The Willys MB “Jeep”: Hectic Beginnings


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A photo of the Willys MB Jeep used in WWII.

A Willys MB “Jeep” from WWII.

If you’re alive, there’s close to a 100 percent chance that you’ve seen a Jeep, a video of a Jeep, a photo of a Jeep, or even a childish sketch of a Jeep.

Over the past 70 years, this automobile brand, a trademark of Chrysler, has seen its product evolve from the simple military vehicle on the left, to modernized civilian versions.

But what is now a vehicle produced for worldwide distribution started as a conglomerate of three companies and a rushed push by the U.S. Army to supply the war in Europe.

On June 11, 1940, the Army gave 135 U.S. automakers 11 days to submit a bid for a general purpose vehicle weighing less than 1,300 pounds. Once the bid was completed, pilot models were to be completed within 49 days, and 70 test vehicles were to be finished within 75 days. American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company and Willys-Overland Motors were the only companies that responded. Willys was the lowest bidder, but Bantam won the bid, as it was the only one to meet the deadlines.

However, Bantam didn’t have the production capability or the money to supply the Army’s needs, so representatives from the other two companies were allowed to view the Bantam “Blitz Buggy” as it was tested. The War Department even forwarded Bantam’s blueprints to Willys and Ford, saying that the design was property of the U.S. government.

For the next run of trials, the three companies, unsurprisingly, produced similar vehicles, and it was acknowledged that the previous weight requirement was unreasonable, so it was raised to 2,160 pounds. This resulted in the Bantam BRC 40, the Willys MA and the Ford GP.

A screenshot photo of the WWII U.S. Army Willys MB Jeep with a .30 cal Browning machine gun mounted in the back driven by SAS Maj. Jack Grillo from Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

Maj. Jack Grillo arrives to pick up Lt. Mike Powell in a Willys MB with a .30 caliber Browning machine gun.

In 1941, the government decided to standardize production and chose Willys to produce the next round of vehicles, due to the MA’s more powerful engine. The features from Bantam’s and Ford’s vehicles that were superior to those found in the Willys MA were incorporated into the design of the Willys MB.

By October 1941, the government decided that Willys couldn’t keep up with demand, so they contracted Ford to produce as well, which led to the GPW, denoting the Willys design.

The origin of the name “Jeep” has been debated for years, and there are three main theories. The first, and most widely-held theory is that the “GP” was slurred into the word “jeep.” However, this was only given to the Ford vehicles and did not stand for “general purpose,” as the theory also states.

Instead, the name is probably a combination of the other two theories, which incorporate a civilian and military term. After World War I, a “jeep” was any piece of equipment, or person, that had not been proven in combat. A civilian hearing the word “jeep” would likely imagine the character of Eugene the Jeep, a character in the Popeye comics that could solve seemingly impossible problems and travel in the fourth dimension.

At Fort Holabird, the Army’s vehicle testing center, Willys’ test driver, Irving Haussman, had heard soldiers calling the vehicle a “jeep,” as it was currently untested in battle. During a demonstration at which the vehicle was driven up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate it’s off-road prowess, Haussman called it a “jeep” when asked for its name.

After learning of its stair-climbing abilities, anyone unfamiliar with the military term would probably have assumed it to have the abilities of Eugene – to do anything. After Haussman was quoted in newspapers, the name stuck.

The Willys MB is first seen in Allied Assault when Maj. Jack Grillo picks up Lt. Mike Powell from the motor pool in North Africa. Grillo then drives through a small town and an airfield, with Powell manning the .30 caliber Browning machine gun on the back. It next appears during the bocage mission, though it’s destroyed before it can be used.

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~ by John on November 24, 2010.

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