The Jeep is known for its rugged off-road capabilities, with the Wrangler being one of the most capable vehicles in its class. In fact, the Wrangler once held the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude achieved by a non-aircraft vehicle.
The CJ35/U Jeep
While a snorkel intake can be added to the Wrangler to allow it to travel through shallow water, it isn’t engineered to operate underwater indefinitely. However, one historic Jeep was built to do just that. The 1950 Jeep CJ35/U specially built for the United States Marine Corps.
Mike Wixom, an off-roading enthusiast, purchased a 1950 Jeep CJ to modify as a rock crawler. He quickly discovered that it wasn’t a regular CJ however. The vehicle had an air intake snorkel and an exhaust pipe with a second snorkel. There was also some strange bracketry where the back seat would be. All of this was painted military green down to the frame.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Wixom searched for military records of a Jeep CJ built in 1950 but found none. Eventually, he found an old service manual for the CJ35/U and learned that it was specially ordered by the Marine Corps to be fully submersible.
The US Navy
The Navy contracted Willy-Overland to build 1,000 special submersible Jeeps in 1950, starting with third-generation civilian Jeeps that were to be heavily modified at the Toledo, Ohio plant.
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The resulting CJ35/U had a unique shade of military green and was outfitted with a radio instead of a back seat. The radio was operated by a generator attached to the power take-off (PTO), and both units were fully waterproofed.
Jeep plumbed the transmission vents, transfer case vents, brake master cylinder, fuel tank vents, and even the vacuum-driven windshield wiper system to snorkels at the front and rear of the vehicle. The CJ even had a fully waterproof distributor built for aircraft by Bendix-Scintilla.
The Navy originally planned to use these Jeeps for USMC reconnaissance/observation teams. The radio system was essential because the Navy needed its USMC teams to direct aircraft and artillery fire.
However, few of these vehicles were put into service, and the Navy gave many of them to other government agencies. Wixom even found one amphibious Jeep still in use as a snowplough.
The Russians often tried to emulate the Americans in technology during this period. However they never cracked a fully submersive vehicle. The best the Russians developed was the amphibious GAZ 46, also known as the “Pobeda” (Victory). It was a Soviet military vehicle developed in the early 1950s.
It was designed to be used by the Soviet Army for reconnaissance and patrol duties, and was capable of operating on land and in water. The GAZ 46 was propelled in water by two propellers mounted at the rear, and could reach speeds of up to 8 km/h (5 mph). It was also equipped with a snorkel that allowed it to operate in depths of up to 1.2 meters (4 feet).
Back to Stay?
The CJ35/U is a rare and unique blast from the past, but Jeep’s submersible capabilities may soon make a comeback.
The new Jeep Wrangler Xtreme Recon trim boasts 33.6 inches of water-fording capabilities, but 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. Who knows? Maybe the Navy will order some submersible Jeep Recon EVs in the future.