Ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated with the unknown. If there was a TV show on about ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster or sasquatches, I was surely watching it! Sure, my sleeping habits were probably hampered as a result but I couldn’t help myself and at that age, sleeping was over-rated anyway. There was just something mysteriously captivating about such lore. I craved to view the evidence, however darkly lit or grainy it might appear, and then make a decision for myself. I wouldn’t even say that I was skeptical. Deep down I wanted to believe, I just wanted to see for myself. I remember the first time I saw the choppy 8mm video footage of what appears to be a Bigfoot walking across a partially open field that looked like it was in the process of being clear-cut. My heart skipped a beat! Heck, the creature even turned his head toward the camera mid-stride as if he knew he was being taped. I was convinced this thing was real, even if there had been an obvious zipper seam going up the front of the suit. I was a whole-hearted believer!
While hunting for Yetis in the Pacific Northwest and setting traps for the chupacabra have little, if anything, to do with Jeeps; there is an element of Jeeps colorful history that provides me the same sort of puzzling curiosity- the question of the first or original Jeep hardtop. While Jeep hardtops are as commonplace today as a traffic jam, this was not always the case. It’s a tall order to substantiate exactly when they came into existence.
I think it’s a fairly safe bet that a rigid, removable hard top was not anything that the factory concerned themselves with until the civilian Jeep, or CJ as they were known, had made its way to the farms and roadways of America. In fact, it’s not very easy to find any photographic evidence of a hard top mounted on an early model military Jeep at all, at least not one captured in black & white film as the period would dictate. And then you find one…
Commonly, when you do find them, the tops depicted are obvious works of a craftsman skilled in some form of engineering outside the realm of the automobile. They are often contrived of wood, aluminum or some other building material pliable enough to be scabbed to a Jeep tub. They may have windows OR they may not. If so equipped, they will not likely be windows of a uniform size. I guess that’s why the picture above is so intriguing to me. It’s obviously a WWII-era Jeep and, based on the snow-covered banks in the background and the makeshift heat-capturing canopy covering the lap of the driver in the foreground, someone has made an exerted effort to devise a hardtop to keep the warm in and the cold out. And it looks like it belongs on the Jeep and not fitted with wheels and pulled behind your station wagon.
By the late 1940’s and early 50’s, there were any number of companies that had ventured into the uncharted waters of Jeep hardtops and offered their wares to the civilian CJ drivers en mass. Sears & Roebuck, Koenig, Metro, Willys New England, Carson and JC Whitney, just to name a few and it’s fair to say that these companies were pretty good at what they did. Each had their own distinct designs and features and possessed an existence that can be well-documented through photos from the day. Again, largely captured in color film that would lead me to believe that they were existing comfortably in the 1950’s when color film had become affordable enough for common use. So, is it even possible to tell who may have been the first to craft and even manufacture hardtop for the Jeep?
In early 1946, surplus Jeeps that were left over from the war were treated to a custom “winterizing” by the construction of a crude sheet metal cab that was pop-riveted to the body tub as a means of separating the Jeeps driver from the harsh winter elements. The work was performed by Japanese citizens at the Showa Army Air Base in Japan under the watchful eye of U.S. military personnel using leftover airplane materials and a calloused disregard for aerodynamics. While this could possibly be the first documented hard top for a Jeep, it is certainly not of the “removable” variety and, by way of its semi-permanent method of install, is more likely a necessity than an accessory that can be removed at will like we are accustomed to today.
So, despite the really cool black & white pictures of the Jeeps with suspected early prototype hard tops, I would have to concede that the first actual removable hard top could probably be credited to an aftermarket company and offered for sale only pages away from grandma’s girdle and pop’s thermal underwear. However disappointing that might seem, I’m gonna keep my chin up and keep looking until I know the truth. Besides, I’m pretty sure I saw a sasquatch cresting the snowy bank in the background behind one of those Jeeps. OlllllllO