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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I am the owner of a military M38 Jeep made by Kaiser. What is the history of the Jeep prior to Willys? There is no year on the title, but the VIN (vehicle identification number. ed.) is 832211495. I know that on some makes the VIN is indicative of the year of manufacturer. I have restored it, and would now like to sell it. I need to know the year, and possibly an estimate of its value.
K.F. Newburg, MD

A. Having put many miles on an M38 with the top down and the windshield flat several decades ago, I find it hard to wax nostalgic over the Jeep. The Jeep has had a very interesting and turbulent history and even the name is steeped in mystery. Some say its an phonetic rendering of the original military designation of the vehicle which was General Purpose or G.P. Another version has it that in February of 1941, Willys-Overland demonstrated to the Army its own prototype for a General Purpose 4X4 vehicle by driving it up the steps of the U.S. Capital Building in front of the press. A Willys-Overland representative was asked by a reporter what kind of a vehicle it was to which the representative responded "It's a Jeep," which was the name of a popular cartoon character in pre-war Popeye comic strips. The American Bantam Car Company designed and built the original in 1940, but Ford and Willys also had their own versions. In the final cut, the Willys design was chosen for standardization although nearly half were built by Ford. A machine as specialized as a military Jeep is too rare for normal evaluation and identification so you should contact a professional auto appraiser. It will cost you a couple of bucks but it's worth it. By the way, the name Jeep (capitalized) is registered to the Chrysler Corp.

Q. We would love to buy a first-class van conversion but we find that the cost is prohibitive. If we buy a chassis and have it converted with a bed, bath, etc., would it be as good as a conversion that has already been done by a RV maker? Which chassis would be the best to start with.
M.M Vida, Or

A. Since we don't take RV's or van conversions for our formal evaluations, I can't give you an intelligent answer to that part of your question. RV specialty magazines like Trailer Life and MotorHome are good sources of information on the reliability of these vehicles although the best info comes from folks who currently own examples. When you have anything automotive done on a custom-built basis, you can run into the problem of determining who's responsible for the primary warranty if the vehicle is new. Many van makers absolve themselves of responsibility if their vehicle has been modified in any way. Van conversion companies have their guarantees approved by the van maker and coordinate their service programs around dealership shops. Established van converters start with a basic unit, then run it through a production line to convert it to a comfortable and relatively trouble-free travel vehicle. It's one thing to bolt a double bed into the rear of a cargo van, but when you decide to add a shower, toilet, cooking facilities, etc., you're going to wind up with fewer amenities at more cost.

Q. I have an '87 Toyota Cressida which I purchased new and it now has only 47,000 miles on it. When it gets hot, it has a bad smell to it and is most noticeable when cooling off in the garage. To make matters worse, a plastic bag got stuck on the catalytic converter and melted which added to the bad smell. Our muffler shop can't find the problem.
R.B. Highland, CA

A. Since you obviously only run your car on short hops, take it on a non-stop 200-mile highway run to clean out the cobwebs, then see if the smells are gone. If they aren't, take it to a good shop for a tune-up. A periodic undetectable misfire can cause the converter to overheat and produce odd smells, the rotten egg smell being the most common.

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