Why is there so much confusion about the identity of ex-French army jeeps?

Immediately after the war the French government acquired about 22,000 MB & GPW jeeps from the American government to re-establish its army. Only about half of these were in good usable order. The jeeps were either purchased  as 'War Surplus' or supplied under 'Lend-Lease' arrangements. Others were simply recovered as badly damaged scrap vehicles which had been abandoned.

In 1946 the workshops of E.R.G.M.( Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) at La Maltournée near Paris began the task of repairing and rebuilding the jeep stock. In reality it was not just a workshop but a factory complete with a production line for assembling 'like new' jeeps from refurbished parts. This work continued until 1978 and the jeeps it produced contained an ever greater mix of Ford, Willys & Hotchkiss parts as time went on resulting in much confusion about the identity of so many French army jeeps.

Part 1 - The early years and ITM jeeps 1946 - 1956

In the early years (1946 - 1956) only jeeps of WW2 origin passed through the E.R.G.M. works at La Maltournée. Jeeps that required only minor repairs or modifications e.g. conversion to 12 volt were lucky in a way in that they retained their original MB or GPW chassis identity which would be retained until they were finally demobbed and sold at auction.

Badly damaged / scrap jeeps were less lucky as they were completely stripped down to component parts. These parts were reconditioned in specialist facilities within the factory then 'like new' jeeps were reassembled on a production line or 'chaine'. Unfortunately these jeeps lost their original chassis identity and were given a new ITM chassis number and date of birth. ITM stands for 'Inspection Technique du Material' which indicates that the jeeps were not given their new identity until they had been accepted as meeting the required standard by the army. On the whole refurbished WW2 parts were used to construct these 'like new' jeeps but in the early 1950s Hotchkiss started making spare parts for Willys jeeps under licence in France so inevitably some WOF (Willys Overland France) stamped parts would have merged into the pool of vehicle parts.

The ITM series of numbers includes both jeeps and jeep trailers which were also being completely reconditioned at the la Maltournée factory making it difficult to accurately date an ITM jeep from its number. When finally sold at auction during the 1970s onwards, ITM jeeps were also often described generically as '42 Willys MB' , 'Willys MB', Willys US 1948 model. References to specific years 1942 - 1945 does not necessarily indicate the origin of the WW2 chassis in question it was simply a generic term used to describe the type of vehicle.

If you own a jeep with an ITM chassis number and have always wondered about when it was actually made the you may find the following details useful:

  ITM      year
10059 - 1947
16143 - 1947
16233 - 1948
17871 - 1949
17923 - 1950
18521 - 1950
21002 - 1952
24660 - 1952
33529 - 1953
37225 - 1953
37764 - 1954
    ITM      year
40164 - 1954
40232 - 1955
41072 - 1955
41113 - 1956
41129 - 1956
41931 - 1958
42322 - 1958
42338 - 1959
45846 - 1959
52121 - 1960
53094 - 1960

These details can be used as a rough guide remembering that the series includes trailers. Interestingly, I have found no examples of ITM jeeps made in 1957 and it would appear that WW2 GPWs and MBs were losing their American Ford and Willys identities to become ITM jeeps up until 1960.

In 1955/56 Hotchkiss began manufacturing M201 jeeps under licence in France. Until 1960 these were all 6 volt models and by 1957 badly damaged Hotchkiss M201s were already starting to turn up at the la Maltournée workshops in increasing numbers to be rebuilt. These retained their M201 chassis number but the Hotchkiss parts started to merge with the pool of reconditioned WW2 parts and from this time onwards all rebuilt jeeps leaving the works contained a mix of Willys, Ford and Hotchkiss parts. It is therefore not surprising that French army jeeps can be puzzling when it comes to identifying their origin. The descriptions given in the auction catalogues also add to this confusion as the extract below demonstrates.

  Lot 495 is a post-war Hotchkiss M201 despite the reference to 'Willys' as are lots 496, 497, 498, 499, 500 & 501. Sometimes the chassis number is shown with lots of leading zeros, sometimes not - don't read anything into this.

Lot 502 is, or more correctly was, originally a Willys MB dating from 1942 - note the six digit chassis number. It was however rebuilt in 1970 (605 registration number) and so the chassis would have been the only part remaining from the original vehicle, the rest of which would have been reassembled from a mix of refurbished WW2 and post-war French parts.

Lot 503 is a VLTT. Note its ITM chassis number and date. It was constructed from a complete mix of refurbished WW2 jeep parts in 1956 and the American origin of the chassis lost. It was rebuilt again in 1970 (the 605 registration number) and at the time of sale would also have contained a good mix of refurbished Willys, Ford and Hotchkiss parts.

 

Four special MALT jeeps

Jeeps re-manufactured from WW2 parts at La Maltournée are often referred to as 'Malt jeeps'. However, the term more correctly applies to four specially prepared jeeps, Malt 1, 2, 3 & 4. These were used at shows where they would be driven into the arena by a team of four men who proceeded to dismantle the jeep. The parts were then passed through a small opening before being reassembled on the other side and finally driven back out of the arena - all in less than ten minutes! Various special modifications made this possible, e.g. the bodywork being divided into two parts.

The M201 in the photo MALT 3/4 was actually M201 No. 5079 and began life with the registration 074 725 before being rebuilt for display work.

One last point to make is that whilst the majority of rebuilding work was carried out at la Maltournée some jeeps were rebuilt at other regional workshops like Clermont Ferrand and contract work was also carried out by workshops outside France e.g. ITM jeeps were also produced in Germany during the 1950s by WERK HATTINGEN (RUHR). These sometimes have body tubs made under licence in Germany by ESKANOR.

 

Part 2 - A 'Hotchpotch' or 'Jeep Salad' rebuilt from the 60s and 70s

Two other factors were to add to the growing confusion of parts on jeeps leaving la Maltournée. In mid 1960 Hotchkiss introduced the definitive 24 volt M201 model which would in turn add another variable into the rebuilding programme. The second factor was that an increasing number of WW2 / ITM jeeps built in the 1940s and 1950s started to turn up at la Maltournée in need of a second rebuild.

For a period the la Maltournée works continued to produce batches of either 6 or 12 volt rebuilt jeeps but by mid 1963 this included batches of 24 volt models. This system of rebuilding on a like for like basis continued until 1965 when the first batch of 24 volt jeeps was produced from what had previously been 6 volt jeeps. To achieve this 6 volt body tubs were modified and converted to the new 24 volt specification. It is common to see these adapted tubs with  floor starter switch holes welded up, twin aerial brackets at the back etc.

From 1965 onwards all 6 volt jeeps were upgraded to the full 24 volt M201 specification as part of the rebuild programme apart from an occasional small batch of 6 volt models required by a particular regiment. The factory continued to rebuild 12 volt jeeps in batches until 1968 but from 1969 onwards all jeeps (MBs, GPWs, ITMs and M201s) rebuilt at la Maltournée left in the 24 volt 'Hotchkiss' format. This continued to be the case  until the factory finally closed in 1978. It is therefore not surprising that many MBs, GPWs, ITM and early Hotchkiss jeeps all ended up looking pretty much the same and often being wrongly described as 'Hotchkiss M201s'.

One final point about the activities of E.R.G.M at la Maltournée is that the rebuild programme included the conversion of standard jeeps to carry weapons like missile launchers, anti tank guns etc. Again this was carried out in batches. As early weapons systems like the SS11 and ENTAC became obsolete these jeeps were converted to later systems like MILAN. The final output of jeeps in 1978 consisted of MILAN missile launchers like the example below (which has had the launching post removed). Its registration indicates that it was produced during the final year of la Maltournée. In all, a total of 39,256 jeeps (including Delahayes) were rebuilt at La Maltournée.

La Maltournée VLTT production
Period   No.   Period   No.
1948-50   4941   1971-72   2387
1951-55   3208   1973-74   2103
1956-60   7704   1975-76   1345
1961-65   9998   1977   363
1966-70   7020   1978   187
The closure of La Maltournée meant that all jeeps were now sold at auction as they were withdrawn from service. These included good examples that had been withdrawn as well as accident damaged or worn out examples.

A sale in January 1978 included four lots each containing 10 tonnes of dismantled / scrap jeeps.  It seems likely that these had been dismantled ready for rebuilding but with the end of the rebuilding programme in sight they were abandoned as scrap instead.

Case Study 1: ITM 0016913

Based on its ITM serial number this 12 volt jeep was originally 'created' from a refurbished Willys chassis and other recycled WW2 parts at la Maltournée in about 1949 / 1950. By 1965 it was in need of rebuilding and passed through the la Maltournée works for a second time (see rebuild plate below left) but it remained a 12 volt model (main data plate). The photo shows the location of the additional battery box between the front seats that forms part of this conversion.

I am grateful to Wallie G Fryer in the US for providing the photos of his ITM jeep. If you are wondering how a significant number of French army WW2 / ITM jeeps ended up in the US then I believe this to be the result of Lend-Lease terms under which jeeps 'loaned' to the French at the end of the war. Ultimately jeeps had to be returned in good working order. I doubt that they actually got the same jeeps back though!

Case study 2: MB 326052

Based on its chassis number this Willys MB jeep was originally made in 1944 and after the war passed to the French army. The fact that it retained its MB chassis number throughout its use indicates that it was in good condition and did not need an immediate rebuild otherwise it would have become an ITM jeep. It did, however, require rebuilding by 1967 when it passed through la Maltournée (see plate below). It was then rebuilt as part of a batch of jeeps that were retained as 6 volt models.

 

MALT PLATES

All jeeps (MB / GPW / ITM & M201) passing through the rebuild programme at la Maltournée received a works number which was recorded on a plate welded to the chassis. The location of this plate is shown below. If the glove box data plate has been removed from your jeep then it is still possible to work out when it was rebuilt from this number using the data I have collected so far.

Photo and location diagram - JLM

  MALT   Year   MALT   Year  
  23842 - 1963   35632 - 1971  
  24063 - 1964   35964 - 1971  
  25987 - 1964   36909 - 1972  
  26360 - 1965   37114 - 1972  
  26813 - 1965   37916 - 1973  
  27847 - 1966   38396 - 1973  
  29305 - 1966   38928 - 1974  
  30623 - 1967   39201 - 1974  
  32457 - 1968   39543 - 1975  
  32787 - 1969   40276 - 1975  
  34149 - 1969   40871 - 1976  
  34260 - 1970   41215 - 1976  
  35039 - 1970   41337 - 1977  

Case study 4: MB 6683

From time to time reports come in from owners with jeeps of French origin that are MB's but with odd chassis numbers like 6683. (the Willys chassis number series started at 100,000). Such jeeps would normally be considered as ITM jeeps but examples like no. 6683 do not have ITM stamped on them with a seven digit serial number including leading zeros. So jeeps like MB 6683 are neither true Willys nor are they ITM jeeps. The mystery was solved recently when I came across an ex-fire service MB that had been rebuilt at La Maltournée in 1953.

You can see from the centre data plate that it is indeed apparently a 'Willys' with the number no. 6683 but how can this be, and where did the number 6683 come from?

The answer lies in the fact that it was a Fire Service jeep and although rebuilt by the army workshops of ERGM at La Maltournée it was not added to the army's ITM inventory as it was not an army jeep. Like all jeeps that were completely stripped down for rebuilding it lost its original MB chassis number and identity. The new identity that it was given was based on the La Maltournée works number (MALT number). So now the secret of the MBs with odd numbers less than 100,000 has been solved.

 

Its MALT number was stamped on a plate welded to the top chassis rail close to the engine mounting roughly where a Hotchkiss serial number is found.

IMPORTANT MESSAGE!

Much of the information about dates and numbers that I have included in this section of the site has been gleaned from a database that I started back in about 1998 and my thanks go to all owners who have provided me with details of their jeep. If you own an ex-French army jeep (MB / GPW / ITM or M201) you could help make this section even better. Please contact me and I will explain how you can help.