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Willys MB / Ford GPW WW II Army Jeep

The standard production Army jeep of World War II was produced by Willys (the Model MB) and by Ford (the Model GPW). The full story of the development of the original WW II Army Jeep is on the linked page. Additional photos are found in the Military Jeeps section of the Olive-Drab.com Military Vehicle Charts.

Jeep rolling off LCA (Landing Craft, Assault) at Fedala, Morocco harbor during Operation TORCH,  8 November 1942
Jeep rolling off LCA (Landing Craft, Assault) at Fedala, Morocco harbor during Operation TORCH, 8 November 1942.

Many more photos of the Willys MB / Ford GPW WWII jeep at this link.

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Willys MB and Ford GPW World War II Jeeps

Identifying holes in bumper of Ford GPW army jeep

The Willys MB or Ford GPW army jeep is the one most people think of when talking about military jeeps. It is known by many names, such as the Willys Jeep, the GI Jeep, the World War II jeep, or just plain Army jeep. This jeep resulted from a 1940 design competition that involved American Bantam, Willys-Overland, and Ford. Willys was chosen for the first mass production contract based on the Willys MA design, but the Willys MB which followed incorporated superior features from the Bantam BRC-40 and the Ford GP in addition the the Willys MA. When the War Department realized that hundreds of thousands of jeeps would be needed for World War II requirements, Ford was given a contract to produce the Willys MB design. Ford produced jeeps were designated GPW.

Early Willys MB with slat grill, Australia, 1942
Early Willys MB with slat grill, Australia, 1942.

The Willys MB or Ford GPW jeep of World War II were externally visually the same but with many small differences in production details. It was also common to install parts from Willys into a Ford jeep and vice versa. As WW II went on, field maintenance facilities used whatever parts were at hand without regard to the original manufacturer of the part or the jeep.

To discover the origin of a particular jeep, the original dataplate is the best source. Unfortunately, the data plate is often missing or has been replaced by an unreliable replica. The engine has a stamped serial number, starting with MB or GPW which will tell you the origin of the engine. But, like all other parts, the engine may not be original. There are many other details of the Willys MB or Ford GPW that are different. If you are with the jeep, you can see if it has the Ford script F embossed on the rear panel of the body tub or has the F stamped on most bolt heads.

The early production Willys MB jeeps, about 25,800 of them, had a grill made of vertical welded slats (called the "slat grill" type, photo right) and had "Willys" embossed in the back panel among other small differences. When Ford began producing the nearly identical GPW (with Ford embossed on the back panel) in January of 1942, they used the now-standard, less expensive stamped steel slotted jeep grill (photo above, left). The Army wanted full parts interchangability and worked with Ford and Willys to get one standard design for both jeeps -- the Ford idea for the grill was better, so Willys changed over to the stamped grill by April 1942. The Army also insisted that both Willys and Ford drop the embossed company name from the jeep exterior.

The main chassis or body component that distinguished a Willys-Overland MB from the Ford-built GPW is the tubular front frame cross-member on the MB as opposed to the inverted U-shaped cross-member on the GPW with a flat top. That cross-member is located behind the grill, at the base of the radiator so it usually cannot be seen in photos. Below are two close-up photos showing the difference.

1943 Willys MB, with rounded, tubular front cross-member
1943 Willys MB, with rounded, tubular front cross-member.

1942 Ford GPW, with flat top, rectangular front cross-member
1942 Ford GPW, with flat top, rectangular front cross-member.

A visible sign is that GPWs with Ford frames, unlike MBs or GPWs with Willys frames, had holes in the front bumper in line with the frame rails and also had holes in the rear cross-member just out from the bumperettes (photo, above left). Another small MB/GPW difference is in the lid of the rear fender tool boxes. The often replaced, factory original MB tool box lid is flat while the GPW has an embossed ridge and circle design. [Thanks to Tom Wolboldt for help with GPW ID.]

Find additional photos and hi-res versions of the Willys MB and Ford GPW World War II jeeps at the Olive-Drab Military Mashup:

Demonstrating unloading a jeep and 75mm pack howitzer from a transport plane, Fort Bragg, NC, September 1942.
Truck, 1/4 Ton, 4x4, Willys MB (Standard WWII Army/Military Jeep), Aberdeen Proving Ground, 1 September 1943.
100th Infantry Div (Seventh Army) M4 Sherman medium tank, reinforced with sandbags, leads a column through Bitche, Germany, a village at the foot of the northern slope of the Vosges Mountains, circa March 1945.  Jeeps following the tank are equipped with the tandem hitch tow bar.
Willys MB jeep alongside a captured German kubelwagen, winter of 1942-43.  Probably photographed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.
Armored vehicles of the 46th Tank Bn, 13th Armored Div, 1943.  From left to right:  Ford GPA amphibian, MB/GPW jeep, M2/M3 halftrack, M5A1 Stuart light tank, M4 Sherman medium tank, M8 75mm HMC, M3A1 Scout Car, M6 GMC.
Mexico - U. S. Joint Board, 1945.  Field telephone switchboard.  Vehicle appears to be Willys MB / Ford GPW.

World War II Production of Military Jeeps

At the outset, all engines were produced by Willys but in 1942 Ford began to produce GPW engines to the Willys design. Midland Steel Corp. produced frames to the Willys specification and wre used by both Willys and Ford. Ford contracted with Murray Corp. for frames for the GPW after which Ford no longer used the Midland frames. During 1941 to 1943 Willys and Ford manufactured their own bodies, slightly different from each other. In January 1944, both Willys and Ford subcontracted their jeep bodies to American Central Body of Connersville, IN, who built the so-called "composite body" used by both manufacturers.

Willys MB with slat grill, reference photo from TM 10-1207 published in 1941
Willys MB with slat grill, reference photo from TM 10-1207 published in 1941.

After about 25,000 units were produced, in early 1942 the MB/GPW was standardized with changes agreed upon by Ford, Willys and the Army. The 1941 and early 1942 production jeeps have many small differences from the later, full production models. The most visible change was the Ford nine-slot stamped grill which replaced the Willys slat grill (similar to the Ford GP) in March-April 1942.

1942 jeep assembly line at Ford.  Photo:  Courtesy Ford
1942 jeep assembly line at Ford.
Photo: Courtesy Ford.

1945 jeep assembly line at Ford.  Photo:  Courtesy Ford
1945 jeep assembly line at Ford.
Photo: Courtesy Ford.

Ford's River Rouge plant produced the first 77 GPWs with Willys engines and Midland frames in January 1942. Willys jeeps were produced in their Toledo, OH plant, while Ford had assembly operations at six plants around the country. Although small differences remained, the MB and GPW essentially met the Army's goal of being completely interchangeable in all parts. At the factories, there were Ford GPWs produced on Willys Midland frames or with Willys engines, plus other production expedients and subcontractor sharing, creating a mix of jeeps and parts to be sorted out by later generations.

During the course of the war, Ford built 277,896 GPW jeeps, and Willys built 335,531 units. Production contracts were terminated in the summer of 1945 as World War II ended. The last Ford GPW was built on 30 July 1945 and the last Willys MB rolled off the Toledo assembly line on 20 August 1945.


Specifications of the Willys MB / Ford GPW Military Jeep

Length132.25 inches
Width62 inches
Height, top up69.75 inches
Height, top down52 inches
EngineWillys or Ford 4 cyl L-head, 134.2 ci, 6.48:1 compression
Horsepower (net)54 @ 4,000 rpm
TransmissionWarner T-84J 3 speed synchromesh
Transfer caseDana Spicer 18 2 speed
Gear ShiftFloor mounted
AxlesSpicer Dana 4.88:1 23-2 rear, Dana 25 front
Electrical System6v, neg ground
Wheelbase80 inches
Ground Clearance8.75 inches
Approach Angle45°
Departure Angle35°
Weight w/o gas and water2,337 lbs
Fording Depth21 inches max
Tires6.00x16 non-directional

Tabulated data from TM 9-803, February 1944. All Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps have a serial number tag on the left front of the frame. The serial number appears in other locations and there is also a non-matching engine number.

Manuals the Willys MB / Ford GPW

The WW II jeep (Willys MB / Ford GPW) was originally under the authority of the Quartermaster Corps. Therefore, the original manuals were 10-series QM manuals, later superseded by 9-series Ordnance manuals. The QM manuals included:

  • TM 10-1186 Parts Willys MB
  • TM 10-1206 Parts Willys MB
  • TM 10-1207 Parts Willys MB
  • TM 10-1348 Parts Ford GPW
  • TM 10-1349 Operation & Maint Ford GPW
  • TM 10-1512 Parts Willys MB
  • TM 10-1513 Operation & Maint Willys MB

The Ordnance manuals included:

  • TM 9-803 Operation & Maint MB/GPW
  • TM 9-1803A Engine & Accessories MB/GPW
  • TM 9-1803B Power Train, Body & Frame MB/GPW
  • LO 9-803 Lubrication Chart
  • SNL G-503 Standard Nomenclature List of Spare Parts and Equipment
  • ORD 7 SNL G-503 Organizational Spare Parts & Equipment
  • ORD 8 SNL G-503 Higher Echelon Spare Parts & Equipment
  • ORD 9 SNL G-503 List of all Service Parts

The lists are not exhaustive. For example, there are many specialized manuals such as TB 9-1830A-2 "Fits, Tolerances, and Wear Limits for Willys-Overland MB Engine" as well as separately printed changes, MWOs (eg, MWO ORD G503-W7), and more. Manuals exist for boxing partially assembled Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps paired with manuals for unboxing and assembly. Other related manuals cover specific parts (eg, the Carter carb or speedometers), or general automotive procedures and tools. Multiple versions of these manuals appeared with different dates, starting in August 1941.

Recommended Books about the Willys MB / Ford GPW

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: willys mb or ford gpw. Then click the Search button.

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