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How the Army Jeep was Born-Page 2
As the United States began to mobilize and modernize its Armed Forces on the eve of World War II, a new type of vehicle came into being: the jeep. On this page, the story of the birth of the Army jeep is continued from Page 1.
Origin of the Military Jeep: Winter 1940
Continued from Page 1 of the Origin of the Military Jeep.
After public disputes and internal Army politics regarding the contracts to be let -- how many and to which company or companies -- it was decided on 14 November 1940 to order another 1,500 vehicles each from Bantam, Willys and Ford.
As the Army continued to evaluate all three pilot vehicles, they found that there was no clearly superior model. Each had advantages and disadvantages relative to the others. The Willys "Go Devil" engine gave outstanding performance, but with a weight penalty. The others had their own superior features and shortcomings, all of which the Army tabulated. These findings formed the basis of design modifications incorporating the results of the field tests into the new designs and model designations for the 1,500 unit contracts.
By 17 December 1940 the sixty nine additional Bantam BRC-60s had been delivered and sent to Army field units for evaluation. Success was immediate and all testers were impressed, wanting more jeeps for their units, eager to replace all motorcycles and motorized tri-cycles in use at that time.
Origin of the Military Jeep: Spring 1941
Performance on the 1,500 unit contacts was to be completed by 7 May 1941, but there were delays. Bantam made its first delivery of 52 jeeps on 31 March 1941 and built about 65 jeeps per day after that. Ford built their first jeep on 28 February 1941 but strikes at Spicer Axle delayed both Ford and Bantam. Work at Willys to reduce the weight of the Quad below the 2,160 lb limit delayed them about three months. After an exhaustive review of every bolt, nut and washer -- including reducing paint from two coats to one -- Willys was able to redesign within the limit, but not until 7 June 1941. The models produced for the 1,500 unit contracts, after all design changes, were designated the Bantam BRC-40, the Ford GP, and the Willys MA, similar but not identical vehicles.
Meanwhile, Lend Lease requirements for the escalating war in Europe caused the Army to extend the contracts. Ultimately Bantam delivered 2,642 BRC-40 units, Willys delivered 1,553 MA units and Ford eventually delivered 4,456 GP units under the contracts.
Many of the jeeps delivered under these contracts were shipped to England, Russia or other allies under Lend Lease but some were distributed to Army units all over the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii) for testing, resulting in detailed comparisons and evaluations of all features, benefits, and shortcomings. This field testing was the basis for combining the best features of all the vehicles to provide the specifications for the large-scale production version yet to come.
As a footnote to history, other companies got interested in the intense competition for the Army reconnaisance car contract and some produced pilot models or at least submitted bids for consideration. Although little is known of the details, Chevrolet, Crosley, Davis, and Kaiser were involved and there was a 1941 agreement between Bantam and Checker that resulted in vehicles being delivered to the Army (see Olive-Drab.com photos of the Checker Bantam).
Origin of the Military Jeep: Summer-Fall 1941
With war imminent in mid-1941, there was no time to redesign from scratch so one of the three existing jeep designs had to be selected. At first the Ford GP was declared the winner, but a firestorm of protest erupted, led by newspaper critic I.F. Stone. The little Bantam company had originated the concept and Willys did best in the tests, so where did giant Ford Motor Co. come from? Political corruption involving the huge Ford company was suspected but the preference for Ford was mainly the Army's desire to use a known-quantity producer with huge capacity, along with some genuinely superior features of the Ford GP. After hearings and much acrimony, the Willys MA was chosen as the standard, primarily due to its more powerful engine. Modifications to the MA were to be determined by blending the outstanding features of the MA and the other competitors.
After contract award to Willys on 23 July 1941 -- for 16,000 jeeps at a price of $738.74 each -- the final modifications were specified. There were to include the Army standard electrical systems with a 2H battery, 40 amp generator, and lighting. The floor gearshift and center handbrake were selected, the gas tank expanded to 15 gallons, and a military pintle tow hook provided at the rear. The Ford GP design elements were adopted for the square hood, cowl, dash, rear body panel, spare tire carrier, front floor and other details. Other parts of the body used the Willys MA design. This composite created the Willys MB, the "Truck, 1/4 ton 4x4" that became famous the world over as the World War II jeep. Willys went into production on the MB in the summer of 1941.
Willys delivered fully on the July contract before the end of August 1941. By October 1941 it was clear that demand would be so great that a second source would be needed. In exchange for a guarantee of contracts for half of the production, Willys made all engineering drawings and manufacturing methodology available to the U.S. Government for second source purposes.
Ford lost the design competition, but its huge production capacity could not be ignored. On 10 November 1941, Ford was given the contract to manufacture the Willys design, to be called the Ford GPW (for GP plus the Willys design modifications). Disgracefully, American Bantam was left out even though they originated the design, produced 2,675 BRC-40s, and had adequate production capacity for a large fraction of the Army's needs. Bantam never produced another jeep, although they were given a contact for the MBT jeep trailer.
Once the Army standardized on the MB/GPW jeep, the remaining units delivered under the 1,500 unit prototype contracts were rounded up and shipped overseas to Allies or were sold as surplus, some through the dealer Berg in Chicago. Few remained in the U.S. and they are quite rare today.
World War II Production of Military Jeeps
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.
More details on the wartime production of Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps is on the linked page.
Find additional photos and hi-res versions of the early jeep prototype vehicles at the Olive-Drab Military Mashup:
Find More Information on the Internet
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