||1⁄4 ton (227kg)[a] 4x4 utility truck
|Place of origin
|| United States
Ford Motor Co. (GPW)
|Specifications (MB and GPW same)
||2,453 lb (1,113 kg) empty
||132 1⁄4 in (3.36 m)
||62 in (1.57 m)
||69 3⁄4 in (1.77 m)[b]
||Willys Go Devil engine
||3 spd. x 2 range trf. case
||Live axles on leaf springs
||15 US gal (57 l)
|300 mi (482.8 km)
||65 mph (105 km/h)
The Willys MB U.S. Army Jeep (formally the Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4) and the Ford GPW were manufactured from 1941 to 1945. These small four-wheel drive utility vehicles are considered the iconic World War II Jeep, and inspired many similar light utility vehicles. The World War II Jeep later evolved into the "CJ" civilian Jeep, to the 21st century'sJeep Wrangler.
Even though the world had seen widespread mechanisation of the military during World War I, and the United States Army had already used four-wheel drive trucks in it, supplied by the Four Wheel Drive Auto (FWD) and the Thomas B. Jeffery Company; by the time World War II was dawning, the United States Department of War was still seeking a light, cross-country reconnaissance vehicle.
As tensions were heightening around the world in the late 1930s, the U.S. Army asked American automobile manufacturers to tender suggestions to replace its existing, aging light motor vehicles, mostly motorcycles and sidecars but also some Ford Model Ts. This resulted in several prototypes being presented to army officials, such as fiveMarmon-Herrington 4x4 Fords in 1937, and three Austin roadsters by American Bantam in 1938 (Fowler, 1993). The U.S. Army's requirements, however, were not formalized until July 11, 1940, when 135 U.S. automotive manufacturers were approached to submit a design conforming to the army's specifications for a vehicle the World War IItechnical manual TM 9-803 described as "... a general purpose, personnel, or cargo carrier especially adaptable for reconnaissance or command, and designated as 1/4-ton 4x4 Truck."
Marmon-Herrington converted Ford 1/2 ton truck, sometimes called the "Grandfather of the Jeep"
By now the war was under way in Europe, so the Army's need was urgent and demanding. Bids were to be received by July 22, a span of just eleven days. Manufacturers were given 49 days to submit their first prototype and 75 days for completion of 70 test vehicles. The Army's Ordnance Technical Committee specifications were equally demanding: the vehicle would be four-wheel drive, have a crew of three on a wheelbase of no more than 75 in (1,905 mm) - that was later upped to 80 in (2,032 mm) - and tracks no more than 47 in (1,194 mm), feature a fold-down windshield, 660 lb (299 kg) payload and be powered by an engine capable of 85 lb·ft (115 N·m) of torque. The most daunting demand, however, was an empty weight of no more than 1,300 lb (590 kg).
Initially, only two companies entered: American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland Motors; Ford Motor Company joined the competition later. 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. Under the leadership of designer Karl Probst, Bantam built their first prototype, dubbed the "Blitz Buggy" (and in retrospect "Old Number One"), and delivered it to the Army vehicle test center at Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 23, 1940. This presented Army officials with the first of what eventually evolved into the World War II U.S. Army Jeeps: the Willys MB and Ford GPW.
The Bantam no.1 'Blitz Buggy'
Since Bantam did not have the production capacity or fiscal stability to deliver on the scale needed by the War Department, the other two bidders, Ford and Willys, were encouraged to complete their own pilot models for testing. The contract for the new reconnaissance car was to be determined by trials. As testing of the Bantam prototype took place from September 27 to October 16, Ford and Willys technical representatives present at Holabird were given ample opportunity to study the vehicle's performance. Moreover, in order to expedite production, the War Department forwarded the Bantam blueprints to Ford and Willys, claiming the government owned the design. Bantam did not dispute this move due to its precarious financial situation. By November 1940, Ford and Willys each submitted prototypes to compete with the Bantam in the Army's trials. The pilot models, the Willys Quad and the Ford Pygmy, turned out very similar to each other and were joined in testing by Bantam's entry, now evolved into a Mark II called the BRC 60. By then the U.S. and its armed forces were already under such pressure that all three cars were declared acceptable and orders for 1,500 units per company were given for field testing. At this time it was acknowledged the original weight limit (which Bantam had ignored) was unrealistic, and it was raised to 2,160 lb (980 kg).
The Ford Pygmy at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum
For these respective pre-production runs, each vehicle received revisions and a new name. Bantam's became the BRC 40. Production began on March 31, 1941, with a total of 2,605 built up to December 6. The company could not meet the Army's demand for 75 Jeeps a day, production contracts were also awarded to Willys and to Ford.
After reducing the vehicle's weight by 240 pounds, Willys' changed the designation to "MA" for "Military" model "A". The Fords went into production as "GP", with "G" for a "Government" type contract and "P" commonly used by Ford to designate any passenger car with a wheelbase of 80 in (2,032 mm).
Willys MA jeep at the Desert Training Center, Indio, California, June 1942
By July 1941, the War Department desired to standardize and decided to select 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 (the "Go Devil") which soldiers raved about, and its lower cost and silhouette. The design features the Bantam and Ford entries had which were an improvement over Willys' were then incorporated into the Willys car, moving it from an "A" designation to "B", thus the "MB" nomenclature. Most notable was a flat wide hood, adapted from Ford GP.
By October 1941, it became apparent Willys-Overland could not keep up with production demand and Ford was contracted to produce them as well. The Ford car was then 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 the U.S.S.R. under the Lend-Lease program.
A further 13,000 (roughly) amphibian jeeps were built by Ford under the name GPA (nicknamed 'Seep' for Sea Jeep). Inspired by the larger DUKW, the vehicle was produced too quickly and proved to be too heavy, too unwieldy, and of insufficient freeboard. In spite of participating successfully in the Sicily landings (July 1943) most GPAs were routed to the U.S.S.R. under the Lend-Lease program. The Soviets were sufficiently pleased with its ability to cross rivers to develop their own version of it after the war, the GAZ-46.
Origin of the term "jeep"
Photostat facsimile of the 1941 article
Photostat facsimile of Red Hausmann's jeep being demonstrated for the reporter
One account of the origin of the term "jeep" begins when the prototypes were being proven at military bases. The term "jeep" was used by Army mechanics for any untried or untested vehicles.
Although most likely due to a bastardization of the acronym "GP" used to designate the vehicle, another likely factor in the popularization of the jeep name came from the fact that the vehicle made quite an impression on soldiers at the time, so much so that they informally named it after Eugene the Jeep, a character in the Popeye comic strip and cartoons created by E. C. Segar as early as mid-March 1936. Eugene the Jeep was Popeye's "jungle pet" and was "small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems."
In early 1941, Willys-Overland staged a press event in Washington, D.C., having the car demonstrate its prowess by driving up the Capitol steps. Irving "Red" Hausmann, a test driver on the Willys development team who had accompanied the car for its testing at Camp Holabird, had heard soldiers there referring to it as a jeep. He was enlisted to go to the event and give a demonstration ride to a group of dignitaries, including Katherine Hillyer, a reporter for the Washington Daily News. When asked by the reporter, Hausmann said "it's a Jeep". Hillyer's article appeared in the newspaper on February 20, 1941, with a photo showing a jeep going up the Capitol steps and a caption including the term 'jeep'. This is believed to be the most likely cause of the term being fixed in public awareness. Even though Hausmann did not create or invent the word Jeep, he very well could be the one most responsible for its first news media usage.
Ford's stamped nine-slot steel grille design on a 1945 Willys
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 now familiar and distinctive stamped, nine-vertical-slot steel grille into its Jeep vehicles, which was lighter, used fewer resources, and was less costly to produce. Along with many other design features innovated by Ford, this was adopted by Willys and implemented into the standard World War II Jeep by April 1942.
Today, Jeep makers proudly retain the automobile's historical connection to the visage of its predecessors by using a trademarked grille featuring a standard number of vertical openings or 'slots'. However, in order to be able to get theirs trademarked, Willys gave their post-war jeeps seven slots instead of Ford's nine-slot design. Through a series of corporate take-overs and mergers, AM General Corporation ended up with the rights to use the seven-slot grille as well, which they in turn extended to Chrysler when it acquired American Motors Corporation, then manufacturer of Jeep, in 1987.