Barn Find Veteran: 1953 Willys M38A1


And in this corner of the barn, we have a 1954 M38A1 Jeep! It looks pretty solid, but hasn’t run in a while. It’s located in Washington, Iowa and is up for sale here on eBay, where the opening bid is $1,500 and there’s no reserve. Our own Josh found this workhorse!


The seller tells us almost nothing about this Jeep, apart from it having “extremely little to no rust.” That seems like an odd way of putting it, but the structure does look solid, even the doors from the cab look pretty straight! Anyone got any idea what the markings on the hood and door are? Possibly an ex-fire vehicle?


It looks like the Jeep has been recently moved from the barn to outside, although it hadn’t been there long when this picture was taken judging from the grass condition under the Jeep. While you’re looking at this picture, what in the world is that circular indentation in the side of the body for (right in front of the door)? I found one reference to an “auxiliary power plug indentation” and saw the same feature on other M38A1’s, one of which had a plug like looking thing in the center of the circle, but I wasn’t sure.


It looks like you have some work to do on the inside, but it can’t be too bad–these are such simple vehicles to work on! Based on the overspray visible here, the Jeep wasn’t originally red, and may have been gray–possibly Navy? However you look at it, we are seeing a primitive interior here. But, as quoted on this page talking about the Marine Corps decision to continue purchasing the M38A1 for many years after its successor was introduced, an expert said “When the situation involved harsh terrain or severe conditions those d%&@ things were unstoppable”.


And here’s part of what made it unstoppable. The 72 horsepower Hurricane F-head four cylinder would never set the world on fire with its power, but it sure would keep going when the going got tough. Are you the right person to get it going again?


  1. Mike

    Nice old barn find, the Volunteer Fire Dept that I worked with had 2 of these for many years, we used them as brush trucks, and like they say they were hard to stop. I wish I had the extra space right now I would buy it and restore it as time would allow.
    Oh yeah they rode like a rock, not much padding in the old style seats. The ones we had were originally Blue (Air Force) and the other one was light gray (Navy), the Dept picked them up at a federal Surplus sometime in the early 70’s, Dad repainted them both fire engine red of course for the Dept, and they were used until somewhere in the mid 80’s when we replaced them with 1 1/2 ton 4×4 flatbed trucks that we could haul a 2000 gallon water tank on it for more water for a brush fire. I don’t remember what happened to them, might need to find out.
    Oh Yeah the dimple in the front right finder was in some of the models where a spare tire mount went, one the 2 we had that is where the tire was, I believe the AF one.

    • Rustowner

      While certain models had the spare tire mounted in that area, (due to room and/or equipped gear issues), most had the tires mounted on the back. The indent on the passengers side cowl is know as the “slave receptacle plug in”. It was used to jump start other vehicles or power some electrical equipment. There were two different styles of plugs used.

  2. Mike

    Here it shows on one from a Willys site showing a M38A1″D” Production Units

  3. Mike

    Here is another picture one showing the tire location, on a 53 M38A1″C” – 106 Recoilless Rifle Variant

    Like 1
    • John S Wyatt

      This is exactly true. In the 1960’s I was a gunner on the 106 on the back of the jeep. One time I remember when I was at Ft Ord in CA one of our gun jeeps was going up a steep hill and turned over backwards thankfully no one was hurt. The 106 had a spotter rifle we fired first at the target before we fired the big gun.

  4. another Bob

    On the similar era Willys CJ3Bs, that dimple was actually a cutout for a fresh air heater.
    I don’t remember ever seeing an M38A1 with the spare mounted there. It should be mounted on the rear.

    • Mike

      Hey Another Bob, look at the pictures I posted, it shows the tire mounted there!!

      • Rob L

        Yes the spare is mounted on the side on that particular vehicle, but could it have been moved so as not to interfere with the giant gun mounted in the bed?

      • Mike

        hey Rob L, those picture are not the same Jeep. The pictures are from a website on M38A1 with various armament and different styles!!

      • Mike

        Here another one showing the Battle Group Atomic Delivery System: M28 Mounted on Truck, Utility M38A1D

        See where the spare tire is mounted!!

      • Mike

        Here is the Tech manual showing the tire mounted on the fender

      • Rustowner

        While some C and D units (and other variations) had the tire mounted on the side, most had the spare mounted on the rear with a jerry can next to it. The sheet metal in that area of the cowl sides is not substantial enough to hold a spare with out some serious beef added to it. The original mounting point that was designed to hold the spare has the outer sheetmetal skin on the back of the tub with 2 pieces of “hat channel” at the top and the bottom of where the spare is normally mounted.

        Like 1
      • Rustowner

        Spare mounted there due the variant needing the space on the rear for other equipment. Here’s a vintage shot of a bunch of regular M38A1’s with the typical setup.

  5. another Bob

    The “auxiliary power plug indentation” is the triangle shaped area on the side of the hood.

    • Rustowner

      That cut out is for the fording snorkel.

    • John S Wyatt

      In the 1960’s I was a gunner/ crew member on 106 recoilless rifle on the M38 jeep during my active Army years + national guard years. As I remember the jeeps I drove etc the spare was mounted over the passenger side rear tire. It could be very unsafe due to the load distribution. I saw another jeep turn over backwards going up a steep hill. One really had to be careful. Many times we had the other three crew members sit on the front when on a steep hill.

  6. another Bob

    I saw that pic Mike and that’s s first for me. I’ve never seen a gas can mounted that way on the side either.
    But many old jeeps were modified to fit the owner’s needs/desires.

  7. Mike

    Can you imagine driving in rush hour traffic in this, I think most people would get out of your way!!!!!!

  8. Matt Tritt

    Looks like a Sears & Roebuck 1/2 cab top. Man those things were crude. If it wasn’t run with the air cleaner missing, and if it were in California, I’d buy it.

  9. Rustowner

    I’ve had several of them. Here’s the current one. Body is all stock, but nothing else is.

  10. Howard A Member

    Rustowner knows what they’re talking about. Thanks for the info. Just amazing what we did for the war effort. They cranked these out at like one per minute, ’round the clock. Hey Rustowner, what model Jeep was it you used to be able to buy ( for $75 bucks) packed in cosmoline?

    • Howard A Member

      Ran out of time, or was that an urban legend?

  11. Rustowner

    Hi Howard, as far as I know it’s just an urban legend. Some jeeps during wwII, the Willys MB and the Ford built GP, were put in crates for some forms of shipping, but I can’t imagine they were surplused that way. I have heard of people speak of these “crated surplus units” as well, but even with the advent of the internet, I have never seen proof of them. I know there were ads in the back of magazines back in the day advertising such deals, which maybe where that all started. If some one has proof positive of one, I’d love to hear from them. Hope this helps. BTW, I believe we are neighbors of sorts. I too am in the Hudson Valley

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Rustowner, actually, I’m from Wis. but have been staying with friends just outside of Kingston, near the “reservoir”. I love older Jeeps, had several, mostly 50’s pickups and wagons. I’d love to get another pickup someday, but those have really skyrocketed in price lately for a decent one. The only way I’ll get one now, is to find some farmer that doesn’t have the internet, oh yeah, I know some folks in N.Wis. still don’t even have a cell phone, and doesn’t know the value. Some sites say it was a hoax, someone took apart a Jeep, put it in a crate, took pictures of it, then took pictures of stacks of military crates. I do remember hearing it was true. In the ads of Popular Mechanix, or something, and someone got hurt with one, sued the govt. and they were all destroyed ( yeah, right, in a warehouse in Az. somewhere) Either way, this Jeep looks like a pretty good deal. It’s still at $1500. All of these in Wisconsin are mostly just plow trucks with a seat and maybe a hood left, but still plow the snow. The friends I stay with have a 06 Wrangler (4.0, 6 speed) that I can borrow, and that is probably the nicest Jeep I’ve ever driven. And other Jeep drivers wave at you. It really is a Jeep thing.

  12. Dave Wright

    I bought a bunch these through the DOD in about 1976. They had been given to the French government via lend lease when they were in Vietnam. When they surplused them they had to be sold through the US DRMO sales program. They were new, never driven. They had cosmoline coated gause material covering the instruments. They were in Barlyduc France not to far from where I lived in Germany. The rub was they had stolen the transmission/transfer cases out of them supposedly for use as spares for the ones in country. I bought 10 of them for a few hundred dollars each and sold them to an old German near Kiaserslaughtern that bought Jeeps from all over the world. He had a bunch of them that were built in India that were exact knock offs. The only 75.00 jeeps I know of were the 151’s that were sold during the time they had to be cut or crushed, they sold them by the hundreds, like the Hummers being sold right now, I really don’t think anyone made money on them, the engines and drivetrains are weird and not useful for much. The starters mount on the Transmission so they didn’t even make good power units. Off course, I started buying surplus in the early 70’s and there might have been some deals earlier.

    • Matt Tritt

      Yep. M51A1’s were the single biggest source of vehicular injuries in the Army, in Europe at any rate, during the 60’s. They had swingarm independent suspension front and back, and when travelling ABOVE the maximum speed allowed – 90 kph as I recall – on the old slow lanes of the Autobahn, they cloud work up to a dangerous bouncey cycle and veer off the road. Many Autobahn slow lanes were deformed during the war by all the heavy military traffic on them, and I do mean heavy. The concrete was still pretty green then – you get the picture. We had no less than 5 wrecked M51’s in our batallion HQ motorpool alone

  13. Kris Hobbs

    Hey Rustowner, my late father in law and his brother bought two 52 M38A1 for $100.00 each in cosmoline and cleaned it up and assemble them. They owned Moeller Bros towing and body shop in San Leandro, CA and it wasn’t enough to push his full midget. He put a Chevy Better 327 in it and Warn hubs. I bought it off him in 1985 and drove it from San Diego to Pensacola, FL and back. Wish the ex had not talked me into selling it. Looking for another to pull behind my RV.

    • Mike

      The Dad of my best friend from my high school stumbled unto a purchase of M38A1 through the DOD in the 1979, we loaded up a semi trailer of 10 of them from Ft. Sam Huston and brought them home, Randy’s Dad even made a deal with the purchasing agent to throw in some of the trailers, plus boxes that were setting around in the area. Each one of the jeeps was in a wooden crate and covered with cosmoline. We hauled them home and Jim stored them in a rented storage building, we worked nights and weekends putting them together, out of the 10 we were able to put together 9, the tenth one the body was screwed up on it when it got dropped off the forklift, but had a ton of spare parts from the extra crates Jim conned them out of, including spare motors and transmissions, Jim even conned them out of tires for them. Jim gave Randy and me both one for all of our hard work, and Randy’s brother got one, including a trailer. I sold mine many years ago, because the wife was tired of me going 4 wheeling with Randy up at St Joe State Park with it. Randy’s brother Jeff still has his with the trailer and he will have it in parades and everything sometimes. Jim drove one up until he died in 2006, and I was surprised he was not buried with it.(small inside joke)
      Oh Yeah, mine had the spare tire mounted on the back with the Jerry cans, but Jeff’s has the tire mounted on the front fender to the mount that can out from the frame to support the tire through the small dimple. It had a round tire mount bolted there .

  14. Mark P

    Years ago my father would say that on the boat returning from Europe after WWII he saw many tanks, guns and jeeps dumped overboard into the ocean during the trip. He never really spoke much about his tour, he was a battlefield medic, I’d say he saw some horrific stuff.

  15. Dennis B

    How can you find jp’s thats still in good shape????

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