The Willys MB
Here at the Schwanke Museum we have several Iconic vehicles that made a mark in history and the one I am going to write about this week is one of those vehicles.
The 1946 Willys CJ2A, even though this jeep was built post World War II it still has many parts that were used on the MB and it even has the look of the MB that were used during the war.
First let’s start with a little history; during the First World War many of the military forces made and attempts at mechanize military forces. The air plane was still in its infancy along with the mechanized tank, and troop carriers. The US Army began using the 4x4 trucks that were built by the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company out of Clintonville, Wisconsin and even those 4x4 trucks had a bulky design. The United States Department of War decided they needed a lighter more durable cross-country reconnaissance vehicle.
Tensions were beginning to heighten around the globe as the 1930’s were coming to an end. So the U.S. Army approached the 135 American Automotive Manufactures to make suggestions as to what they could design to replace the existing light motorized vehicles that the military was using many that were obsolete. The new vehicle would replace mostly the many motorcycles with side cars and their small fleet of Ford Model T’s. The first result was not what the U.S. Army expected because only a handful of automobile manufactures would rise to the challenge. One of the first manufacturers to present the U.S. Army with five prototypes was the Marmon-Herrington 4x4 Ford trucks in 1937 and in 1938 American Bantam Company would present the U.S. Army with three Austin roadsters. Neither vehicle would meet the requirements at the time. Part of the reason they did not meet the requirements was that the Army had yet to come up with what they wanted in a vehicle. It wasn’t until July 11th 1940 that they formalized plans for the vehicle they needed. So with their specifications set the Army would once again approach manufacturers. This time the Army would send out their manual, the TM 9-803 and it would describe their vehicle as “a general purpose, personnel, or cargo carrier especially adaptable for reconnaissance or command, and designated as 1/4 – ton 4x4 truck.”
The war was now underway in most of Europe, and the Army saw the need for this vehicle and it was becoming more urgent and they were becoming more demanding. The Army decided that bids would need to be received by July 22, this would give manufactures a span of eleven days to get their bids in. After the bids were received the Army would give Manufacturers 49 days to submit their first prototype and 75 days for completion of 70 test vehicles.
The Army was demanding but the Army's Ordnance Technical Committee and their specifications would be equally demanding. The prototypes had to be four-wheel drive and be able to carry a crew of three, it also had to have a wheelbase of no more than 75 (later 80) inches and tracks no more than 47 inches, a fold-down windshield was a must, and it also had to have a 660 lb payload and the engine had to be powerful and capable of 85 ft-lb (115 N-m) of torque. The most demand thing was that it had to be light and had to have an empty weight of no more than 1,300 lb (590 kg).
There would only be three companies to enter bids, they were the American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors and Ford. Willys-Overland would be the low bidder of the three, but American Bantam would receive the bid. The reason they received the bid was because they were the only company who would committed to delivering a prototype model in 49 days and produce the other examples in 75. The lead designer was Karl Probst, and it was his design they used to build the Bantam their first prototype, the design crew and builder would dub it the "Blitz Buggy" (and later they would call it "Old Number One"). The first Bantam would be delivered on September 23rd 1940, to the Army’s vehicle testing center at Camp Holabird, Maryland. The vehicle would eventually evolve into what would be the Army’s official World War II U.S. Army Jeeps: the Willys MB and Ford GPW.
The American Bantam Company did not have the production capacity nor did they have fiscal stability to deliver the vehicles. It was decided by the War Department that Ford and Willys-Overland should complete their prototype models for testing. It was decided by the War Department that the contract for the new reconnaissance vehicle would be determined by those trials. The first test was the American Bantam prototype and it would take place on September 27 and run through October 16. The War Department asked that the Ford and Willys engineers be present at the Holabird testing grounds so they would have the opportunity to study the prototypes performance. The War Department even forwarded the American Bantam blueprints to Ford and Willys. The reason the War Department forward the blueprints was they claimed the government had the right to the blueprints and the vehicles design. The American Bantam Company never argues over this move due to their financial situation. After the American Bantam prototypes trials the Ford and Willys-Overland were urged to submit their own prototypes to the Army by November 1940. When the other two prototypes were ready it was time for them to compete with the Bantam in the Army's trials. The prototype model that Willys-Overland introduces was the Quad and Ford prototype was called the Pygmy as it turned out the three vehicles were very similar to each other. American Bantam Company made adjustments to their entry which would be called the Mark II BRC 60 it and the other two were ready for testing. Time was running out and the War Department was under pressure so all three cars were declared acceptable. The first order was for 1,500 units per company which would be used for field testing. As assembly of the new reconnaissance vehicle began it was realized that the original weight limit was unrealistic the War Department raised the weight limit from1,300 lb (590 kg) to 2,160 pounds (980 kg).
It was decided in pre-production runs and revisions that the vehicles would receive a new name. The American Bantam Companies vehicle would become the BRC 40 which would also become the last vehicle built American Bantam, because the company would cease motor vehicle production after December 1941. Willys would reduce the weight of their vehicle by 240 pounds and change its designation to "MA" for "Military" model "A". When Ford went into production they gave their new vehicle the designation of "GP", the "G" would stand "Government" type contract and the "P" was commonly used by Ford to designate any passenger car with a wheelbase of 80 inches.
The War Department also wanted to have a standard vehicle, so it was decided to select a single manufacturer to fill the next order of 16,000 vehicles; this decision was made in July of 1941. One of the reasons Willys won the contract was because of their powerful little engine (the "Go Devil") and many soldiers would raved about it, another reason was because of its lower cost and silhouette. The new designs would feature parts taken from the Bantam and Ford prototypes, and they were add to the Willys new design, some were improvements over the Willys' design. A new designation was given the Willys, changing it from "A" designation to "B", thus the "MB" classification. Most notable was a flat wide hood, adapted from the Fords GP.
It became apparent by October 1941 that the Willys-Overland Company would not be able to keep up with production demand, so Ford was contracted to produce them as well. The vehicle that Ford would build would be designated with the GPW the "W" would refer to the licensed design of the "Willys". Willys would produce over 363,000 Jeeps and Ford some 280,000 during World War II. There were approximately 51,000 that were exported to the U.S.S.R. under the U.S.’s Lend-Lease program.
Ford would also build another 13,000 (roughly) amphibian jeeps and would name it the GPA (nicknamed 'Seep' for Sea Jeep). The Sea Jeep was inspired by the larger DUKW, but the vehicle was produced to fast, it proved to be too heavy and was too unwieldy plus it was to insufficient freeboard. The Sea Jeep participated successfully in the Sicily landing in July 1943 but after the landing most of GPAs were routed to the U.S.S.R. under the Lend-Lease program. The Soviets were pleased with the GPAs ability to cross rivers and began to develop their own version of the GPA after the war and they would call it the GAZ-46.
The origins of the term “Jeep”
There are many origins of the term jeep and one begins at the beginning. It was said that when the prototypes were at the proven grounds on the military bases, the mechanics would use the term “jeep” for any untried or untested vehicle and it stayed with the vehicle when it left the base.
Another origin comes from the soldiers; it was said that the soldiers were so impressed with the new vehicle so much that they named it after Eugene the Jeep which was a character in the cartoons created by E.C. Segar. In case you didn’t know Eugene the Jeep was the jungle Pet of Popeye’s it was small and able to move between dimensions and could solve impossible problems without any effort.
Another story comes from when the Willys-Overland Company staged their first press event in early 1941. They were demonstrating the vehicles prowess by driving up the Capital steps. The test driver Irving “Red” Hausmann who was also a member of the Willys development team had heard soldiers refer to the vehicle as a jeep while he was at Camp Holabird and while giving demonstration rides to a group of dignitaries, this would include Katherine Hillyer, a reporter for the Washington News heard him refer to the vehicle as a jeep. So when Hillyer’s article appeared in the Washington Daily News on February 20th 1941, the photo of the vehicle going up the Capital steps read jeep in the caption. It is believed that Hausmann is most likely the one that is most responsible for the first media usage. Even though it is most likely that Hausmann caused the term to be fixed in public awareness he did not create the word or invent the word jeep.
It is also thought that the name Jeep could have come from Fords version of the Willys because of the designation GP, therefore Gee P; it is possibly because later Ford would cause problems as there were legal matters with the name.
Willys-Overland would produce over 363,000 Jeeps along with Ford building some 280,000 during World War II. Generals, soldier and civilians alike loved the new reconnaissance vehicle it made getting into and out of the battle field easier. It was often used by Generals as a command post when overlooking the battles.
With the war over Ford decided it was time to sue Willys for the right to the term “Jeep” unfortunately the courts sided with the Willys-Overland Company and the Jeep name became the sole property of Willys. It was decided the Willys would make a version of the Jeep to sell to the public. The first of the CJ2A (Civilian Jeep) would roll of the assembly line in late 1945. It also put its mark in history as the first four wheel drive to be mass produced for civilian use.
A side note in history:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreed with the American Bantam Company in 1948, that the idea of the Jeep was a created by American Bantam in collaboration with a few Officers of the US Army and the commission informed Willys that they could not claim direct or imply that they created or designed the Jeep and that it only claim that they only contributed to the development of the 4x4 vehicle. In 1950 thing change when American Bantam Company went bankrupt, and Willys was permitted the full trademark for the Jeep.
When the first CJ2A rolled of the assembly line they were essentially the same as the MB, with the exception of the vacuum-powered windshield wipers, a tailgate, a side mounted spare tire and new headlights since the ones they had on the vehicle were for military use. Other amenities the civilian jeep would have were the Naugahyde seats, a chrome trim package and a variety of colors. The jeep would continue to use the same engine but used the bigger T-90 transmission by doing this they hoped to appeal to the rural buyers. Willys-Overland, later to become Willys Motors and then Kaiser Jeep, they would continue to supply the U.S. Military as well as many of the allied nations with their Jeeps through the 1960’s.
The first of the postwar military jeep was the M38 or MC as it was designated was launched in 1950, this jeep was based on the 1949 CJ-3A. Another change was made again in1953, when they came out with the new M38A1or MD and it would feature the new rounded-fender. It would also feature the new Willys Hurricane engine which was taller than the previous engine that was part of the reason for the new fenders. This jeep would later be developed into the CJ-5 which would be launched in 1955. They also had a version that they would use as an ambulance and it designated the M170 or MDA, it would feature a 20-inch wheelbase stretch, this version would also be turned into the civilian CJ-6.
Willys would offer the public a cheaper alternative to the CJ-5, with a taller F-head engine in the form of the CJ-3B and a CJ-3A body with the taller hood. This jeep was quickly turned into the M606 and it was mostly used as their export vehicle. This vehicle was equipped with the option of their heavy-duty tires and springs, black-out lighting, olive drab paint, and a trailer hitch in 1968. After 1968 the M606A2 and M606A3 versions of the CJ-5 would be sold to friendly foreign governments. They would also issue licenses to produce the CJ-3B to other countries; Mahindra, India continues to produce this vehicle in some form or another to this day. The French army produced its own version of the Willys MB, the Hotchkiss M201.
Of course the Jeep would inspire many imitations from its competitors such as Land Rover, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and others. They all owe their beginnings to the 4x4 world to the Willys Jeep.
The military Jeep would continue to be used in the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. The MB jeep was mostly used during the Korean conflict until the introduction of the M38 and the M38A1 in 1952 and 1953; they are all descendents of the Willys MB. The Vietnam War would see the introduction of the newly designed Ford M151 Mutt, and it would feature the state of the art technology of the unibody and the all around independent suspension with coil springs. Smaller forms of the Jeep were also created for the U.S. Marines such as the M422 Mighty Mite which was easier to airlift and handle. The U.S. military would eventually decided to go to a newer vehicle and the role of the jeep would be slowly be phased out and be replaced by another light military vehicle the HMMWV or the Humvee.
The Willys-Overland MB Jeep would be honored in 1991 as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Chrysler would produce a special edition of the Willys in 2004 and 2005 producing only 1,000 Willys Special Edition Jeep Wranglers.
Chrysler still produces the Jeep still to this day in one form or another.