There’s a line in the song “Sugar Magnolia” by the Grateful Dead that goes: “Well, she can dance a cajun rhythm, jump like a Willys in four wheel drive.”
I’ve wondered how Jerry Garcia or some other member of the band came to have a Jeep experience, and obviously off-road, because those words describe so well a Willys in the wild. This is yet more proof that there aren’t many vehicles in the world as well known as a Jeep. In fact, there are very few countries in which most children wouldn’t recognize a Jeep; and the name has found its way into almost as many languages as the word Taxi.
On the other hand, the Jeep name is often misapplied to any small utility four-by-four in the same way that many people call any self-service laundry a “Laundromat,” which is actually a trade name, or refer to a certain type of adjustable wrench as a “Crescent Wrench” no matter who actual manufacturer may be. Unless one is in the writing game, it’s not generally known how much money is spent by various companies trying to keep their trade names from becoming generic. Many years ago, the Murphy Bed Company lost the exclusive right to its name, which had become generic because people called any folding bed a “Murphy.” Many companies take out ads in writing magazines and other literary publications to remind authors (for example) that “Coke” is a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company and should at least be capitalized when used in a story or an article. While most of these companies would prefer that the words “Trademark Registered” and/or the TM symbol be used in conjunction with their product’s name, it would be distracting in a novel to have a hero’s Jeep (TM Trademark Registered) break down and he drinks a Coke (TM Trademark Registered) from a Thermos (TM Trademark Registered) chest before fixing his vehicle with a Crescent (TM Trademark Registered) wrench.
Similarly, most people who’ve been involved with a certain occupation, career, sport or hobby are annoyed when someone lectures them on the history of their interest and gets it wrong. Just as doctors tend to wince when a layman uses medical terms, most Jeep enthusiasts get a pain when encountering someone who thinks they know all about Jeeps. Of course, Jeep history can be confusing when you consider that Jeeps have been built for over 80 years, not only by the original manufacturer Willys Overland (which later became Kaiser Jeep), but also by the Ford Motor Company, American Motors (formerly Rambler), and by Daimler-Chrysler Corporation. Not to mention all the foreign manufacturers such as Mitsubishi of Japan, Hotchkiss of France, and Mahindra of India. Before we get to the real subject of this article, the Kaiser Jeep M715, it might be interesting to have a brief look at the history of the company that designed and built it.
In the beginning ...
Read 20 different Jeep books, or visit 20 different Jeep websites, and one will likely find 20 different variations on the history of the Jeep. I can’t claim that the short-form version presented here is any more accurate than many others, but I do believe it’s close enough to give the reader sufficient background information for the purpose of this article.
In 1903, the Standard Wheel Company of Terre Haute, Ind., a manufacturer of bicycles, expanded its operation by adding the Overland Automotive Division to build motor vehicles: its first model was the Overland Runabout. In 1908, John North Willys purchased the Overland Automotive Company, which by then had been relocated to Indianapolis. The Overland Runabout proved to be successful, and Willys purchased the Pope-Toledo automobile manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio. In 1912, the Willys-Overland Company was formed and, in addition to the Runabout, began producing the large Willys-Knight automobile. Willys also made smaller cars, such as the Overland Speedster, as well as a very popular model called the Whippet. In 1936, as the result of a Depression-era reorganization, the company became Willys-Overland Motors, Inc.
As many historic military vehicle enthusiasts know, in 1940 Willys entered the field of military tactical truck development with the design and prototype of a four-wheel drive quarter-ton utility truck, which was later to become the world-famous Jeep. What is not so well known is that when the U.S. military first conceived the idea of this small general-purpose vehicle in 1939, some of the specifications were: “a load capacity of 600 lbs., a wheelbase under 75 inches, height under 36 inches, an engine to run smoothly from 3 to 50 mph, a rectangular-shaped body, a two-speed transfer case with four wheel drive, a windshield that folds down, seats for three, and a gross vehicle weight of under 1200 lbs.”
Also not widely known is that even though 135 companies were invited to submit designs and prototypes, only three actually did. As most Jeep enthusiasts do know, the companies that did submit prototype vehicles were Ford, Willys-Overland, and American Bantam. The initial contract for 70 vehicles was given to Bantam, however their model proved to be fragile and prone to breakdown when tested by the military. By then, World War II had begun and this new general-purpose vehicle was sorely needed. More prototype vehicles were accepted from Ford and Willys. Although Ford’s design looked more like the WW II Jeep as we know it, its four-cylinder tractor type engine couldn’t stand up to high RPMs and the rigors of automotive use. The Willys four-banger, on the other hand, a 60 hp. L-head model called the “Go-Devil,” which had been powering Willys cars for years, proved to be very durable, so Willys-Overland was granted the production contract and began manufacture in 1941.
Demand for this remarkable new vehicle was so great that Ford was granted a production contract as well; and somewhere along the line this general-purpose “GP” vehicle became known as the Jeep. Rather ironically, it was Ford that actually used the “GPW” designation, while the actual Willys-built vehicles were known as “MB.” In any case, more than 350,000 Jeeps were produced during the 1940s in support of the Allied war effort.
While many people are aware that Willys built Jeeps during WW II, it’s a lesser-known fact that Willys was also a supplier of munitions and other military materials, including the “Robomb,” which was the Allied version of the German V-2 rocket. Willys also produced bullet cores, shells, projectiles, and parts for aircraft landing gear.
After the war, Willys trademarked the ubiquitous Jeep name and introduced the first civilian Jeep, the CJ2A, in 1946. This vehicle was still very much a WW II MB without the military accessories, though its parking lamps were merely blackout marker lamps fitted with clear lenses. Its most notable civilian features were a tailgate, 7-inch headlights, and an external fuel-filler cap. For some reason Willys chose not to provide this vehicle with a dashboard glove box, even though the WW II Jeeps had them, officially called “Map Compartments.” Although competing with itself against the many thousands of war surplus Jeeps on the market, Willys established a worldwide system of distribution and manufacture for its new peacetime Jeep. Indeed, “CJ” stood for “Civilian Jeep”.
In 1948, the CJ2A was improved and became the CJ3A. It was still very similar to its predecessor, but had a one-piece windshield. The outbreak of the Korean War, along with the U.S. military’s need to replace its aging WW II Jeeps, led to Willys designing a military model of the CJ3A, which became the M38. During this time, circa 1952, Willys developed a new F-head engine called the “Hurricane.” Since this engine was taller than the L-head model, Willys redesigned the Jeep’s front sheet metal to accommodate it, which resulted in the “round-fender” M38A1.
A “flat-fender” Jeep, but with a taller hood and cowl to accommodate the F-head engine — was also introduced circa 1952, a civilian version, the CJ5, was offered to the public in 1955.
In 1953, Willys-Overland became part of the Henry J. Kaiser Corporation, although it was still called Willys Jeep. The CJ3B continued in production until 1968, right along with the CJ5, though the CJ5 had the longest production run of any Jeep vehicle in the U.S. (from 1955 to 1984). During the years in which Kaiser owned Willys Jeep, manufacturing plants were established in thirty foreign countries, and Jeep vehicles were marketed in more than 150 nations. A military version of the CJ3B was known as the M606, and while some were used by the U.S. Navy, many others served in Armed Forces around the world.
Returning to the late 1940s; in addition to the quarter-ton 4x4 CJ Jeeps, Willys also offered a two-wheel-drive “Dispatcher” (DJ) model for use as a general utility vehicle in applications such as package delivery, resort trams, and city meter-maid service. Willys also introduced a pickup and a boxy-bodied stationwagon available in either two or four-wheel-drive, as well as a panel truck based on the stationwagon. Willys even went so far as to offer a rather bizarre-looking roadster called the “Jeepster,” though for some strange reason it was not available with four-wheel-drive, and sales didn’t rock the house. However, both the pickup and stationwagon sold well, though mainly to contractors, ranchers, farmers, and rural folk because the concept of “four-wheeling” for pleasure would not begin to catch on in the U.S. until the mid-1960s.
In 1956, Willys introduced a “Forward Control“ pickup truck. This was a cab-over-engine design, one of the first such designs for a light vehicle in the U.S., and was available for many years in quarter, three-quarter, and even one-ton models. The U.S. military contracted with Willys/Kaiser to build four basic tactical versions of these FC vehicles, which became the M676, M677, M678 and M679.
In 1960, Willys won a bid to develop and produce a quarter-ton delivery van for the U.S. Postal Service. Just about everyone has seen these “mail Jeeps”, and over 14,000 were produced at the Toledo plant. Willys also built a postal van that looked like a little box on wheels, and many of these became ice cream trucks later in their lives.
By the early 1960s “real” Willys Jeeps, the M38 and M38A1, were being phased out of U.S. military service in favor of the Ford-designed M151 MUTT, but Willys won a bid in 1962 to produce more than 9,000 MUTTs. Later that same year, Willys got a second contract to build an additional 9,800 MUTTs. More than 20,000 M151s were built by Willys in Toledo, and more than 100,000 more were manufactured in its South Bend plant.
In 1963, Willys Motors was renamed Kaiser Jeep Corporation and introduced its “J” line of vehicles, which included the Gladiator pickup and the Wagoneer. Most people think of the Gladiator as a “fleetside” design, because the majority of Jeep pickups sold were configured this way, but a standard bed model with external rear fenders was also offered. (By the way, “Fleetside” is actually a General Motors trade name.) The Gladiator, or J-series trucks, were available in half, three-quarter, and one-ton models, the latter usually being a stake-bed vehicle with dual rear wheels.
A new engine was developed for the J-series Gladiator trucks and the Jeep Wagoneer. This was the “Tornado,” a 230-cid inline six-cylinder with a cast-iron block and head, but including aluminum components such as the intake manifold and valve cover, and with an overhead cam. Although this engine was modern for its day, it was primitive for its type, and was put into production before all the bugs were worked out. It was also the only Kaiser-designed engine to ever be used in a Jeep, and was available in Willys/Kaiser trucks and station wagons from 1963 through 1965.
In 1964, Kaiser Jeep purchased the Studebaker Corporation manufacturing facilities in South Bend, Ind. With the acquisition of this plant, Kaiser Jeep also assumed a contract for the production of the M54 5-ton series military truck. In May of 1964, Kaiser won its own contract to produce M35 2 1/2-ton trucks at its new South Bend location. Kaiser Jeep built about 112,000 5-ton, and around 150,000 2 1/2-ton trucks.
It should be noted that Willys/Kaiser Jeep built many other things for the military besides Jeeps, MUTTs and trucks, including the M247 Mule, as well developing a prototype, the Willys “Bobcat,” for what would later become the American Motors M422 Mighty Mite. This should bring us up to historical speed for the purpose of this article.
Following in the M37’s tracks
It might be said that the Kaiser M715 would probably never have existed had it not been for the Dodge M37. One might get the impression that the U.S. Military resented the M37, because ever since its inception in 1951 the generals always seemed to be trying to replace it with something “better.” The M37 and its variants were simple, rugged, reliable machines that did whatever they were ordered to do, and did it well. In many respects, the M37 was a WWII Dodge WC with all the bugs worked out. It had been designed and built from the ground up as a purely tactical military truck, and the design was almost flawless. Everything on the truck was where it was should have been in regard to instruments, controls and accessories. It was user-friendly, comfortable to drive, and easy to maintain and repair. It would have been simple and inexpensive to upgrade these faithful steel soldiers with more powerful engines along with a higher axle ratio to bring their safe cruising speed up to 60 mph. Other than that, these trucks really needed no improvement. However, it seems apparent that the billion-dollar boys at the Pentagon had to have brand new toys -- perhaps in anticipation of a brand new war -- so beginning in the late 1950s they went all out in a effort to replace an “old-fashioned truck” that just did its duty year after year without complaint.
Of course, they could not be content with something as simple and cost-effective as installing a larger engine and raising the gear ratios, so Chrysler Corporation was contracted to design a completely new vehicle. Not surprisingly, it was found that to build an entirely new tactical truck with all the same desirable features would cost twice as much per unit as the M37s still in production. General Motors’ Chevrolet Division also submitted a prototype M37 replacement, and it was just as expensive. However, the generals had lofty expectations in regard to a new All-American wonder then in development, the M561 Gama Goat, which would not only replace the M37 but would also do just about everything else except maybe sing and snow all over itself at Christmas. So, the Chrysler and G.M. prototype vehicles were rejected in favor of some sort of “make-do” truck that could serve until the Gama Goat burst upon an astonished world.
In 1965, Kaiser Jeep designed and developed the M715 1 1/4 ton series truck, which was purchased by the U.S. military to replace the M37. In many ways this was the first U.S. military tactical truck to be built with mostly off-the-shelf civilian components since before WW II. No doubt the General Accounting Office was pleased, because with an initial contract purchase price of $4,400 per unit, the M715 only cost half of what a “new” M37 would have. Delivery of over 33,000 vehicles began in January of 1967.
Due to its 1 1/4-ton rating, the vehicle became nicknamed the “five-quarter.” There were four basic models: the M715 cargo truck, the M725 ambulance, the M724 contact maintenance truck, and the M726 telephone maintenance truck... the latter being the rarest. All were powered by the Kaiser OHV Tornado engine, which ironically had the same 230 cid. displacement as the M37’s L-head Dodge engine. Also ironic was the fact that the Kaiser engine had proved to be troublesome in civilian use by 1965 and was no longer offered in the J-series Jeeps. There were three basic versions of the Kaiser Tornado 230 OHC engine. Of the two types used in civilian vehicles, one was a high-compression model with dome-topped pistons and was usually fitted with a Holley 2-barrel carburetor. The second was a lower compression model, while the third was a purely military model built for the M715. The latter was also low-compression, with flat-topped pistons and a one-barrel carburetor. There are other small but significant differences between the military and civilian models of this engine.
Although the Kaiser M715 engine was rated at 132 hp at 4000 RPM compared to the Dodge M37’s rating of 78 hp at 3200 RPM, the M715 seemed underpowered compared to the M37, even though the final drive ratios were almost the same. In general, and except for a few notable quirks to be mentioned later, the M715’s performance did not differ greatly from an M37... though when it did it was always in negative ways. One might say that the M715 was really no improvement over the M37, except perhaps in having a higher rated cargo capacity and looking “modern.” M715s had four-speed manual transmissions and two-speed transfer cases, along with non-boosted hydraulic drum brakes. Like the M37, the parking brake acted upon a drum at the rear of the transfer case. Steering was also manual. Virtually all M715s were built on the same frame, regardless of body style or the addition of a winch.
The M715’s front sheet-metal, cab body tub and doors were lifted from the civilian J Series Gladiator pickup, with the front fenders modified with large cut-outs to accommodate the military 9.00X16 tires. Although this was the same size tire fitted to the M37, the M715 used a different style wheel. Since the wheels would not interchange between the M715 and the M37, and since no trailer was ever designed for the M715, this required that two spare tires be carried whenever an M715 was towing the M37’s M101 trailer.
The Gladiator’s grille was removed — leaving the radiator vulnerable to flying rocks and gravel — though a tubular front brush guard was added. The cast-aluminum M-series parking and blackout marker lamps were mounted inboard of the headlights where, either by coincidence, or perhaps in expectation, the Gladiator trucks had two round ornamental trim plates that were exactly the right size to accommodate the military lamps. The Gladiator’s rectangular parking and turn lamps below the headlights were not installed, and their openings were covered with tack-welded plates. The standard M-series blackout driving lamp was mounted on the front left corner of the M715’s hood.
The Gladiator’s dashboard was replaced with a flat military model to accommodate the standard M-series instruments and switches, and the instrument cluster was almost identical to the M37’s. The M715’s windshield was a flat, vertical, fold-down unit similar to a Jeep’s with one-piece glass, though unlike the M37, the glass itself did not open, which made the M715 a hot truck to drive in hot weather with the cab roof canvas in place. Two vacuum windshield wipers were mounted at the top of the windshield frame. The Gladiator’s civilian door glass was replaced by a different frame with a non-openable “wing window” to fit the windshield... which also added to the interior heat factor. The Gladiator’s standard bench seat was replaced with a pair of canvas-covered military bucket seats that flanked a center-mounted battery box. The battery box covers of prototype and very early M715’s were slanted forward, but were flat-topped on all later units... which seemed more logical since one could put things on them. On the M725 ambulance, which had a connecting door between the cab and the ambulance body, the batteries were located under the lower right side litter rack. The Gladiator’s manual steering column and modernistic civilian style wheel were retained, which looked rather odd, even though the (usually white) wheel and its colorful “Jeep” horn button emblem were painted OD.
The cargo truck and other rear bodies of the M715 series were of a purely military design, and the general appearance of the trucks — with the exception of the sporty steering wheels — was practical and pleasing. Indeed, although I was disappointed by the M715’s modern looks when I first saw one at age 17(expecting M37s) I thought the trucks looked cool in their own way, and still do.
The four basic models of the truck were equipped as follows:
M-715: Standard 1 1/4 ton cargo truck. These units came with a canvas top for the cab, cargo bed canvas and bows, plus troop seats and racks. Reminiscent of the M37, there were small stowage compartments on each side of the cargo bed. Some of these trucks were fitted with front-mounted 8,000 lb. PTO winches.
M-724: Cab & chassis, generally equipped with a contact maintenance body, which had a welder, generator, and tools. An 8,000 lb. PTO winch was usually mounted on the front of these trucks.
M-725: Ambulance, which used the M715’s front sheet metal mated to an ambulance body with four stretcher racks in the rear. This was a standard military design, much like the M43 ambulance, and included a ceiling-mounted surgical light, ventilators, double rear doors, a gas-fired heater, and a sliding door between the driver’s cab and the ambulance body. This truck was usually fitted with a roof-mounted spotlight centered at the front of the body.
M-726: Telephone maintenance truck, which used the M-715 cab with a utility box rear body. This body differed from the M-724 contact maintenance truck, having an open cargo area, and was lower in silhouette. This truck also usually had an 8,000 lb PTO front-mounted winch, along with a spotlight mounted on the left corner of the cowling.
In addition, all M715s were equipped with standard M-series pioneer tools and jerry cans. Also like the M37, there were many accessories available for the M715, including an arctic insulated hard-cab and heater system, and a deep-water fording kit.
Living with an M715
As with most MVs, newcomers to the hobby in search of a vehicle to buy, restore and/or drive, often ask: “Is the M715 a good truck?”
Although I have never personally owned an M715, I have driven and worked on many, as well as installing a Kaiser Tornado engine in a 1947 Willys pickup, along with an M715 transmission and transfer case, and drove this truck to Alaska and back from California. My reply to the aforementioned question is that the M715 was not a bad truck. Indeed, in my opinion, the M715 had the potential for being a very good tactical military truck, had it remained in service long enough for all the bugs to be worked out. This, however, was not the case; few improvements were made to the M715 series during its short production run between 1967 and 1969, and it was replaced by one of the first CUCVs (Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicles), the Dodge M880.
In Vietnam, the M715 got a reputation for being fragile and underpowered compared to the M37. As already mentioned, the “underpowered” part seems strange since the M715’s engine was rated at 54 more horsepower than the M37’s: however, the M715 was also rated to carry a half ton more and so was often overloaded. The “fragile” reputation came mainly from the engine, which, just as it had in civilian service, proved to be troublesome and quirky. The M715’s cab was lightly built compared to the M37 — indeed, was lightly built compared to many other civilian trucks — and its door hinges and latches did not hold up well in tactical use. Since the M715’s suspension system had been massively beefed to meet its 1 1/4 ton cargo rating, it rode very roughly when empty. In addition, its springs were so stiff that the truck often got stuck in twisted situations on uneven terrain where the right front and rear left (or vice-versa) wheels lost contact with the ground. The lightly-built cab would often twist so much under these conditions that the doors could not be opened... not a desirable feature on a tactical truck in combat!
The Kaiser engine had a tendency to vapor-lock in hot environments, and/or its carburetor would percolate when a hot engine was shut off. It was also known to “run-on” or “diesel” when hot, and to flood easily when one attempted to start it... none of which were desirable features for any truck, but much less so in the steamy jungles and sultry plains of Vietnam. Despite its advanced design, the engine was a long-stroker and tended to throw rods if over-revved. The M715’s engine was undoubtedly its worst feature, and had it been replaced with something more durable and less finicky, the truck might have soldiered on for many years.
Mechanically speaking, the engine’s major fault was the long timing chain required to operate the overhead cam. As mentioned earlier, this overhead cam was modern for its day but primitive for its type. Instead of being tensioned by a spring-loaded or oil pressure controlled sprocket, the chain relied upon a crude rubbing block, which quickly wore out. This resulted in a loose, noisy chain and sloppy valve timing. The chain would sometimes become so loose that it would rub against and unscrew one of the timing cover bolts. The camshaft itself was relatively soft and wore down fast, which affected the valve lash settings and gave the engine a noisy clatter. Since the valves were mechanically operated by rocker arms that rode directly upon the camshaft, the wearing of the cam required frequent resetting of the valves. Nor were the engine’s aluminum components, such as the intake manifold and valve cover, able to withstand the money-wrench ministrations of motor-pool mechanics who were accustomed to working on the cast-iron and steel of more conventional engines. Rebuilding several of these Kaiser engines led me to the conclusion that they could have been reasonably good powerplants if a more advanced method had been used to tension the timing chain, the camshaft had been harder, and hydraulic valve lifters had been fitted.
This is not an engine that one can easily rebuild today: parts are expensive, and many are hard to find, which should be an important factor to consider if you’ve decided you want an M715. However, most mechanically-minded folks can learn to live with this engine by giving it care and attention when it comes to keeping everything tight, torqued, and properly adjusted, as well as not over-revving it.
On the other hand, the M715 is quite rugged and durable in respect to its transmission, transfer case, axles, suspension, brakes and steering system. Here are some things to check when inspecting an M715 for purchase:
Most important is the engine: it should start fairly quickly both cold and warm, and run and idle smoothly with no hesitation when accelerated. Check for blue-tinted exhaust smoke, which indicates oil burning and is usually caused by worn piston rings and/or leaking valve stem seals. Oily spark plugs can also indicate worn piston rings and/or valve seals. There will probably be some valve train clatter, but as on most engines with a mechanical valve system it is better the valves be a little loose rather than set too tightly, because tight valves tend to burn. A mechanic’s stethoscope will be handy to listen for a worn timing chain, this engine’s worst problem. Alternatively, one can use a long screwdriver, placing the bit end on the engine with one’s ear to the handle.
Naturally, you will also listen for loose rod, main bearings, and piston pins. Generally speaking, loose rods rattle most on the way “up” the RPM scale, while loose mains are most apparent on the way “down.” Piston pin noise will usually be loudest upon highway acceleration at about 30-35 mph, in top gear, and often most apparent when the engine is cold. Some engines, such as I.H.C. V-8s normally have piston pin noise when cold, but the Kaiser 230 is not one of them. Engine oil pressure when hot should run around 40-45 psi when driving, and about 10-15 psi at idle, though M-series electric gauges often give rather vague readings. If the engine oil pressure is question-able, it would be wise to double-check it with a mechanical gauge.
Look at the engine oil itself: it should be fairly clean, and make sure the seller hasn’t added three cans of STP or a gallon of 90 weight gear oil to keep the rods quiet. Also check for milky or greenish oil, which usually indicates a water leak from a head gasket or cracked block. Also check for oil or bubbles in the radiator when the engine is running, which usually indicates a water leak in a cylinder.
Shake the fan — with the engine off of course — to check for loose water pump bearings. The military Kaiser 230 used a different water pump than the civilian model, and these pumps are hard to find. Also check the condition of the fan belt and radiator hoses. Look for badly rusted or leaking soft plugs in the engine block, and check for radiator leaks. If it appears that the radiator has been spewing out a lot of water from the overflow pipe, the thermostat may be stuck closed, or the engine block and/or radiator filled with rust and scale.
Look underneath the vehicle when it’s warmed up and running for oil leaks from the engine, transmission, transfer case, and axles, though a few drips here are there are normal as with most cars and trucks of its day. While you’re under the truck, check for loose drive shafts and universal joints.
Play detective: snoop around in places like under the seats, way back in the glove box, and in the tool compartments on the sides of the bed for items such as several cans of brake fluid, “STP,” or radiator stop-leak. A single can of brake fluid may only indicate that the truck’s owner was prepared, but two or three usually indicate brake problems. Old receipts in the glove box can go a long way to backing up a seller’s claims of installing new or rebuilt parts and/or of having repairs done. On the other hand, such evidence can also expose blatant lies, such as finding a maintenance order from the North Dakota Highway Department in the glove box of an M715 whose seller claimed had been purchased directly off an Army base in Arizona! This happened to me, and proved that the truck had seen prior civilian service despite the seller’s denial. Likewise, if a seller claims that this is a “local truck,” you may want to ask why there’s a receipt for two group-27 batteries from an auto parts store three states away.
Speaking of paperwork, and besides making sure the seller has clear title to the vehicle and every right to legally sell it, you should check that it hasn’t collected any tickets that might it a candidate for a booting or towing if discovered parked on a city street by a meter maid or curious cop. Likewise, you don’t want any nasty surprises at the DMV when you go to transfer the vehicle... such as finding it has $500.00 worth of unpaid parking tickets due before it can be registered. It’s wise to have the seller go with you for title transfer if you suspect any of the above.
In general, check for proper free play of the clutch pedal —about an inch and a half — and listen for a noisy clutch release bearing when the clutch pedal is depressed. Check that the brake pedal doesn’t go more than halfway to the floorboard before the brakes take hold... the first time you step on it. Having to pump the pedal several times before the brakes take hold may only mean that the shoes need adjusting, or it could indicate that the shoes are worn out. If you suspect badly worn brake shoes, it would be wise to pull the drums to check if they have been scored.
Examine all the wiring for frayed spots or rotten insulation; check to be sure all the lights are working as well as the instruments, especially the oil pressure and temperature gauges. Check that the voltmeter shows that the batteries are charging at any engine speed above idle. Also check the windshield wipers and horn for proper operation. Don’t pay much attention to the miles shown on the odometer because it’s very common for M-series speedometers to be replaced. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally safe to assume that most tactical military vehicles larger than a Jeep have seen less than 100,000 miles. A more accurate judgment of mileage and use can usually be made by checking the wear on the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals, as well as the wear on the driver’s side door latch mechanism.
Check for excessive play in the steering system, and try to determine whether it’s in the tie rods, drag link, or the steering box. This will tell you how much work you might have to do to. Jack the front wheels off the ground and shake them to check for loose wheel bearings and worn out steering-knuckle bushings. Examine the front tires for cupping or irregular wear, which usually indicates misalignment, and/or the aforementioned loose steering knuckle or wheel bearings. Be wary if the rear tires are cupped but not the front: this usually means they’ve been switched around… and the seller knows there is an alignment problem.
If possible, do most of these things before going for a test drive. Ninety percent of a vehicle’s defects will be found during a static examination; and by the time you’ve finished you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not you want this particular truck.
Out on the road, you‘ll likely discover that an M715 has ample power for its vintage, despite its “underpowered” reputation. Listen for loud howls or whines from the drive train. Most older model transfer cases whine because of the arrangement of their gears – but the shouldn’t scream. Rumbling and/or vibration on the road may indicate loose universal joints or yokes, or bent or unsynchronized drive shafts. The M715’s four-speed transmission is synchronized in its three upper gears, and should run quietly and shift smoothly. Unlike an older model Jeep, it is not at all normal for an M715’s transmission to jump out of gear, either upon acceleration or deceleration: if it does, there are major problems. The same goes for the transfer case. The parking brake should hold the vehicle on most reasonable inclines.
At 45 or 50 mph. on the highway, there should be no front end shimmy or much drive train vibration. Although an M715’s non-boosted brakes can’t compare with modern-day vehicles, they should still bring the truck to a fairly rapid halt with no darting or pulling to the right or left. There should be no metallic scraping to indicate the shoes are worn down to their rivets or worse. If one wheel consistently locks up and/or squeals, this usually indicates oil on the brake shoes from a leaking wheel bearing seal.
As far as rust, check the rear bumper for rust on the inside, look for rust in the floor of bed, and check the cab corners, floor pan, and rocker panels. Also look for rust both inside and outside where the brake master cylinder attaches to the firewall.
Check the door windows for good rubber seals and tracks. Inspect the condition of windshield seal between the bottom of windshield and the cowl.
If the truck has a winch, check it for proper operation, and make sure that the keys and set-screws are installed on the universal joints of the PTO shaft. The forward joint should have a special shear pin on the winch end. Never replace this pin with a hard bolt: it is there to prevent the winch from being overloaded, and if it doesn’t break the winch or the winch cable (wire rope) might. Also check the winch for oil leakage and general overall condition. Virtually no U.S. Military ambulance ever came from the factory with a winch installed, and while a few may have been fitted with winches in the field, an ambulance with a winch is not “stock” no matter what the seller may claim. It will usually be easy to tell if the winch was used a lot, just as it should be fairly apparent whether the truck itself was an HMV hobbyist’s truck or was used hard as a bush-beater. Many M715’s saw their first civilian service as fire department vehicles, and most of these were well cared for, though there may be rust problems.
That’s about it for a basic M715 mechanical checklist. Of course, you should shop around enough so that you’ll have several trucks as potential buys and be able to compare one with another. If possible, try to return for a second or third look before buying because you will often spot things you missed the first time. Never inspect a vehicle at night, even in a lighted garage: there are too many things that get hidden by shadows. Show courtesy to the seller — assuming that he or she deserves it and hasn’t been caught in a lie — and don’t drive them nuts by expecting a 1960s vehicle to be in mint condition... unless it was advertised as such. Don’t show off your possible unfamiliarity with vintage military vehicles by expecting an M715 to drive, perform and handle like a modern-day SUV: these trucks have drive train whine, they drip oil, and they don’t always start instantly. Remember that the M715’s engine was prone to flooding when hot.
If you’re dealing with a MV dealer, be assured that most such people are as honest as they need to be: the HMV world is a fairly small place, and word gets around if a dealer is cheating his customers. On the other hand, don’t fall for standard industry hype, such as a dealer telling you something like, “this truck is only $2,500, but for another $500 I’ll throw in a hard-top and an arctic heater, and then for only $500.00 more you can get a winch...”
This “upgrading” can go on until you end up spending more for a truck than for another unit you already looked at and decided you couldn’t afford. Although as already mentioned, M715 engine parts are often hard to locate, many accessories for the truck can still be found with patience and careful shopping. If you plan on doing your own work when adding accessories later, there’s no point in paying someone else to do it for you prior to purchase.
Newcomers to the HMV hobby often compare the M715 with the M37 when considering a purchase. The price is usually about the same in all conditions and with comparable accessories, and the size of the vehicles are similar; but there is actually little comparison between the Dodge M37, a truck that was designed and built from the ground up as a combat cargo carrier, and the M715, a vehicle that was adapted from off-the-shelf civilian parts. Buy an M715 because you like it for what it is.
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