March 9, 2020

World War II Willys Jeep model now on show in the Museum.

The South Pacific World War II Museum has taken delivery of its first scale model. The model, a 1/6 scale World War II Willys Jeep was built by Museum Project Manager James Carter over a period of three months.

Based on one of the largest scale model kits on the market today, the model required a great deal of modifications, add-ons and changes to get it to a standard suitable for the Museum.

According to James, “when I decided to undertake this project, I knew there would be a great deal of additional work to do. I wanted the Jeep to represent an actual Jeep that was on Santo during the war, but finding photographic reference became a huge challenge,” he said. “Knowing that a Santo Jeep would be more of a cosmetic thing than anything else, I began the kit and along the way found the reference I was looking for.”

With an enormous amount of Willys Jeep photographic reference available on the internet, James began the build. Details such as the installation of brake lines made from brass wire which weren’t in the kit and a new suspension system that was ‘scratch built’, took up a great deal of time early in the process.

One of the greatest challenges was finding an engine. The kit doesn’t come with an engine! While the bonnet opens and shuts, there’s nothing inside – a bizarre detail to leave out of a model kit. So James had to source one. “The engines for this size model are impossible to find. Luckily I found a guy in Japan who 3D prints 1/6 scale Willys Jeep Bantam engines”, James said. “However, the 3D engine was no where near the quality and detail I was looking for so I had to tear it down and scratch build most of the components from styrene plastic, adding another month to the build. Not only that, all the wiring, hoses, fan belt and that sort of thing had to be scratch built as well.”

The rest of the build was fairly straight forward but a lot more detail needed to go into it. Items such as 1/6 scale brass .30 caliber shells were found, a scale tow rope for the front bumper, even scale sweet wrappers from the period are ‘tossed’ on the floor of the Jeep.

The seats also came in for some attention, with real cotton (in an extremely small scale weave), was glued to the plastic seats in stages, to look like the real canvas seats. Even the tiny brass studs holding the seat covers on were hand painted on, late in the process.

Decals and painting was done in stages throughout the build, and also took a great deal of time. “I wanted the Jeep to have a used look about it. I didn’t want it to look like it had just come out of the factory. I felt it should have character about it, just like all the shots you see of vehicles during wartime. And with every vehicle on Santo covered in coral dust from the roads the US forces built, that too needed to be applied last”, James said.

With the model built, then came the process of getting it from Melbourne, Australia to Luganville and the Museum. “That was what worried me the most”, James says. “Carrying a plastic model on two flights from Melbourne to Vila and Vila to Santo, concerned me as to what state it would be in at the other end.”

Secured in a custom built plywood crate, James and the model headed for the airport. Having pre-warned Air Vanuatu (a Navara Sponsor of the Museum) that it was coming, made all the difference. The check in staff in Melbourne were extra careful with the crate to ensure it got onto the aircraft with a minimum of bumping. Even the baggage handlers in Vila and Luganville had been given a ‘heads up’ that it was coming and by the time James opened the crate in Luganville, he couldn’t have been more delighted. “Air Vanuatu were wonderful and the Jeep arrived without a scratch. A huge thank you to everyone at Air Vanuatu for ensuring our model arrived ready to go on display.”

If you’re in Luganville, drop into the mini museum and come and check out the new model for yourself. We’re adding new items to our displays all the time, so there’s always something new to see.