by Bart McNeil
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I have an almost photographic image in my memory of a Jeep with a very unusual top. A top so different that just a glance told me it must be an expensive alternative to a standard CJ-3A top. Whether in fact I saw it, or whether I remember a photo from the 1970's when I when I bought my first 3A, I'm not sure; the photos in the Car Craft Jeep Body brochure also show us that this is a hard top worth taking note of. The Carson half top (right) was one of the few to offer a rear window which opened for ventilation.
See the full page on the 3A Half Top (170K JPEG) from the 1949 Willys Overland Equipment Book.
The Carson Machine & Supply Company of Oklahoma City offered these interesting hard tops. Todd Kerzic provided images from Carson advertising for both the CJ-2A and 3A.
Carson was one of those select manufacturers of hard tops to be Willys-Overland approved, and included in the W-O accessories book (left). Domestic dealers were to order from Carson Machine while export orders were to go through Willys-Overland. The tops themselves are unique among hard tops, very carefully thought out and offering features and flexibility no other brand offered.
The CJ-3A tops feature a "bomber type" reinforced aluminum body. The aircraft aluminum is attached to an angle-channel interior frame. Unlike most aluminum tops, the aluminum skin serves very little, if any, structural function. The structural members are visible behind the window glass in many of the photos. This "bomber" construction allows much larger windows and greater visibility than on any other hard top of the time. Exposing the structural elements and even celebrating them as part of the design concept is common now, but in the 1940's it was daringly modern.
Looking closely at this photo one can see that the roof comes to a kind of point at its center. The brochure describes the roof this way: "Exclusive 'Arch' top design prevents side sway and reduces vibration." Whether it worked as described or not, the shape is unique to the Car Craft 3A top.
The most innovative element on the top can be found in its doors. The cranked window is a parallelogram which rides up and down diagonal tracks. This system is the first to solve the difficulties of Jeep door windows, which were usually small and always awkward to open and use comfortably. The parallelogram window allows it to be lowered into the only door opening space available and thus can be opened enough that the driver can signal comfortably and rest an arm on the sill of the opened window. Car Craft tops had some of the widest door openings among aluminum hard tops with front hinged doors. They attached a piano hinge at the vertical cowl edge of the tub so that very little entrance space was lost. This might have been possible due to the light weight of aircraft aluminum and a short, though very substantial, piano hinge.
See the full page on the 3A Jeep Top (170K JPEG) from the 1949 Willys Overland Equipment Book.
An optional passenger-side door modified for postal delivery was available in the 2A and 3A tops at no additional cost. This is very interesting as it shows that long before Willys attempted to sell Jeeps designed for the Post Office, rural mail delivery was part of Carson's thinking (see Delivery Jeep Bodies). It is a door within a door, which swings up inside the cab. With some effort the driver could reach over and deliver mail to a rural mail box, but right hand drive would have been a real bonus. Todd Kerzic mentions that Carson also sold a "third seat". This was a center seat allowing the driver to slide into position to more easily deliver mail.
Although the Car Craft top may not have been a commercial success in the 1950's, its influence is seen in how later tops such as those made by Meyer solved the door and window problems.
A different door hinge configuration seen on the CJ-2A tops allowed the door to be swung out and up so that it rested over the fender. This allowed a huge amount of access to the interior.
While the 2A information sheets claim "Bomber" construction, the tops actually appear to be conventionally designed. The rear and tailgate windows on the 2A are much smaller than on the 3A. Also note the conventional roof shape. With the exception of the door and its opening, this aluminum top appears quite ordinary. This style door, while used on a few brands of 2A tops, was discontinued by the 3A era. It was undoubtedly too dangerous to be popular.
See the full page from the 1948 Willys Overland Equipment Book (170K JPEG.)
Gordon Solomon of Hays, Kansas has a Carson top with the optional postal delivery window, on his 1948 CJ-2A. The Jeep was purchased for work on the Solomon farm. Period photos from his family show the door windows on the top as two-pane horizontally sliding windows. A photo of the right side (35K JPEG) shows that the postal window works identically to the driver's side window, with sliding panes; however the entire unit is hinged at the top and can swing inward.
Gordon writes, "Dad remembered that supposedly the aluminum skin for the tops was purchased from the Boeing plant in Wichita after the war. The story was that it was leftover material from B-29 bomber assembly lines. I don't know if it is true but I have heard the same story from two old timers that bought Jeeps back in the forties."
The story sounds reasonable, particularly since Carson promoted the "bomber" connection in its advertising.
The split rear window may suggest the weakness of sheet aluminum as opposed to steel. The large window may have needed the additional strength of the center divider as seen also on the Porter and Reed aluminum top. It appears that the rear gate is hinged at the side.
Lots of fine 2A detail is seen in this photo (80K JPEG). Because the Jeep was not purchased with a canvas top there was no need for footman loops and the six rear loops have not been installed. The original NACO taillight and reflector are also seen, as well as the earliest 4 Wheel Drive tailgate stencil, first used in 1947.
The inclusion of a rough imitation of "Eugene the Jeep" from the comic strip Popeye in the Carson brochure is interesting, in that there is no acknowledgement of E. C. Segar's copyright on the character Eugene the Jeep. This is especially surprising when the character is used for commercial purposes. Perhaps in the 1940's copyrights were not so vigorously defended as now.
Elsewhere on the web, see more details on Eugene the Jeep.
Thanks to Todd Kerzic for scanning the brochures, Gordon Solomon for his family photos, and Bart for his research. -- Derek Redmond
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