THE AUTOMOTIVE CHRONICLES
 
Jeep History
Compiled by Mona Nath
 

In 1939, the U.S. Army knew it had to have a replacement for the aging motorcycle and the modified Ford Model T it was then using. A universal military vehicle — an anywhere reconnaissance vehicle was the need of the day — machinery that could really match military standards.

The military invited 135 U.S. automobile manufacturers to bid for the production of 70 vehicles that would meet their laid down specifications: load capacity of 600 lbs; wheelbase under 75 inches; height under 40 inches; engine to run smoothly from three to 50 mph; rectangular shaped body; two-speed transfer case with four wheel drive; fold-down windshield; three bucket seats; blackout and driving lights; gross vehicle weight under 1200 lbs...

 
The first Jeep vehicles

Photo courtesy: Army Heritage Center Foundation
 

Only three companies took up the challenge — Ford Motor company, Willys-Overland, and American Bantam Car Company. Bantam was the quickest — they submitted blueprints of the proposed vehicle in five days flat, and this won them the initial contract for 70 Jeeps. However, it must be said here that the Bantam crumbled under testing by the army quartermaster.

Meanwhile World War II had broken out in Europe, and there was an urgent need for such vehicles. Prototypes were accepted from the other two companies as well. Bantam delivered 2675 units in 1941. A total of 4,458 units were built by Ford and 1,500 by Willys Overland, the same year.

Some hiccups and modifications later, the Willys model became universal, but had to use some of the Ford and Bantam parts on it. In July 1941, these vehicles were needed in large numbers, and for $738.74 a piece, Willys won the contract. The other two companies did not have mass production technology, so they could not be awarded a part of the contract. However they were asked to build Jeep trailers and other peripherals. The Willys plant was producing one Jeep every one-and-a-half minutes. The extra production was quickly absorbed for haul trailers, artillery, to operate timber saws, and also to pull railroad cars.

It is said that the history of the Jeep is a "portrait of American engineering". Its performance in World War II was extraordinary. According to Lt. Col. Manuel A. Conley, the Jeep could operate without strain from three to 60 miles per hour. It could handle a 40 degree slope, turn in a 30 foot circle, and tilt left or right on a 50 degree angle without tipping over. It would "go places where tankers quit and birds would go back exhausted". He said, "Good Lord, I don't think we could continue the war without the Jeep. It does everything. It goes everywhere. It's as faithful as a dog, strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carries twice what it was designed for, and keeps on going. It doesn't even ride so badly after you get used to it." Another army officer said, "It can do everything except bake a cake".

"The Jeep became a sign, the emblem, the alter ego of the American fighting machine," Conley chronicled. The end of an era came in 1981. The armed forces ended their orders for Jeeps and a new vehicle was ushered in. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Hummer) replaced the quarter ton Jeep in order to keep up with the new age of computers and technology.

The Jeep had stood the test of time. Jeep expert Michael VanderPloeg goes as far as to say, "The Jeep's history certainly makes it eligible for the most valuable player award, if the army had such an honor."

Civilian Jeeps also found their place in the sun — trekking through mud, and climbing over rock... Without a doubt, the Jeep had entrenched itself in mainstream America...

 
 
The Jeep, down the years...
 

1945

1946

1946

1947
       

1949

1950

1950

1951
       

1953

1957

1957

1959
       

1960

1960

1960

1960
       

1961

1961

1962

1962
       

1962

1962

1962

1963
       

1963

1964

1965

1965
       

1966

1966-67

1966-68

1966-68
       

1966-67

1967

1967

1967
       

1967

1968-69

1968

1969
       

1969

1969

1970

1970
       

1971

1972

1972

1972
       

1973

1973

1974

1974
       

1974

1975

1975

1975
       

1975

1975

1976

1977
       

1977

1977

1978

1979
       
 
For a complete listing of Jeep literature up to the present time, please click here.
       
 
Updated on Nov 24, 2016
The Automotive Chronicles