Only 1 Jeep Came From The Factory Ready to Drive Underwater
Jeep 4x4s have proven themselves capable in countless environments. The Wrangler even once held the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude achieved by a vehicle that isn’t, you know, an aircraft. And while you can order a Wrangler with a snorkel intake, it isn’t engineered to operate underwater indefinitely. But one historic Jeep actually came from the factory, fully modified to drive underwater indefinitely: the 1950 Jeep CJ35/U specially built for the United State Marine Corps. But with the direction this brand is going, it probably won’t be the last Jeep with this capability.
The 1950 Jeep CJV35/U may be the rarest military Jeep ever
Mike Wixom is an off-roading enthusiast. Back in 2008, he bought a 1950 Jeep CJ to modify as a rock crawler. But as he began poking around his old Jeep, he discovered it wasn’t a regular CJ. Someone had not only fit the 4×4 with an air intake snorkel, but its exhaust pipe had a second snorkel. Instead of a back seat, it had some strange bracketry. And finally, someone had painted the thing military green–down to the frame.
Wixom was intrigued. He used the Freedom of Information Act to search government records for military version of the Jeep CJ built in 1950. But the records showed no military Jeeps ordered between WWII and the Korean War. It was another civilian who eventually showed Wixom an old service manual for a 1950 Jeep CJ35/U. This 4×4 had been specially-ordered by the Marine Corps to be fully submersible.
It would be a shame to turn such a unique vehicle into a rock crawler, so Wixom restored his CJ35/U. Since then, he has located and restored additional Jeep 35/Us. In the process, he’s made some interesting discoveries.
The Navy special-ordered a submersible Jeep
Wixom discovered that the Navy contracted 1,000 special, submersible Jeeps from Willy-Overland in 1950. The Jeep company started with a third-generation civilian Jeep (the CJ-3A), painted a unique shade of military green. Then in the Toledo, Ohio plant, they heavily modified each vehicle. But not all CJ35/Us were the same.
The CJV35/U often came outfitted with a radio instead of a back seat. This radio was operated by a generator attached to the PTO, and both units were fully waterproofed. Over the model run, it appears that the Navy asked for the radio located in multiple locations, and even requested some units with no radio at all.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the CJ35/U is its ability to drive underwater. Many vehicles can ford a river if they keep moving forward. But the Navy requested a vehicle that could sit still and operate underwater indefinitely. To this end, Jeep plumbed the transmission vents, transfer case vents, brake master cylinder, fuel tank vents, and even vacuum-driven windshield wiper system to snorkels at the front and rear of the vehicle. The CJ even has a fully waterproof distributor built for aircraft by Bendix-Scintilla.
So what did the Navy want with these unique Jeeps? The original plan was to use them for USMC reconnaissance/observation teams. The radio system was a must-have because the Navy needed its USMC teams to direct aircraft and artillery fire. But few of these vehicles were pressed into duty, and the Navy actually gave many of them to other government agencies. Wixom even found one amphibious Jeep still in use as a snow plow.
The return of the underwater Jeep
The CJ35/U is a fun blast from the past. But what goes around comes around, and this military CJ3-A won’t be the last submersible Jeep.
My colleague Allison Barfield covered the new Jeep Wangler Xtreme Recon trim which boasts 33.6 inches of water-fording capabilities. But soon, even this may be child’s play. Jeep has already acknowledged that its upcoming electric vehicles don’t need an air intake or an exhaust, and if properly prepped, they could cruise along entirely underwater. Maybe the Navy will order some submersible Jeep Recon EVs.
Next, learn how to drive through 3 feet of water in the Rivian electric truck or see one of Mike Wixom’s Jeep CJ35/Us for yourself in the video below: