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So said Willys in advertisements that appeared in American magazines in 1943... 70 years on, the message remains the same


Last year saw the 70th anniversary of the first appearance of the Jeep in the form of the American Bantam, Willys-Overland and Ford prototypes, and the pre-production machines... but, of course, whilst these are Jeeps in the strict sense of the word, it would be fair to say that none is a Jeep ‘as we know it’. The year 2011 sees another important Jeep anniversary; it is 70 years since the first example of the iconic standardised Jeep rolled out of Willys-Overland’s Toledo plant in the form of the MB, followed by the Ford-built GPW a few months later. Pat Ware kicks off our celebration of the Jeep with a look at the design and production process.


With the successful completion and testing of the three pilot models out of the way by late 1940, each of the three companies involved – Bantam, Willys and Ford – had been asked to quote for the construction of a further 500 vehicles, each to its own design. There was some pressure from the Adjutant General’s Office and from representatives of the US Infantry to order 1500 vehicles from Bantam alone. It seems that the Infantry representative was particularly unhappy about buying vehicles from Ford and Willys ‘which we have never seen, much less tested’, as was the Field Artillery representative. And anyway, it was pointed out that using a single supplier at this stage would not preclude ‘the development of additional productive capabilities’ at a later date. The Quartermaster General, Major General E B Gregory, agreed that there was some degree of urgency, but he was unhappy about Bantam’s ability to produce substantial numbers of vehicles. In mid-October 1940, just when it seemed that Bantam would get the contract, the QMC decided that it would be better to divide the contract between the three manufacturers involved, and the Quartermaster General was authorised to negotiate with the companies for 500 vehicles each, at a unit cost of no more than $1250.




It would be fair to say that Bantam was not at all happy about the inclusion of Ford and Willys. Representatives of the company protested to the Secretary of War, arguing that Bantam had developed the Jeep without assistance from any other automobile manufacturer, and pointing out that it was the only company to have fulfilled the terms of the original bid. Countering any arguments about production capacity, Bantam made it clear that it could produce 360 vehicles a day, and that it was more than capable of producing all of the Army’s current requirements. Indeed, the company said that it was happy to dedicate its entire factory to producing Jeeps – as eventually did Willys – and, if a situation were ever reached where Bantam was not able to produce all of the vehicles required, it would be more than happy to turn over drawings and specifications, and to provide every assistance to whoever else was to be involved.




The US Government remained unmoved, but Bantam was partly mollified, at least for the moment, when, even before the orders could be placed, the projected number of vehicles required was increased to 4500. By late 1940, both Bantam and Willys had received contracts for the supply of 1500 Jeeps each, based on the prototype or pre-production models as supplied and tested, but incorporating the changes and improvements that had been notified during the testing phase. The Bantam was now described as the BRC-40, whilst the Willys had become the MA. The contract with Ford for what was being described as the GP, was not signed until early 1941 because the company was unable to agree the specification.


The unit prices quoted at that time were $1123 for Bantam, $1581.38 from Willys-Overland, and $1130 from Ford; for some reason, the Ordnance Department seemed to be happy that the Willys vehicles carried a considerable price premium. There was also a requirement for 50 vehicles to be fitted with a four-wheel steering system; these were included in the Willys contract but were the subject of separate contracts with Bantam and Ford, and were priced separately, generally at about $100 more.



Deliveries of these pre-production vehicles to the US Army began in December 1940 and it was just a matter of months before Jeeps were put into the hands of the British and Commonwealth forces fighting in North Africa.


However, whilst the Willys undoubtedly offered the best combination of performance and price, the QMC remained keen to exploit Ford’s massive production capacity, and despite the enthusiasm for the Willys, the next contract for 16,000 vehicles was very nearly placed with Ford. It was only intervention from the Office of Production Management which led the QMC to reconsider and all three manufacturers were invited to submit sealed bids. In the end, the contract went to Willys, who in July 1941 was asked to construct a total of 16,000 MA Jeeps.



The question of excessive weight that had so dogged the development process and which had caused considerable head scratching and even a degree of subterfuge at Bantam, was now long forgotten... it has even been suggested that there was some collusion in increasing the weight limit to ensure that the Ford prototype was acceptable. Whatever the truth of the matter, by February 1941, the Quartermaster General’s office was openly admitting that a figure of 2100 lb (955kg), against the original requirement of 1200-1300 lb (545-591kg), was perfectly satisfactory and that this figure ‘provided a balance between performance, stamina and weight’.



With Willys hard at work constructing 16,000 examples of the MA, the QMC was keen to take whatever action might be necessary to standardise the design. Representatives of the various user arms met with the QMC at Camp Holabird to discuss what further changes and improvements should be incorporated to produce a standardised vehicle, and the QMC began to draw up a definitive specification for the next round of contracts.


At this stage, the QMC still seemed satisfied with Willys as a supplier, but a new specification (USA-LP-91-997, subsequently amended to 997A) was drawn up for future contracts that laid down the following design parameters:

  • maximum road speed, increased from 50mph (81km/h) to 55mph (88km/h).
  • minimum speed, no more than 3mph (5km/h) at full engine torque.
  • approach and departure angles, 45 degree and 35 degrees (previously 45 degree and 40 degree) respectively.
  • fording depth, 18in (450mm) at 3mph (5km/h).
  • maximum weight, now ratified at 2100 lb (953kg), or 2175 lb (989kg) with four-wheel steering.
  • load capacity, 800 lb (363kg).
  • towed load, 1000 lb (455kg).


One of the key objectives of the standardisation process was to rationalise the range of components used across all of the similarly standardised US military vehicles, with the intention of reducing parts inventory and simplifying maintenance and repair procedures, as well as ensuring that only proven and reliable components were used.




As part of this process, the QMC requested that the Jeep be fitted with a standard military-style oil-bath air filter; pioneer tools were specified to be carried on the left-hand body side; electrical suppression was introduced into the ignition system; the civilian generator was replaced by a standard 6V 40Ah unit which was already in use on a number of other military vehicles, and the civilian battery was replaced by a standard 2-H military type. The wiring and lighting equipment was also modified to comply with the then-current military standard, and the civilian instruments and switchgear were replaced by standard military items. Other changes were made to improve the performance and comfort of the vehicle, or to reduce manufacturing costs. For example, the steering gear was raised as high as possible above the axle to prevent damage. A second hoop was added to the hood frame to provide more headroom and support; the dash-mounted handbrake was moved to the centre of the vehicle, and the fabricated welded radiator guard was replaced by a simpler pressed-metal version.


Once the vehicle was standardised, further change was more-or-less ruled out, and only minor revisions were made, although later changes did include the adoption of split-rim combat-type wheels in place of the earlier one-piece well-base steel rims (1942), and the inclusion of a jerrycan holder (1943). At the same time as the jerrycan holder was introduced, the practice of allowing the manufacturer to stamp his name into the back panel was discontinued.


The standardised Jeep, as produced by Willys-Overland, was designated ‘MB’ to differentiate it from the earlier ‘MA’ model.




Even while the Jeep was being produced by Willys, there was clearly a feeling in military circles that the design of the vehicle was effectively the property of the US Government and, in October 1941, Colonel Byron Q Jones of the US Army filed an application with the US Patent Office (number 414.123) to be recognised as the ‘inventor’ of the Jeep. The application covered various aspects of the design and construction of the Jeep body and it was stated in the application that, if granted, the patent would allow the ‘invention to be manufactured and used by or for the Government for governmental purposes without the payment of any royalty’. The patent was granted on 7 April 1942.


In August 1942, responsibility for the Jeep, and for all US military vehicles, was transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the Ordnance Department.



The royalty clause in the US Government’s patent application was clearly included for a reason, and it is almost certainly no coincidence that it was also in October 1941 that the QMC started to examine the possibility of involving a second manufacturer.


It had become apparent that the demand for Jeeps, both by the US Army and by Britain, was such that Willys could not hope to keep up, and there was also a fear that sabotage or accident might halt production at the Willys plant in Toledo. Since both Bantam and Ford had already built versions of the pre-standardised vehicle, they would have seemed the obvious choice as additional suppliers but, for some reason, the QMC seemed to be determined not to allow Bantam to be further involved in the Jeep project. Quite why this was the case remains something of a mystery, but the company never built a single example of the standardised Jeep, despite having effectively created the vehicle.


Negotiations between the QMC and the Ford Motor Company were re-opened, and a meeting took place between the Quartermaster General, E B Gregory, and no less than Edsel Ford himself. Ford agreed that the company would manufacture Jeeps to the designs prepared by Willys. The vehicle would effectively be a licence-built copy of the Willys MB, with the intention that every part be interchangeable. For its part, Willys agreed to supply copies of manufacturing drawings to Ford, without payment, providing Ford-built Jeeps were sold only to the US Government. It was also agreed that Willys would retain design parentage and would maintain custody of the master drawings.


On 10 November 1941, the Ford Motor Company was awarded a $14.6 million contract to construct a further 15,000 Jeeps, designated ‘GPW’ (GP - Willys), with production starting at Ford’s Dearborn plant in February 1942. By the time the War was over, Ford Jeeps had actually been assembled at six of the company’s plants: Chester in Pennsylvania; Dallas, Texas; Dearborn, Michigan; Edgewater, New Jersey; Louisville, Kentucky, and Richmond, California.



Although to all intents and purposes the vehicles produced by Willys and Ford were identical, with all major assemblies interchangeable, Ford made many minor changes to suit their mass-production methods. The changes and differences are such that the cognoscenti have always been able to tell the difference between the products of the two manufacturers... and, despite a known weakness in the casting of the Ford water jacket beneath the distributor housing, a story has somehow arisen that the Ford-built Jeeps are somehow superior.  

Between 1941 and 1945, Ford constructed 277,896 GPW Jeeps, whilst Willys built a total of 361,349, giving a grand total of 639,245 vehicles. Production of the MB/GPW halted as soon as the Allies secured victory in Europe. Ford had no further involvement in producing any Jeep-style vehicles until the development of the M151 in the ‘fifties, whilst Willys launched the civilian Jeep CJ2 in 1945, marketing it as a dual-purpose farm/utility vehicle. Willys registered Jeep as a trademark in 1950.



There is no doubt that the Jeep was a true original. There had never been anything like it before and the Jeep was largely responsible for the full-scale mechanisation of the Allied armies.

 It is a textbook example of how form follows function, and is considered by many to be a genuine design icon. A Jeep appeared at the prestigious New York Museum of Modern Art in the Eight Automobiles exhibition in 1951 alongside the MG TC, the Lincoln Continental and the Cord 810, and the Museum described the vehicle as ‘a masterpiece of functionalist design’. Indeed, every similar vehicle that has followed has borrowed heavily from the basic design philosophy laid down by the engineers at the American Bantam Company in the spring of 1940.


By the end of WW2, the vehicle had been used by all of the Allies in every theatre and had proved itself to be reliable, versatile and virtually unstoppable. No less an authority than General Eisenhower went on record with the view that ‘the Jeep, the Dakota and the landing craft were the three tools that won the War’... George C Marshall, the US Chief of Staff and a man described by Winston Churchill as the ‘organiser of victory’, clearly shared this view, describing the Jeep as ‘America’s main contribution to modern war’.


Is it any wonder that the Jeep remains the world’s most popular military vehicle... and is one of the very few vehicles likely to be recognised in any part of the world.




Typical nomenclature: truck, ¼-ton, 4x4; Willys-Overland Model MB and Ford GPW; SNL G-503.

Manufacturers: Ford Motor Company Inc, Dearborn, Michigan; Willys-Overland Motors Inc, Toledo, Ohio.

Production: 1941-45.

Production total: 639,245, breaking down as 277,896 from Ford, and 361,349 from Willys.

Engine: Willys Go-Devil Type 441, or Type 442; four cylinders; petrol; water-cooled; 2199cc; side valves; gross power output, 52-54bhp at 4000rpm; maximum torque, 105-110 lb/ft (14kgm) at 2000rpm.

Transmission: 3F1Rx2; part-time 4x4.

Suspension: live axles on semi-elliptical multi-leaf springs, with telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers front and rear.

Brakes: hydraulic.

Electrical system: 6V; some vehicles converted to 12V for radio operation.


Dimensions: length, 132.25in (3360mm); width, 62in (1575mm); height (top up), 69.75in (1772mm), (top down), 68in (1722mm), (windscreen folded), 52in (1321mm).

Wheelbase: 80in (2032mm).

Unladen weight: 2453 lb (1115kg).

Payload: 800 lb (364kg).

Maximum towed load: 1,000 lb (455kg).


Performance: maximum speed (transfer case in high ratio), 65mph (105kmh); (transfer case in low ratio), 33mph (55kmh).

Fuel consumption: 20mpg (US) (8.56km/litre).

Cruising range: 300 miles (486km).


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