Caloocan City, Pilipinas (PressExposure) March 13, 2012 -- Legends surround the abundance of Jeeps in the Philippines. These tales could not be helped though. After all, the Philippines was the center stage of the war in the Pacific theater and scene of the fiercest, most epic battles of the entire WWII - the Fall of Bataan, McArthur's Last Stand in Corregidor, the Battle of Manila. And who can forget Gen. Douglas McArthur's historic "I Shall Return" landing following the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
One "story" has it that Ford secretly maintained a Jeep manufacturing plant in the Philippines long after the war. One veteran old-timer narrates of American soldiers burying Jeeps in a huge "bone yard" somewhere in a large American military base as there were too many to take with them on board the ships. Others say the Americans allowed the Filipinos to take whatever were left in their warehouses, Jeeps included.
Legend or not, one thing is certain, the Filipinos fell in love with the Jeep. So much that it spawned a public transport vehicle, and industry. And an idea that has made the Philippines the lone supplier of WWII jeep body tubs and replacement parts worldwide, thanks to the pioneering vision of Maximino D. Juan.
Filipinos and their Jeeps: Filipinos took to the Jeep like fish to water. They have a generic name for it - Willys, regardless of brand or maker. They even called the various Jeep models by, of all names, popular American presidents and military generals. Thus, you would hear old folks refer to a vintage Jeep as a "Kennedy", an "Eisenhower" and of course, a "MacArthur". To Filipinos in the rural areas used to the carabao sled and the horse-driven calesa, this was their first ever encounter with the motorized transport on wheels.
Then Filipino ingenuity kicked in.
The military Jeep was converted into a passenger jeep with rear entrance, not sides, and bench seats and called it, what else, an auto calesa. Then, the enterprising spirit in the Filipino saw the opportunity. He made it bigger, longer, wider with a body exploding with a cacophony of colors and adorned with a lot of metal-casted horses and mirrors and a deafening stereo sound system to boot. The military jeep has been transformed into a mass-transport public utility jeepney or PUJ. Seating up to 20 passengers (two up front and nine on each side on the rear bench seats), the PUJ is now the backbone of the Philippine mass transport system, the "King of the Road". It is uniquely Filipino.
Another "son" of the vintage American Jeep is a civilian-type Jeep specifically made for the personal daily use of its owner. And that's exactly how it got its name - the "owner Jeep"! It is powered by a surplus Japanese engine and mounted on a low-profile body and wheels. A surplus engine is either diesel or gasoline, about three years or older that has been scrapped in Japan but exported to the Philippines for use on Jeeps assembled at a mechanic's backyard. The owner Jeep handles like a car but minus the comforts and amenities of a real car. Another uniquely Filipino idea.
Filipinos and the Jeep parts: With the growing population and popularity of the Jeep in the 60's, Filipinos soon saw the need for replacement bodies and parts. One of them was Maximino D. Juan, a dentist by profession. He discovered he could earn more by selling Jeep parts than by tending to cavities. He later found out that he could earn much, much more making the parts himself.
He started with manually hammering a windshield, then gradually buying the equipment and the dies so he could mechanize the process. After the windshield came the fenders then the hoods then the bumpers until finally, the plant could manufacture the complete body tubs and kits. Thus was born MDJuan Enterprises. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, MD Juan Enterprises in the Philippines is the lone manufacturer and supplier of WWII Jeep body tubs and replacement parts worldwide. It exports over 90% of its output all over the world including the USA, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Saipan.
How Jeep bodies are made: In the 1.8-hectare plant of MD Juan Enterprises in Novaliches, Quezon City north of Manila, making a Jeep body starts in the stamping plant with a 4' x 8' metal sheet going through a shearing process to form the blank. Then, shapes are notched and holes are punched on the blank in exact locations.
It is then bent and formed to the exact shape in hydraulic presses of from 50 tons to 1,200 tons in capacity. This is one competitive edge of MD Juan Enterprises over the competitors (who mostly make the collision parts only): it does not buy its metal parts, it stamps the parts themselves!
The parts are then sub-assembled into bigger body parts like the side body, the dash panel, the front and rear floors and the like, and even the chassis. These sub-body parts then come together at the main assembly line where they are welded together to make the Jeep body. After that, a Jeep body undergoes a five-step, dip-type phosphating process for superior metal preparation. The last step is the primer coating before the Jeep body is endorsed to the Finished Goods warehouse. From there, the Jeeps are shipped to just about every continent in the world.
Now back to that "legend of the jeep factory in the Pacific". While we still investigate the "tale of the jeep bone yard", one thing we know for sure. Those beautiful authentic WWII military jeep bodies and parts are coming from the "Pearl of the Pacific" Philippines. From the "pearl" of a 40-year Filipino factory where the salute to WWII heroism and the passion for Jeeps live forever - from MD Juan Enterprises!