Jeep has an amazing history which has continued through to today’s models in their capabilities, iconic designs and their forward thinking. From very humble beginnings of low tech but high capability’s to today’s models of the latest technology whilst still retaining high capabilities both on and off road.
The original Jeep vehicle was born of necessity and hand-built in just seven weeks. The U.S. Army had been looking for a fast, lightweight all-terrain recon vehicle. So The Army put out a call to automobile manufacturers asking for a prototype in just 49 days. The government specifications were:
- Weight: approximately 1,300 pounds, raised to 2,160 pounds.
- Four-wheel drive
- Engine (power): 85 pound-feet of torque
- Wheelbase: Not more than 80 inches
- Tread: Not more than 47 inches
- Ground Clearance: Minimum ground clearance of 6.25 inches
- Payload: 600 pounds
The Bantam Car Company and Willis-Overland were the only two companies that responded to the Army’s call, from over 130 companies.
Karl Probst, a Detroit engineer went to work July 17, 1940. In just two days he laid out plans for the Bantam prototype, the precursor of the Jeep® vehicle. On July 22, Bantam’s bid was submitted complete with layouts of this new vehicle. Bantam’s first hand-built prototype was complete and running by September 21, 1940, meeting the 49-day deadline. The Army put this prototype through torturous testing, taking the vehicle over 3,400 miles, all but about 250 of which were unpaved. The testers eventually concluded “this vehicle demonstrated ample power and all requirements of the service.”*
Willys and Ford both submitted prototypes based on the Bantam plans supplied to them by the Army. The Willys “Quad” and the Ford “Pygmy” prototypes added their own changes and modifications to the basic Bantam design.
The Willys Quad prototype exceeded the specified weight limit, due to its engine. This worked to Willys’ advantage when the weight limit was increased: the Willys vehicle — powered by its “Go Devil” — was the only one that met the Army’s power specifications.
The Army contract was awarded to Willys. Since the War Department required a large number of vehicles in a short time, Willys-Overland allowed other companies to manufacture vehicles using Willys’ specifications.
During World War II, Willys and Ford filled more than 700,000 orders, with Willys Overland supplying more than 330,000 units.
Overnight Jeep vehicles were recognized by soldiers and civilians alike as the vehicle that could go anywhere and do anything.
The JEEP Name
No one really knows for certain, but some people say the name came from the slurring of the acronym G.P. for General Purpose vehicle, the designation the Army gave to the new vehicle. Another explanation is that the name was used in Oklahoma as early as 1934 to designate a truck equipped with special equipment for drilling oil wells.
Others claim the vehicle was called a “Jeep,” in reference to the character “Eugene the Jeep” in the 1936 Popeye comic strip by E.C. Edgar.
Yet another version is that Irving “Red” Haussman, a Willys-Overland test-driver who tested the first pilot model picked up the Jeep name that some soldiers at Camp Holabird had been using.
War correspondent Ernie Pyle characterized the Jeep vehicle in this way. “It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and agile as a goat.”
Jeep vehicles were used by every division of the U.S. Military and large numbers were also shipped to the Allied Forces of Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Jeep vehicles became a vital part of all action on land. They were used to lay telephone communications, to transport the wounded, and as taxis to carry battle commanders, generals, prime ministers and presidents.
The CJ-2A and the first all-steel station wagon were the beginning of the Jeep vehicle line, and the forerunners of today’s Wrangler and Cherokee.
As early as 1942, long before the war in Europe or the Pacific came to an end, Willys-Overland recognized that the popular Jeep vehicles could serve the civilian market as well. The phrase “the Jeep in Civvies” often appeared in Willys-Overland magazine and newspaper ads
Willys began to promote the versatility of the Jeep vehicle as a delivery, work and recreational vehicle with quotes like “When I get back I’ll get a Jeep. It’ll make a swell delivery car,” and “Gee wouldn’t it be swell to have a Jeep at the lake after the war? Are you Jeep planning too?” The first civilian Jeep vehicle, the CJ-2A, was produced in 1945. It came with a tailgate, side-mounted spare, larger headlamps, an external fuel cap and many more items that its military predecessors did not include.
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