by Bart McNeil
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There is one particular civilian hardtop which owes so much to its military predecessor, that it should not be mentioned without discussing its military origins -- the Arctic Top.
A hard top on military jeeps was not a brand new idea in the 1950's. Around the end of World War II, cold weather hard tops as seen here were being manufactured at a plant in Steyr, Austria. Photo from Jim Allen's collection.
The Steyr tops have unusually wide doors, reaching back about ten inches behind the opening of the rear wheel well. The rear section of the large window apparently swings open for ventilation. The Steyr doors are hinged to the diagonal windshield frame and swing open and up, so that when fully opened the bottom angled section is above the front fender. (See what happens when a similar door is opened on an Icelandic hardtop (50K JPEG) in the movie Children Of Nature.) This allows the widest possible opening for entering and exiting the jeep.
The military commissioned a cold weather top, or "closure," for use on the new M-38 Jeep which went into production in 1950. The cold weather closure, nicknamed the "arctic top," saw action during the Korean war, and has a reputation as being the best-built aluminum top manufactured for either military or civilian Jeeps.
In a brief article discussing this "arctic top" in West Coast Willys, a Jeep owners' newsletter, the actual name of the top is quoted from the Willys-Overland identifying tag: "Cab-Closure Hard Top." We should really use that designation, because the term "arctic top" was only a nickname for the W-O military top. The actual trade name "Arctic Top" belonged to the civilian top made by Metro Engineering (see below.)
In this example the closure is used on a World War II GPW which is incorrect, but it fits perfectly. If we compare this "arctic top" with those tops manufactured in Steyr prior to the end of World War II, there are some interesting differences.
When the M-38 closure was designed, the Stehr door hinged to the sloping windshield was not chosen as an adequate solution. It was possibly too dangerous as it could crush careless fingers when swinging shut. Instead, the standard M-38 windshield was discarded and replaced with a modified windshield which was set in the vertical position. The arms go straight down and bolt directly to the cowl. The reason for this change of position of the windshield is most likely that it allows the door to open on a vertical hinge, eliminating the dangers of the Steyr door.
In the installation instructions, the term "arctic top" is not used. This diagram provided by Wes Knettle from the manual, shows the differences between the hardtop windshield and the standard M-38 (or CJ-3A) windshield. The windshield arms go straight down instead of bending forward to a pivot. The Jeep can be driven using this windshield with the top removed (see Mark Hallenbeck's M38, 20K JPEG) but the top does not fold down.
Full winter equipment would also include a gas-operated heater (70K JPEG) mounted ooutside on the cowl, with hot air ducted through the vent in the windshield frame (photo by Roberto Bruciamonti.)
If the military Humvee built by AM General is reminiscent of a jeep with an "Arctic Top" it is in part because the windshield and door operate the same way, the windshield being vertical and serving as a solid door jamb, allowing it to swing safely shut.
Some civilian Jeeps owners have fitted the original M-38 "arctic top" to their vehicles. Here Charlie Eccher has installed one on his 1953 CJ-3B. The windshield frame had to be disconnected and moved to vertical, but apparently did not need to be modified for the top to work; notice the changed position of the windshield arm pivot. See more photos in Snow Jeeps on The CJ3B Page.
The "arctic top" door has a two-pane sliding window, probably the largest area of door glass until the mid-1950's when Koenig built its Super Cab with full-sized doors and windows.
In fact there is a civilian near-copy of the M-38 closure which has no connection with Willys-Overland or the U.S. military. It is similar in appearance but there are differences. In this photo a civilian Arctic Top is seen installed on a World War II MB. The door looks caved in but it was designed that way to manage the angle in the tub side. In the civilian version (as on the military version) the ventilating windshield is unique to the top and cannot be used as a standard windshield on an MB, 2A, or 3A/3B. Photo courtesy Jim Allen.
Randy Andrews has a civilian Arctic Top in very nice condition on his 1947 CJ-2A. His top has a tag identifying it as the "Arctic Top" and the manufacturer as Metro Engineering and Manufacturing Co. of Detroit, Michigan. Technically, because it is the brand name and not a nickname, this civilian version is the real "Arctic Top."
Both the military and the civilian version of the Arctic Top are impressive and carry a message of tough seriousness. If a permanent all-season head-turning top is what you need, either the military or civilian version might be worth seeking out. The military versions I've noticed for sale are reasonably priced.
Thanks to Kurt Willinger and Gene Gurney's The American Jeep in War and Peace for some history. -- Bart McNeil
Elsewhere on the web, see an Arctic Top under restoration in Montana.
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