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Before 1940 nothing like the Willys Jeep as we know it really existed. Just prior to World War II,  the U.S. Army were looking for a lightweight and rugged reconnaissance vehicle to replace their motorcycle and Ford model T fleets.

The three competing companies, Bantam, Ford and Willys-Overland all produced prototypes for testing by the Army. Bantam’s chief engineer, along with a team of Bantam executives, worked out their design and the company built it's field car prototype in just 49 days.

Bantam GPV PrototypeBantam's General Purpose Vehicle (GPV) Prototype

Willys-Overland Vice President of Engineering Delmar G. Roos designed the Willys Quad. Ford developed its Model GP (General Purpose), known as the Pygmy, which was powered by an adapted Ford/Ferguson tractor engine.

1940 Willys Quad

1940 Willys Quad Prototype

Ford Pygmy

Ford Pygmy

Bantam won the initial government contract to build their prototypes because they were the first to come up with a vehicle that met most of the government's rigid specifications. Bantam passed the initial testing while Ford and Willys eagerly watched on, taking careful notes. While Bantam was approved to build more prototypes, Ford and Willys had been given copies of Bantam's blueprints because the Army now owned the Bantam design. By late 1940 both Ford and Willys had functioning prototypes built at their own expense. Some government officials wanted to split the original order of some 1500 vehicles between the three companies, however Bantam held on for a while.

Bantam 40 BRC

Bantam BRC 40

Then, with three similar looking prototypes, and waning faith in Bantam's ability to produce, the Army set up grueling tests for the three contenders. Ford's GP Prototype proved inadequate in meeting many of the strict military requirements. Willys had by far the best engine (the famed Go-Devil motor) with the most power, and ultimately their prototype gave the military what it wanted in durability and function, not to mention being within the adjusted government specifications. The soon to be mass produced Willys Jeep was just superior to it's two competitors. Bantam could not compete in the long run due to engine and transmission failure during final testing, Though they were able to produce around 2700 "jeeps" for the military in the end.

Ford, in late 1941 (with U.S. involvement in the war looming and with military approval) agreed to produce the Jeep under the Ford name, but with Willys' specifications. It would be called the Ford GPW (General Purpose Willys). Ford went on to build around 4500 of it's own model "jeeps" plus over 277,000 of the GPW models made to the Willys specifications. Willys-Overland produced over 1500 Model MA's, and over 360,000 Model MB's for the war effort.

The Willys MA featured a gearshift on the steering column, low side body cutouts, two circular instrument clusters on the dashboard, and a hand brake on the left side. Willys struggled to reduce the weight to the new Army specification of 2,160 lbs. Items removed in order for the MA to reach that goal were reinstalled on the next-generation MB, resulting in a final weight of approximately 400 lbs. above the specifications.

Willys trademarked the “Jeep” name after the war and planned to turn the vehicle into an off-road utility vehicle for the farm — the civilian Universal Jeep. One of Willys’ slogans at the time was “The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep,” and the company set about making sure the world recognised Willys as the creator of the vehicle.

The Willys jeep design was central to the Rover Company's development of the Land-Rover in the late 1940's

1941 Willys MA

1941 Willys MA

1942 Willys MB

1942 Willys MB

1942 Ford GPW

1942 Ford GPW

Vehicle pictures, further info. and links wanted

Pictures of the various jeep models mentioned here are needed. 

Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and send in your pics!