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