T he WWII-era Bantams, Ford and Willys are sought after by collectors and reenactors. M-series devotes seem to be drawn to the MUTT–the M151 and its derivatives–perhaps because so many photos from the Vietnam conflict highlight this vehicle. The flat-fendered M38 oftentimes is found masquerading as a WWII vehicle for drivers too rotund to operate an actual WWII specimen. Standing alone among Jeep enthusiasts, is the cousin to the familiar CJ-5, the M38A1. Though highly refined, the M38A1 and its variants have not developed the intense following garnered by other 1/4-ton 4x4s.
This July 1952 photo is the original of the famed Raritan Arsenal (“RAPD”) publicity photos–note the original lines drawn to aid the air brush artisans. Also worth mentioning are the hinges holding the grille at its base and the diagonal seam on the fender. USMC history office.
The M38A1–unlike the MB, GPW and M151–never became an icon for a particular war. Its styling, shared by the abundant CJ-5, makes the M38A1 appear common. Until the advent of the HMMWV, it even looked “current.” However, to the enthusiast, the M38A1 has a unique stature in being the 1/4-ton truck of choice during the height of the Cold War buildup.
The M38A1 was built by five companies, in three countries–an enviable record. Developed originally by Willys-Overland Motors, the internal model designation was “MD,” following the pattern set by its predecessors: the WWII-era MA and MB, and the later MC (popularly known by its military designation, M38). The Standard Nomenclature List (SNL) assigned the number G-758 to the M38A1. (Restorer’s Note: Original M38A1 blocks have MDXXXXX serial numbers, while original-type replacement blocks have R MDXXXXX serial numbers.)
Hoping to improve performance, the flathead four-cylinder engine of the M38 was replaced with a F-head “Hurricane” engine. In order to accommodate the larger engine, the hood and engine compartment was enlarged and reshaped. This August 1950 Detroit Arsenal photo illustrates a CJ-2A modified in this manner. TACOM LCMC History Office
Jeeps made by Ford of Canada were designated “M38A1CDN.” Production was first undertaken by Ford of Canada. Later, these M38A1CDN were produced by Kaiser-Jeep at the Windsor, Ontario, facility. Across the Atlantic, parts made in the U.S. were assembled by Nederlandse Kaiser-Frazer (NEKAF), in Rotterdam, Holland.
By February 1951, the design had been refined, and the vehicle dubbed M38E1. Compared to the previous photo, notice how the fenders had been redesigned– the M38A1 was beginning to form. TACOM LCMC History Office
Later M38A1s, such as this one, eliminated the diagonal seam on the fender, replacing it with a more nearly vertical seam. The hinged grille was also eliminated, and the battery box cover retainer was simplified. TACOM LCMC History Office
In July 1954, this M38A1 was placed in Detroit Arsenal’s cold room for testing of dual purpose heater kits. Note the insulation blanket covering the hood, and the winter front sealing the grille. TACOM LCMC History Office
Better suited for a cold environment was this vehicle with slave receptacle and hard top enclosure, photographed in April 1953. Faintly visible in this photo are the four straps securing the battery box cover on early M38A1 vehicles. TACOM LCMC History Office
During WWII the army experimented with mounting a recoilless rifle on a Jeep. Further testing was done with the M38, but the concept truly came into its own with this vehicle, the M38A1C. U.S. Army Engineer School History Office
In addition to the M40A1 106mm recoilless rifle, the M38A1C can be recognized by the relocated spare tire and liquid container bracket. A gap in the windshield accommodated the rifle tube. Prior to 1953, the 105mm Recoilless Rifle M27 or M27A1 was installed in these trucks. U.S. Army Engineer School History Office
With growing concerns about a Soviet-bloc army with overwhelming numbers, U.S. planners sought a weapon of sufficient power to offset the numeric deficit of weapons. The first iteration of this was the XM-28 featured a 120mm tube firing a XM-388 nuclear round.Rock Island Arsenal Museum
A heavy weapon version, the XM-29 had a 155mm tube, but launched the same M-54 warhead 2.50 miles. About 50 M38A1D vehicles were converted from M38A1s. Rock Island Arsenal Museum
The M170 field ambulance was the most common of the M38A1 derivatives. Production of this 20″-longer version of the M38A1 totaled 4,155 units and spanned 10 years from 1953 through 1963. The civilian CJ-6 was based on this vehicle. National Archives