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History of the Jeep and Military Operations

History of the Jeep and Military Operations

Jeep's evolution brings a more stylish version of the original to the market, but its roots remain visible to modern civilians and Jeep lovers. The beginning of Jeep's reputation stems from performance and practicality, and both qualities are prevalent in high-end and low-end models in today's full-range lineup.


Some of Jeep's best attributes come to the market we have now due to its development and use during World War II. Jeep's design and construction for the war helped navigate various terrains and hauled heavy equipment. Let's further explore the history of the Jeep and the military operations it contributed to.

Call To Action

A healthy majority of consumer vehicles today were born in a design room and contribute to a shareholder's wealth. Jeep has a different birth story as it was a response or a solution to a need in early war days. Just shy of the United States' involvement in the second world war, the military placed a call to create a vehicle that aided their participation—something all-purpose.

The war initially began without the United States’ participation. Still, with Axis powers taking over in Europe, it was abundantly clear to the government they would have to change this. As these thoughts began to come about and discussions began, securing a plan of attack and all necessary provisions became the priority.

One of the first things the Army did was call roughly 135 companies in search for a working prototype for a reconnaissance car. Luckily, two companies answered: Willys-Overland and The American Bantam Car Company.

A Subject of Urgency

When the Army put out their request to whoever could answer their call, they had one minor but also significant demand: the production of the prototype needed to be ready within 49 days. That was only about a month and a half for any company to design and manufacture a vehicle capable of withstanding a combat zone.

And the demands didn't stop there. They had specific wishes for the prototype and did not want just any automobile. Some of these specifications included:

  • The automobile needed to weigh a minimum of 1,300 pounds.
  • There needed to be a payload minimum of 600 pounds.
  • The vehicle needed to sit a minimum of 6.25-inches off the ground, the tread couldn't be any more than 47 inches, and the wheelbase couldn't be any more than 80 inches.
  • It also needed an engine with 85 pounds per one foot of torque.

The final command was a cooling system that allowed the car to travel at a low speed for an extended period without overheating.

Karl Probst, a freelance designer, received a call from Bantam, who asked him to put the initial concept together. Bantam believed that Probst could take an existing Bantam design and modify it to meet the hefty list of demands. But the Army increased their horsepower requirements, which meant the design was no longer suitable for a Bantam design. With only one company left, Probst decided to create a concept for quick manufacture with parts off the shelf.

Willys-Overland made a call asking for more time to work on the prototype, but the Army denied such a request.

The Plan of Action

After all specifications and further discussions about the prototypes, the Army enjoyed Bantam's version the most but had concerns about the company's ability to generate it in the appropriate time window. Unfortunately, Bantam was struggling with their finances, which led to Probst's big decision to design the prototype for free.

All things considered, the Army took the design from Bantam and sent it over to Willys-Overland and Ford to utilize to create any other modifications and concoct their own designs. In no time, Ford and Willys both had creations ready for presentation—Ford with the Pygmy and Willys with the Quad. They won the contract because Willys design far exceeded the 85-pound torque requirement with 105 pounds per one foot of torque.

The Army needed the vehicles as quickly as possible, so Willys agreed to allow another company to contribute to the production with their design. Ford produced as many Willys-designed Jeeps as it could, and they manufactured 700,000 Jeeps, and Willys alone provided roughly half of them between companies.

Jeep's Use During the War

During the war, the Jeep proved itself as one of the most valuable pieces of equipment. The military used them for almost everything, including providing aid to the wounded and completing administrative duties.

All U.S. military branches made use of the Jeep, including allied powers Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. Jeeps primary use was for transporting commanders and generals, but they also contributed to transporting the ill out of the battlefields, delivering supplies, and laying lines of communication. Sometimes, they helped tow other vehicles, and they could also ride on railroad tracks with the proper setup.

They were dependable in just about any scenario, from muddy to rocky terrains, and powerful enough to encounter some of the most challenging battles with reliability.

The Jeep Name

Today, we throw around the Jeep name quite easily. But in the early days of production and use, the Jeep name we know and love remained a debate. In fact, it remains unclear where Jeep got its name from. The models produced by Willys were known as Model MB, and the Ford versions were the Model GPW.

There are talks that the Jeep name came from the initials "GP," which stands for general-purpose vehicle. And though fitting, the Model GPW actually refers to the vehicle's specs like engine and wheelbase sizing. Another often-told claim is that the name came from Eugene the Jeep's character in the then-popular comic, Popeye.

In 1943, Willys-Overland put in an application for an official trademark for the Jeep name. By 1950, they received the privilege of having the request granted, and all future vehicles carried the Jeep name.

Jeep in Civvies

Before the war concluded, Willys began advertising the Jeep for civilians, and the 1942 ads referred to it as "Jeep in Civvies." The ads focused on its dependability and strength, which mimicked the post-war efforts. In 1945, Willys manufactured the CJ-2A, the first Jeep for civilians, specifically targeting farmers and construction workers.

The history of the Jeep and the military operations it participated in are still visible in today's models. The Jeep Wrangler is the most similar, and a sleek Jeep Cherokee also contains some of the original design features.

To get your hands on original Willys parts for sale, reach out to us at Army Jeep Parts for further assistance.

History of the Jeep and Military Operations