It would be easy to overlook the Willys Jeep with all the inventions and innovations that occurred in the short period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II.
Bantam, Willys Overland, and Ford are the three companies credited with the introduction of the jeep. Willys has an interesting history, intertwined with Bantam’s MKII and Ford’s GPW.
The Quartermaster Corps laid down a list of specifications on July 7, 1940, calling for a go-anywhere reconnaissance vehicle. With WWI having just ended, security took on new meaning. The Corps sent an invitation to 135 automobile manufacturers, one of them being Willy Overland – eventually the manufacturer of Willys Jeep.
Willys submitted crude sketches of their vehicle and had the lowest bid. However, they could not meet the 75-day delivery period and had to add a penalty to their bid. Bantam won that particular round and got the order to manufacture the first 70 Model 60 or MKII Jeeps.
Subsequently, on November 11, Willys submitted two units of the Quad – its pilot model. Ford delivered the Pigmy simultaneously. The army was happy with all three prototypes and decided to order 1500 of each model subject to alterations discovered during the field-testing process.
The three modified versions that came about were the Bantam 40 BRC, the Willys MA, and the Ford GP. The Willys MA had specifications to the tune of 60 hp, a “go-devil” engine, weight 2450 lbs., wheelbase 80″, 3-speed synchromesh Warner T84 gearbox with shift lever on the steering post. A total of 1500 units of the Willys Jeep were built in 1941.
In July 1941, the army selected Willys to build a single standardized model based on the field tests since their bid was the lowest. Willys named the redesigned vehicle MB. However, with the outbreak of WWII, the Corps felt the need to speed up production and recruited Ford as well.
Between 1941 and 1945, 450,000 units of Willys and Ford’s GPW were manufactured. Willys Jeep was a huge monetary success for Willys Overland. Ford stopped manufacturing jeeps post-WWII, but Willys successfully adapted the military vehicle to civilian Willys Jeeps.
This was the beginning of the CJ series of Willys Jeeps. When Kaiser took over Willys Overland in 1953, a legendary company became a part of Jeep history.