The WWII Willys MB US Army Jeep.
The Willys MB US Army Jeep was manufactured from 1941 to 1945.
With the advent of the gasoline-powered automobile, the U.S. War Department had been seeking to have a standard reconnaissance and transport vehicle to replace the usage of horses and other animals. With heightening tensions around the world, in September 1940, the American Bantam Car Company, in collaboration with Army officials, proposed and then built what would become the World War II Army Jeep, later also known as the Willys MB and Ford GPW. But because the Bantam Company did not have the production capacity nor fiscal stability to produce it on the scale needed by the United States Department of War, the contract for building the new reconnaissance car was to be determined by a test trial.
The US Army invited 150 manufacturers to submit a design for a car which would conform to their requirements, as stated in the World War II training manual TM 9-803, which describes the vehicle as "... a general purpose, personnel, or cargo carrier especially adaptable for reconnaissance or command, and designated as 1/4-ton 4x4 Truck." They were given 49 days to submit their prototypes. The War Department forwarded the plans for the Bantam car to the two respondents, the Ford Motor Company and Willys-Overland Motors, Inc, claiming that the government owned the design. Bantam did not dispute due to its precarious financial situation.
The submitted prototypes were very similar to each other and competed with the Bantam in an Army trial. Bantam's was called the Model BRC 40, Willys' was called the Quad and Ford's - the Pygmy or GP, with "G" for a "government" type contract and "P" which Ford commonly used to designate any passenger car with a wheelbase of 80 inches. Ford's GP designation did not represent "general purpose", which was the government's description. All three cars were declared acceptable and orders for 1500 units per company were given, for a test phase.
Willys' car's designation was then changed to "MA" for Military model A. By July 1941, the War Department decided to select one manufacturer to supply them, to standardize. Willys won the contract mostly due to its more powerful engine (the Willys Go Devil engine) which the soldiers raved about, and its lower cost and lower silhouette. Whatever better design features the Bantam and Ford entries had were then incorporated into the Willys car, moving it from an "A" designation to "B", thus the "MB" nomenclature. For example, if the gasoline tank was directly beneath the driver's seat, combining the two main target areas into one, it would lessen the chance of a catastrophic hit.
By October 1941, it became apparent that Willys-Overland could not keep up with production demand and Ford was contracted to produce them as well. The Ford car was then designated as "GPW" with the "W" referencing the Willys company.
Origin of the term "jeep"
For theories about the origin of the word "jeep", see Jeep#The origin of the term "jeep".
Willys made its earlier Jeeps with a flat iron, welded "slat" radiator grille. But it was the Ford Motor Company that first designed and implemented the now familiar and distinctive stamped, slotted steel grille into its cars, which was lighter, used fewer resources and was less costly to produce.
Many other design features innovated by Ford were also implemented, which Willys adopted into its Jeep by April 1942. Even today, over 60 years later, Jeeps have retained their historical connection by keeping the visage of their ancestors' grill to one degree or another.
During World War II, Willys produced 363,000 Jeeps and Ford produced 280,000. After the war ended, Willys brought its Four-wheel drive marvel into the civilian realm with its Jeep CJ-2A version. It was essentially the same as the MB but was revised, for the most part, with these alterations: powered windshield wipers, side-mounted spare tire, naugahyde seats, tailgate, chrome trim, rear view mirror, bigger headlights, side mounted gasoline tube, a heftier T-90 transmission (Willys' MB's was T84). It came in a variety of colors. Military "black-out" lights were replaced with standard civilian brake and signal lights.
The Willys-Overland company was absorbed into other companies over the years (currently Daimler-Chrysler), but its entity continued to supply the War Department with JeepsĀ® for decades to come.
Bantam BRC 40
WWII-vintage slat grille
Ford's stamped steel grille design on a 1945 Willys