Jeep Heroes - Willys Replica

July 3, 2008

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A replica of a Second World War Willys Jeep at the MD Juan factory in the Philippines
The rugged Willys jeep has been given a new lease on life by a small factory in Manila in the Philippine Islands that's reproducing the iconic Second World War vehicle for a nostalgic, but growing, international market.

The company, MD Juan, exports about 95 percent of its production to collectors, mainly in the US and Europe, and plant manager Roberto Cruz says American collectors want their jeeps as authentic as possible - complete with imperfections and wood and rubber instead of plastic.

"The purists," he said, "they want it correct to the smallest detail. If you make the body too nice, they don't like itThe engines are usually left to the buyer; the company can't do engine rebuilds."

MD Juan sells about 1500 jeeps a year, most to order, but the engines are usually left to the buyer; the company can't do engine rebuilds.

European and US collectors prefer to have carefully restored original jeep engines in their vehicle, says Cruz, while the few Filipino collectors are content to install a modern Toyota or Isuzu engine.

"They would laugh at such jeeps in the US," he said. "We don't sell running units. If we did, whatever profit we made would be eaten up by warranty claims."

He declined to talk prices but said a fully restored jeep sold recently on e-Bay for $30 000 (about R235 000).

"Most of the buyers are veterans who have a romance with the jeep," he said, but there were younger collectors entranced by the wartime history of the vehicle.

"Everywhere America fought there are people who remember the jeep," he said 'Everywhere America fought there are people who remember the jeep'. "It was the original 4x4, the original all-terrain vehicle."

The US produced more than 600 000 during the Second World War and they played a crucial role in the Pacific and European theaters. Allied commander and later US president Dwight Eisenhower said the jeep was crucial to the Allied victory.

Nor is it surprising that a Filipino company should specialize in replicas of these jeeps; US military surplus jeeps were often the only form of automotive transport available to many Filipinos as the newly-independent country was recovering from wartime devastation.

Enterprising Filipinos extended their bodies, added seats, a fixed roof and gaudy decorations to produce the jeepney, a mini-bus that is still a cornerstone of commuter transport here, as well as a symbol of the Philippines itself.

Stamping plant

Maximiano D. Juan started MD Juan in 1966 importing jeep parts for the jeepneys. But as the supply of surplus parts dried up and more jeepneys switched to using imported Japanese engines, the same people who once supplied jeep parts asked if he could provide reproduction parts for their vintage jeeps.

The company set up a stamping plant that eventually grew to making body panels – then complete bodies - for jeep restorations.

Juan's grandson Raphael said about 80 percent of its jeeps were exported to the US. France and the Netherlands were also big buyers.