John Burleigh Utility Jeep

Jeep makeovers. Did we mention this month is a station wagon special?! Well, they say necessity is the mother of invention and that was most certainly true after the war in this country, when attempts were made to create this rather unattractive brace of wagons from ex-military Jeeps. Yikes!

Richard Heseltine From here to obscurity

This month’s instalment of American automotive weirdness has a decidedly British and wagon-like twist. It also encompasses more than one car, but there is a common denominator: the Willys Jeep and its Ford-made sibling. Scroll back to the end of the Second World War, and austerity measures ensured that there wasn’t an end to the ‘make do and mend’ mentality. Quite the opposite. Few people could afford a new car, not that showrooms were well-stocked anyway.

John Burleigh Utility Jeep

John Burleigh Utility Jeep

As factories returned to ‘civilian’ manufacture, raw materials were allocated to firms which exported their wares; accordingly, there was little in the way of available stock at home, which ensured that used cars were highly prized; even an old banger that you otherwise wouldn’t look sideways at.

The mid- to late-Forties did, however, witness a short-lived boom period for reconditioned or, more accurately, repurposed vehicles. Many of these used the Jeep as a basis. There were plenty of them about, after all, and several enterprising enthusiasts and businesses adapted them to suit non-military requirements. Perhaps the best-known converter, all things being relative, was London-based John Burleigh (Automobiles) Ltd. It began building ‘Woodie’ variants of Willys and Ford Jeeps in 1947, initially on standard wheelbase platforms. Two years later, it followed through with the Utility Jeep pictured here, which was that bit more ambitious.

For starters, this newest strain featured a chassis lengthened by 508mm (20in), with the petrol tank relocated to the rear. According to promotional bumf from the period, ‘…the new model has an improved body of greater capacity. It is framed in ash and panelled with metal, and has bench-type seats. There is a single door on the right-hand side, and two doors on the left-hand side. The rear is removable and a tailboard is fitted.’ In many ways, this was a proto-SUV, the firm going so far as to give it more car-like styling. As to whether it was successful or not rather depends on your aesthetic sensibilities. And the price of this remodelled off-roader? It could have been yours for a not-inconsiderable £575 (that’s roughly £20k in new money). As to how many punters were tempted, your guess is as good as ours. The same goes for when operations ceased. As far as we can ascertain, that was around 1951-1952.

Of all the many home-brewed Jeep makeovers, perhaps the most extreme was that built by James C. Carmichael, an aircraft designer from Southampton. On January 1, 1947, he set about converting a Willys of indeterminate age to his own design. Distinct from the Burleigh and other ostensibly similar conversions, this one didn’t bear even trace elements of the factory outline. For starters, the bare body and wings were taken from a 1937 Chevrolet and chopped and reconfigured for this new application. This was quite an involved job, the tailboard and area around the rear window, for example, being fabricated from two Chevy doors which were cut ’n’ shut.

What’s more, Carmichael and a friend built the car in just seven months. The only part they didn’t tackle themselves was the paint, with two coats of bronze being applied by a professional. It may not have been the most attractive of vehicles, but you cannot help but admire the can-do spirit evident here.

As to what happened to the car subsequently, it’s all a bit of a mystery. We know of no Burleigh survivors, either, more’s the pity…

Rear view of the Carmichael Jeep conversion. Carmichael Jeep conversion.

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