|Manufacturer||Willys-Overland Motors/Ford Motor Company|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
"The Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft were the three tools that won the war." -- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
The nearly identical Willys MB and Ford GPW reconnaissance cars were manufactured from 1941 to 1945. They made up 98% of all models built in WWII and they are the iconic World War II Jeep.
On July 11, 1940, with World War II dawning near, the US Army approached 135 U.S. automotive manufacturers to submit designs to replace its existing, aging light motor vehicles; mostly motorcycles, sidecars, and some Ford Model T's. Companies' bids were to be received by just eleven days later, then they had 49 days to submit their first prototype and 75 days for completion of 70 required test vehicles; 130 days in all to design and deliver the vehicles.
The Army's specifications were equally demanding: a general purpose personnel or cargo carrier especially adaptable for reconnaissance or command; designated as 1/4-ton four-wheel drive Truck, crew of three, wheelbase of no more than 75 (later 80) inches, tracks no more than 47 inches, fold?down windshield, 660 lb payload, and be powered by an engine capable of 85 ft-lb (115 Nm) of torque. The most daunting demand, however, was that it have an empty weight of no more than 1300 lbs (590 kg).
Only three companies entered: American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors, and the Ford Motor Company. Though Willys-Overland was the low bidder, Bantam received the bid, being the only company committing to deliver a pilot model in 49 days and production examples in 75 days. Bantam built their first prototype, officially named the "Pilot" but nicknamed the "Blitz Buggy" and later "Old Number One." It was delivered to the Army vehicle test center at Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 23, 1940.
Since Bantam did not have the production capacity to deliver on the scale needed by the War Department, the two losing bidders, Ford and Willys, were encouraged to complete their own pilot models for testing. As testing of the Bantam prototype took place, Ford and Willys technical representatives were given ample opportunity to study the vehicle's performance. Moreover, the War Department forwarded the Bantam blueprints to Ford and Willys, claiming the government owned the design.
By November 1940 Ford and Willys each submitted prototypes to compete with Bantam. The two pilot models, the Willys Quad and the Ford Pygmy, turned out to be very similar to each other and were joined in testing by Bantam's entry, now called the Bantam Reconnaissance Car 60 (BRC 60). US armed forces were already under such pressure that all three cars were declared acceptable and orders for 1500 units per company were given. It was also acknowledged at this time the original weight limit (which Bantam had ignored) was unrealistic, and it was raised to 2160 lbs (980 kg).
For these respective initial production runs, each vehicle received revisions and a new name. Bantam's became the BRC 40 (and the company ceased motor vehicle production after the last one was built in December 1941). After losing 240 lbs, Willys' changed the designation to "MA": "Military" model "A". The Fords were designated "GP": "G" for "Government" and "P" was Ford's code for passenger cars with 80-inch wheelbases.
By July 1941, the War Department desired to standardize and selected a single manufacturer to supply them with the next order for another 16,000 vehicles. Willys won the contract, mostly due to its more powerful engine and lower cost. Whatever better design features the Bantam and Ford entries had were incorporated into the Willys car at this time, causing the Willys "A" designation to become "B" and thus the vehicles were tagged "MB." One example of this design consolidation was the positioning of the gasoline tank; in placing it directly beneath the driver's seat, combining the two main target areas into one, it would lessen the chance of a single catastrophic hit. [This was seen as a design improvement! This was 1941 and the priority was combat survivability, not highway safety.]
By October 1941, it became apparent Willys-Overland could not keep up with the production demand and Ford was contracted to produce them as well; but the Army required both to produce vehicles with interchangeable parts. Not wanting to have Ford parts end up on Willys vehicles without getting the credit, Ford stamped every one of their parts – right down to individual nuts and bolts – with a script 'F'. The Ford car resulting from this union was designated GPW, with the "W" referring to the "Willys" licensed design. During World War II, Willys produced 363,000 Jeeps and Ford some 280,000. Approximately 51,000 were exported to Russia under the Lend-Lease program.
Another c.13,000 amphibious jeeps were built by Ford with the designation GPA (GP Amphibious; nicknamed "Seep" for Sea Jeep). Inspired by the larger GMC DUKW, the Seep was produced too quickly and proved to be too heavy, too unwieldy, and with insufficient freeboard. In spite of participating successfully in the September 1943 Sicily landings, most GPA's were routed to Russia under the Lend-Lease program. The Russians were sufficiently pleased with its ability to cross rivers that Russia developed their own version of it after the war, the Gaz 46.
It has become part of the Jeep lore to endlessly debate the origins of the name and many versions proclaim themselves to be the "true" story. Most sources agree, however, that "jeep" was a term known in some circles well before the introduction of these vehicles – but with disputed meanings.
Some authorities point to a cartoon character of the day called Eugene the Jeep. Because Eugene could go anywhere, "jeep" was a natural name for these sturdy scout cars; but this link is uncertain.
Other accounts assert "jeep" contracted the letters "GP". GP for "General Purpose" was used widely throughout the US military, from tents to bombs, but never with respect to these vehicles. If anything, GP would have come from Ford's designation for their early production vehicles. However, the 4,456 Ford GP's are less than 1% of all WWII Jeeps made, and lend-lease meant most of these went to the far-flung corners of the globe.
The most probable account – although controversial – is based on "jeep" as a slang term used by World War I soldiers for new recruits and for new unproven equipment (there are examples of inter-war contraptions entirely dissimilar from these scout cars being called jeeps). A Willys test driver, Red Hausmann, accompanied the car for its testing at Camp Holabird in 1940. He heard soldiers calling it a "jeep" and liked the way it sounded. In early 1941, Willys staged a press event in Washington, D.C. where their Quad prototype showed itself off by driving up the Capitol steps. Hausmann also gave a demonstration ride to a group of dignitaries, including Katherine Hillyer, a reporter from the Washington Daily News. When asked, Hausmann said, "It's a jeep." Hillyer's newspaper article on February 20, 1941 included a photo showing the Quad going up the Capitol steps and a caption calling the new scout cars "jeeps." This is the most likely source of the term being fixed into the public awareness.
Those who favor Eugene the Jeep or contracting "GP" are required to believe the Jeep was named from the GI's experiences after the vehicles entered service. Having the same name spring up from end-users world wide would not be expected; a variety of regional names is far more likely. Since jeeps were jeeps the day they arrived in-theater, some common starting point for the name has the greatest likelihood (like the well-documented Feb 1941 newspaper photo caption); but the debate will never be settled.
Willys made its first 25,000 MB Jeeps with a welded flat iron "slat" radiator grille. It was Ford who first designed and implemented the familiar and distinctive stamped slotted steel grille, which was lighter and better suited to mass production. Ford was the expert in mass production so many of their design features, including the stamped grille, were adopted by Willys and implemented into the standard WWII Jeep by April 1942. The grille became such an iconic symbol for the rugged, reliable, and beloved Jeep that rights to the image are still a coveted corporate asset to this day.
Jeeps, from whatever manufacturer, served with distinction in every combat zone and every "rear area" of the war. Field modifications were endless; from VIP limousines to garbage trucks, from litter carriers to artillery platforms, from the messenger service to heavily armed rapid strike assault vehicles. They drove over good roads, through deep mud, forded streams, sped over sand, and some even went to sea. In Naval service, besides being used around shore bases in the same ways as at any other military base, some were used aboard fleet carriers as aircraft "tugs." In the ETO, many Jeeps were field-modified with a 3-ft vertical steel bar welded to the center of the front bumper to break decapitation wires strung across roads.
Through lend-lease, Jeeps of all configurations served prolifically with all Allied powers. Popular among the troops, Enzo Ferrari later described the Jeep as "America's only real sports car." Jeeps became so common in and around the European battle areas that German troops came to believe that each American soldier was issued his own Jeep.
So ubiquitous was the Jeep and diverse in its capabilities that Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower listed it among the three primary tools that won the war: the Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft. Interestingly, none of these were weapons.
|Bantam Mk II / BRC 60||1940||69|
|Willys Quad||1940||5 (1 w/ 4W steering)|
|Bantam BRC 40||1941||2,605|
|Willys MB||1942–1945||361,339 (335,531 + 25,808 "slats")|
|Ford GPA 'Seep'||1942–1943||12,778|
|WW II Total||1940–1945||660,703|
|11 Jul 1940||US Army approached 135 American automotive manufacturers to submit designs to replace its existing, aging light motor vehicles. They were told that they must submit their first prototypes within 49 days and have 70 test vehicles prepared in 75 days.|
|23 Sep 1940||Bantam delivered a prototype, officially named the "Pilot" but nicknamed the "Blitz Buggy", to the US Army vehicle test center at Camp Holabird, Maryland, United States for a requirement that would result in the Jeep.|
|11 Nov 1940||The US army took delivery of its first Jeep. The origin of the name is still a mystery. Some say it is from the Army designation GP (General Purpose) but others prefer the reference to a character from the Popeye cartoon strip known as Eugene the Jeep. The character could walk through walls, climb trees, fly and go just about anywhere it wanted, and it is thought that soldiers at the time were so impressed with the new vehicle’s versatility that they named it after the Jeep.|
|Machinery||4-cyl. side valves, 134 cu in (2199 cc), 60 hp, 1 throat carburetor, manual choke, 6Volt DC-current generator, Failsafe automatic fuse|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945