The Willys Jeep: Birth of an American Icon!

Restored 1944 Willys Jeep!

Restored 1944 Military Willys Jeep

Before 1940 nothing like the Willys Jeep as we know it even existed. Prior to World-War-II the U.S. Army was looking for a lightweight and rugged reconnaissance vehicle to replace the motorcycle.

For more on the Military/Army Jeep click here.

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Three major companies competed heavily for those government contracts by building and demonstrating their own prototypes. Bantam, Ford and Willys-Overland eventually came up with similar looking vehicles. The Bantam company won in the early rounds with its first prototype.

1944 Ford GPW!

1944 Ford GPW

However, it was the Willys Jeep model MA and MB series which prevailed (with its near twin from Ford) during the bulk of the war.

Bantam had 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.

The 1st Jeep...Bantam Prototype...Pre Willys Jeep!

Bantam Prototype...Pre-Willys Jeep

Then, 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 Bantam's blueprints because the Army now owned the Bantam design, and simply handed out copies to Bantam's two top rivals.

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 awhile.

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 motor was from a tractor and was just inadequate in meeting many of the strict military requirements. Other parts were mostly scavenged from Ford's automobile inventory.

Willys by far had 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 its two competitors.

Bantam could not compete in the long run due to engine and transmission failure during final testing. 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 its 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.

1941 Willys Jeep!

1941 Military Willys Jeep

Best Buys from the Willys MB...
to the Modern Wrangler TJ

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Willys continued production of various Jeep models until being purchased by the Kaiser company in 1953. Kaiser-Willys became the new name until Kaiser again changed the name to Kaiser-Jeep in 1963.

(Interested in the Willys Jeep Station Wagons?....then Click here!)

(See Jeep Lover Rafael's story and photos of the Willys Wagon in Mexico!...Click Now.)

Aside: If you are wondering from where the "Jeep" name originated you might be surprised to know that even as far back as World-War I Army motor pool personnel negatively referred to unproven vehicles and unproven recruits as "jeeps".

Also, around 1936 the "Popeye..." comic strip had a popular character known as Eugene-the-Jeep and the word "Jeep" began being used to refer to someone or something out of the ordinary. For the record, the Jeep name probably did not come from the combination of the letters "GP" or "General Purpose" as often heard.

Now, back to the extraordinary little Willys. Other companies, including Bantam later fought Willys to own the "Jeep" name, but Willys prevailed achieving full legal rights to the name in 1950.

Today, Bantam BRC-40 Jeeps (rare), Ford GPW Jeeps, and MA (rare) and MB Willys Jeeps are collectibles and highly valued as these vehicles and parts become less and less available.

They played such a huge role in the U.S. and Allied forces fight for freedom and liberty that anyone would or should be proud to own such a wonderful piece of history.

Ethel's 1945 Willys MB

Ethel's Beautiful 1945 Willys MB..Cilck Photo for More

(See the Chronological listing of Jeep models from the Bantam to the JK...Click Here!)

See a wonderfully re-created copy of the first Jeep...a 1940 Bantam Pilot built by Duncan Rolls, and also a Bantam BRC-40! (about 6 minutes, 10 seconds)

Want to see a video montage of the original Jeeps going through their grueling tests...and other period WWII vehicles?

Well...check this out...(about 7 minutes, 20 secs. long)

Read Ina Leidshendam's touching first hand memories of the American Willys Military Jeeps following the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Shortly after WWII the U.S. and her Allies entered the Korean War in 1950. For a little history on the Military Jeeps of the Korean War era click here.

Military/Army Jeep Page!

See the Jeep J8 MPV...the Latest Military Jeep!

Willys Jeep Station Wagon Page!

Postal Jeep DJ's and FJ's move the U.S. Mail!

See Rafael's story and photos of the Willys Wagon in Mexico!

Korean War Jeep History Page ...1950 to 1953!

Support The Troops Page!

Military Support Websites!

Are You A Patriot?

Jeep Models: A Chronological History of Jeeps!

Who was Eugene the Jeep?

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Willys military or civilian Jeeps!***

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