Army Jeep History (1941-1945)

As war in Europe escalated, the United States saw their odds of being pulled into a second World War increasing. Starting in 1939, the U.S. government began allocating money to build up all phases of their military. Reconnaissance vehicles, which were previously motorcycles and sidecars, were to be updated to light-duty trucks.

Willys-Overland WW2 Jeep

Requirements for the proposed vehicle, formalized in July of 1940, included a payload capacity of 600 pounds, wheelbase under 75 inches (later lengthened to 80 inches), a maximum 47 inches of tread, and four-wheel drive. The original gross vehicle weight of 1,300 pounds proved unrealistic and was raised to 2,160 pounds. A minimum of 85 lb-ft of torque, and a cooling system that would allow sustained low speeds without overheating, were the two main engine requirements.

135 automobile manufacturers were contacted by the U.S. Army and asked to submit working prototypes within 49 days. Three companies responded by the target date: American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland, and Ford Motor Company. Bantam, a small company based in Butler, Pennsylvania, was first to complete a running prototype. Testing began in September of 1940.

Bantam BRC

Seeing as their production cars were based on the British Austin Seven, Bantam's BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) also used chassis components imported from the United Kingdom, along with other off-the-shelf parts. Four-wheel drivetrain components were made by the Spicer Company, who were also supplying the Ford and Willys Jeep prototypes.

1940 Bantam Jeep

Although the BRC tested well, the U.S. Army doubted the small company could produce the amount of units required. Bantam's design was presented to both Willys and Ford, who at the army's request, were encouraged to make their own changes and modifications. In light of their poor financial condition, Bantam could not protest this move. All three companies continued building prototype models.

Ford Pygmy

Perched on solid front and rear axles and riding on an 80-inch-wheelbase, the Ford Pygmy was completed in November of 1940. The slotted steel grille incorporating the headlights was an original design and would be adopted by Willys in the final design stages. The Pygmy name was soon changed to GP.

Ford WW-2 Jeep

Ford GP

Power for the GP came from a Ford tractor engine mated to a three-speed Model-A gearbox. The 120-cid engine was underpowered and unreliable, and most likely ruined Ford's chances of winning the lucrative Army contract.

Willys Quad

Also ready for testing in November was the Willys Quad, whose designation soon changed to MA, for Military "A" model. Today, the 1941 Willys MA is perhaps the rarest of the early jeeps. Only 1,555 were built, and a just 27 are known to still exist.

1940 Willys MA

Under the hood was Willy's four-cylinder flathead engine, heavily re-worked by ex-Studebaker engineer Barney Roos. Engine modifications included closer tolerances, tougher alloys, aluminum pistons, and a lighter flywheel. Using a bore and stroke ratio of 3.125" x 4.375", the L-Head engine produced 60-horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque, exceeding the Army's specifications.

As ongoing disputes and internal Army politics delayed the decision of who would be awarded the Jeep contract, Bantam, Willys, and Ford were each asked to make 1,500 vehicles for further testing. Many of these early WW2 Jeeps would end up being shipped to England, Russia, and other Allied Countries under the Lend Lease bill.

Willys MA

Engines were carefully tested to ensure they would run a minimum of 150 hours without failure. The Willys MA Jeep was capable of speeds up to 60-mph, and as could run as slowly as 3-mph. Turning could be done in short radiuses, and steep slopes climbed without tipping.

The combination of strongest motor and lowest bid helped Willys win the first production contract of 16,000 units. Now called the MB (Military "B" model), Willys Jeeps began rolling off the Toledo, Ohio assembly plant in mid 1941. The Willys MB was produced until September 21, 1945, with a total of 335,531 units built.

The first 25,808 Willys MBs, produced from December 1941 to March 6, 1942, were known as slat-grille models, and had a welded front grille. Other differences between these and later versions were the square fuel-tank tub, lack of glovebox, and "Willys" stamped in the rear panel. The 1941 Willys MB had a push=button start on the floor. There were no keys.

Ford GPW Jeep

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 brought the United States into the War. All U.S. military phases were quickly stepped up, and the Army now needed more Jeeps than Willys could produce. Because of their huge production capacity, Ford was granted a non-exclusive license to manufacture Jeeps to Willys' specifications. Ford's GP, now called GPW (General Passenger Willys), quickly went into production.

Ford Army Jeep In WW2

Ford built a total of 278,000 GPW's from January 6, 1942 to July 31, 1945. The early 1942 models had "Ford" in script on the rear panel.

Ford Army Jeep In WW2

Standardized features for the WW2 Army Jeep now included a three-speed floor gearshift (first-gear unsynchronized), a center hand-brake, and a 15-gallon gas tank located under the driver's seat. The six-volt electrical system included a 2H battery and 40-amp generator. Wipers were operated manually. At each corner of the truck, and at the center of either side, handles wre mounted for lifting the truck up and out of tough spots. Every Army Jeep was fitted with a pintle tow-hook.

read Jeeps In World War Two

World-War Two came to an end with the Allies' victory in the summer of 1945. The last Ford GPW was built in July and the last Willys MB in August. Ford unsuccessfully sued Willys for the rights to the term "Jeep", leaving Willys full rights to the name. Although the Willys company neither coined the term nor designed the original vehicle, their name became synonymous with Jeep.

Willys continued to manufacture Military Jeeps, and would soon start producing the Willys Civilian Jeep as well.

WW2 Jeep

read Restore An Old Jeep