Jeff Rogers’ interest in the Willy’s M38-A1 goes back to camping and hunting trips he and a buddy used to take.
“The thing was just fantastic,” he said.
The jeep rolled and was totaled. Jeff moved to Colorado, returned to California and while out with his kids, he spotted a jeep on a trailer with a for sale sign. It brought back memories of those earlier trips. He located the owner, a California wine grape grafter who shared stories about grapes and his father who’d been in occupied Germany.
As Jeff turned to leave, the man told him to make an offer. Jeff posed $500. The man countered with $2500. Jeff pointed out damage to the old jeep. The pair agreed to $900. Jeff rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded the jeep, and brought it home.
“I immediately started tearing it apart,” he said. “I must have gotten ten five-gallon buckets of dirt off it,” adding that he scraped and hosed and wondered if the dirt would ever come off. A whole lot of elbow grease and paint remover led to the discovery of the original Toledo Ohio Willy’s factory data plate.
“It’s got the original number on it,” he said.
Next up was to dismantle the jeep so that it could be reassembled. The hinge in the back frame was cracked and had been welded several times. He accidentally cut a piece of the frame off while trying to cut through the welds. Once repaired, he took the frame to have it sandblasted and primed and ordered a new support from Atlanta.
Jeff enlisted the help of his kids to finish tearing down the vehicle, and then hauled buckets of parts to a guy who would put the jeep back together. Six months later, the 1952 M38-A1 Jeep was whole and running. Jeff’s had it for about 8 years and regularly drives it to work and here and there, including a couple of long distance trips.
The M38-A1 was named after his paternal grandmother, Nellie. He’d hoped to drive his father, a Korean War veteran, for a trip down memory lane.
“My dad went into the Marine Corps in 1952 and served during the Korean War, and this jeep is a 1952 so I was hoping to get together and give him a ride in it so he could remember. I’m sure he drove one of them when they were brand new.”
His father passed away before the ride, so Jeff gave his uncle, also a Korean War veteran, the ride. Uncle Sonny said it looked like it just rolled off the assembly line.
Nellie’s T90 transmission, one of many A1 upgrades, is great for four-wheelers, said Jeff. The A1, he added, shifted from a flathead engine, flat fenders, flat hood, and low horsepower to a domed hood, rounded fenders, and a whole lot more horsepower.
“It has a whopping 74 horsepower in it.” The top speed is 60 mph but Jeff’s been advised to keep it at 45 or less. His uncle said they beat walking.
The engine compartment is lean, clean, and mean. Original parts were cast iron and very heavy. Jeff’s reverence for the vehicle leads him to search for stock parts.
“It’s as close to original museum quality as possible. There’s nothing contemporary on it.”
He even located a grill that was still in its original unopened crate. The old grill, he said, was so badly rusted that he cut it off and now has it hanging in the garage as wall art.
Goals include taking Nellie camping and playing around the mountains. When he does, he’ll have the top off and the wind blowing through his hair. She’s an attention getter, though, and people often stop him, so it might take a really long to reach the mountains.
Story by Trina L. Drotar
Photos courtesy Jeff Rogers