After a decision to enter World War 2 was taken by the American government, the U.S. Army needed to accommodate the decision. They came up with the proposal to replace the existing and fairly aged military vehicles. There was a need in making standard specifications. Hence, the U.S. Army summarised the requirements in July 1940 and sent them over to 135 American automotive manufacturers.
The need was urgent, so the manufacturers were expected to submit their prototypes within 49 days, and come back with 70 test vehicles within 75 days. The specifications were strict and demanding, e.g. the vehicle had to be four-wheeled; with the engine capability of 115N.m; with an empty weight of 590kg and much more.
To start of, Willys Overland Motors and American Bantam Car Company entered the competition, Ford Motor Company got in later. American Bantam won the bid as they became the only company committing to meet the deadlines stated above. Karl Probst led the creation process of the first prototype, which was delivered to the U.S. Army test centre on the 23rd of September. This prototype later became the World War 2 U.S. Army Jeeps the Willys MB and, also, Ford GPW.
Unfortunatley, Bantam had no manufacturing capacity to provide according to the War Department’ needs. Hence, the other bidders were asked to finish their test pilot models. In order to benefit the result, the War Department sent the Bantam blueprints to Willys and Ford. By November, the 2 bidders sent their prototypes, which turned out to be very alike. By that time, the Armed forces were under so much pressure, that they had to admit all three cars being acceptable, and follow that by an order of 1500 field testing units per company. By that time the original weight limit of 590 kg was accepted to be unrealistic and it got increased to 980 kg.
Bantam’s car got named the BRC 40. In the end of March 1941, the production started. Sadly, the company could not create 75 Jeeps a day, so contracts were signed by Ford and Willys too. By July, the War Department has made a decision to select a single provider for the next order of 16000 vehicles. Mainly because of Willys’ powerful engine called the “Go Devil”, Willys won the contract. However, by October, it became obvious that Willys was not able to keep up with the production numbers. Hence why Ford joint the production process.
From 1941 to 1945, Willys produced 363 thousand Jeeps; Ford made 280 thousand. About 51 thousand was exported to the USSR under the Lend-Lease programme.
After the World War 2, Ford went to court to win the rights to the term “Jeep” and lost the case to Willys. The vehicle evolved into a civilian car called Civilian Jeep. It was the first mass-manufactured 4×4 civilian transport. However, in 1948 American Bantam won the rights on Jeep through U.S. Federal Trade Commission. As the result, Willys was not allowed to claim designing or creating Jeep; but was only permitted admitting the involvement in the development process. Later in 1950, American Bantam went bankrupt, leaving all the rights on the trademark to Willys.
The original CJs held almost no difference to the World War 2 version. The only changes were a spare tire on the side, civilian lighting, chrome trim and vacuum windshield wipers. Also, Willys started producing the model in a variety of colours. Later on this model promoted a birth of a number of Jeeps not only in America but worldwide. The licenses were sold to manufacturers across the globe; e.g. French Army, after purchasing the license, called their Jeep model Hotchkiss M201; Korea and Vietnam Wars employed the military Jeeps throughout the wars.
Willys MB Jeep is one of the symbols of unity during World War 2. It is the main vehicle supplied through Lend-Lease programme (link on the previous article) to USSR, the Republic of China, United Kingdom and other countries. It gave birth to a the whole “Jeep” family, not only affecting the history of the automotive industry but the history of World War 2.