Happy Birthday to the Jeep!


The first prototype for a new General Purpose vehicle (“GP,” or “jeep,” as it came to be called) was officially introduced on November 11 (Veteran’s Day, or Armistice Day, as it was then called), 1940.

In June of 1940, the U.S. Army requested bids from auto makers to produce a quarter-ton “light reconnaissance vehicle” that would featured a rugged four-wheel drivetrain, among other specifications. After receiving an initial proposal from Bantam before the end of July, and an initial working prototype from the same company (the 1940 Bantam Reconnaissance Car, or BRC-40) before the end of September, the Army brought two other auto makers into the picture, Willys and Ford. Working with Bantam’s blueprints (created by designer Karl Probst) Willys delivered its own prototype, the Willys Quad, by early November, and Ford likewise submitted its own version, the Ford “Pygmy” (also known as the Ford GP) around the same time.

After months of subsequent field testing and modifications, all three companies began producing their own versions of the vehicle for the Army in 1941. Ultimately, the Willys design won out, but, because of production needs, Ford was also asked to manufacture its own version, using plans supplied by Willys. (Ford did devise the iconic pressed metal grille that was eventually incorporated into all models.) These final production versions are known as the Willys-Overland Model MB and the Ford Model GPW, respectively.

Following extensive service throughout WWII in all branches of the US Military, and in the British and Soviet armed forces as well, surplus military vehicles became available in the commercial market after the war ended. Willys-Overland, which had trademarked the name “Jeep” in 1943, also began producing commercial vehicles under that brand in 1945. The brand name subsequently changed hands several times throughout the remainder of the 20th century, and is today owned by Chrysler.