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USMC Variant

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(Scott Gray - Reprinted with permission)
This vehicle is owned by Scott Gray  The color and markings are not of USMC nature (albeit blasphemous to the purists yet easily changed) but rather a tribute to my father and our shared project.  


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USMC M38A1 Spec. Overview

The United States Marine Corp. after WWII knew it had specific requirements and concerns to be addressed brought about by the environments and conditions encountered from the Pacific and other theaters of operation.  In particular they recognized the need for rust protection and further under extreme tropical wet conditions (Burma, Indochina, and the Marianas) the need for locking differentials.  They also formulated a firm doctrine that was heretofore only expressed as a “guideline” and that was the use of minimal markings as such “obvious” displays of large identification and recognition may well lead to more casualties than it avoids. Now if one does any research with USMC Motor pool Veterans of the period you quickly hear of field expedients and makeshift modifications designed to address the issues at Pool (or even Field) level. These field expedient modifications were varied and typically difficult to document. Although I have collected a broad database of the modifications they won't be discussed in detail here.

One first must understand that the evolution of the “Truck ¼ ton” that was used by all branches is a fairly simple path to follow but when looked at in a more detailed perspective the evolution and models become a little fuzzier. From the Navy beach modifications of the MB to the Air Force requirements of the M151 there were often modifications that lead to the standardization of the modifications up to the complete redesign of the subsequent model. Thus it lead some branches feeling a little less enthusiastic about the “new” improved version if it didn’t meet their “needs”. This is exactly why the USMC placed an NSN supply request in the early 1960’s with Kaiser to continue to produce for them exclusively the USMC M38A1. They quite simply were “unimpressed” with the new standard m151 and had such outstanding service from the A1 in Korea and afterwards that a bold decision was made and surprisingly accepted to allow the order to be fulfilled (which actually the full order wasn’t). Many have told the story of the USMC testing the M151 and finding its “handling” to be sub par. While the testing was in fact done and the Corp. had specific problems and reservations, the reality is that it was more due to the success & fondness for their A1’s that was the motivating factor.

I have spoken with numerous USMC (and other) users over the past years and almost invariably ALL said that the M38A1 was perhaps the best utility vehicle ever assigned the services and many of these men had experience with all four (MB thorough the M151). I have also spoke with one particular USMC motor pool sergeant (ret. Msgt. Vernon Pike ) who spent the better part of Korea (in country) and the years following maintaining the M38A1 and perhaps he said it best. When the situation involved harsh terrain or severe conditions “those damn things were unstoppable”.  

Willys Mfr. USMC differences – 1952 to 1957

These early M38A1’s were typically requisitioned directly from US Army stores and as such NOT made specifically for the USMC. There is still debate whether the time period from 1955-1957 there was a contract but I have found no record to date. It does seem that the examples I have seen this late have “signs” of original USMC paint and modifications but the sample size doesn’t allow a firm conclusion to be made. It can for the most part be assumed that the modifications to USMC spec were done either/both at main Depot level (i.e. Toelle, Letterkenny, etc) or at division level. Also its very important to remember that although the following differences are usually found there are numerous examples known to be original that don’t have ALL the same modifications.

1-     Undercoating to include floor bottom, frame exterior, hood underside and firewall bottom. (approximately 60-70% of those documented)

2-     Reinforced rear bumper not less than 3/16 plate attached and welded to provide support and rigidity for lift ring relocation (I've never seen one without this mod.)

3-     HD lift rings front and HD lift rings relocated in rear to allow easier access for off shore and loading mobility (almost always found on USMC’s)

4-     Limited slip differential (this one is really hit or miss but seems to be common on those vehicles late in this production run and sometimes found only be in the rear axle)

5-     Sealed bellcrank for clutch (are true rarity but ONLY seen on USMC vehicles)

6-     USMC 34052 forest green paint and flat yellow numbering on hood ONLY. There were also little or no other markings (stars, tp’s, etc) on USMC vehicles.


Kaiser Mfr. USMC differences 1960-1967

These were the actual USMC contract trucks that were delivered specifically to the Marine Corp (and a few Naval vehicles).

ALL of the same modifications as the early A1’s were implemented plus you will often see the typical Kaiser differences (front fender and battery box changes).

Then in approximately 1962/63 you begin seeing what may have been the typical supply superceding of obsolete parts and the use of hybrid items on the contract A1’s. I have seen numerous late USMC A1’s with non-YS carbs that are more like the late NON waterproof XE series. You will often see late in the contract the use of a different air cleaner assembly, similar to the ones being used on the 151 series.

The photos shown here are of a 1952 USMC M38A1 that I have the disposition records for and interestingly enough has been in service with the USMC, the Army (82nd @ Benning), and finally the USAF at our local base as a “follow me” before it was “liberated” and stored for the next 15 years by a Lt. Col. friend who called me before retiring out west and asked that I return it to its glory. The A1 received a 100pt restoration by my father and I and finished in the the exact numbers of the Transport Co. Jeep he drove in Germany that we had photos of him in . Thus the color and markings are not of USMC nature (albeit blasphemous to the purists yet easily changed) but rather a tribute to my father and our shared project.

I’d also like to thank those who have contributed data and invaluable info over the years including Jerry Sinclair, Robert Bues, Joe “Greasy” Krupp, Harold West, George Baxter, and all the others I don’t have space to thank. The info and study isn’t even close to complete and only by scouring the Mil salvage yards down south or the Depot records still existing will we learn more about the USMC’s use of the A1.  Enjoy these rare variants (easily less than 10%) and keep em’ rollin!


Scott Gray with Combat Restorations


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