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Origins of the Jeep

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep vehicles are known around the globe for their outstanding off-road capabilities, rugged durability, and legendary heritage. Although, modern Jeeps are everything from daily drivers to toys, the Jeep started out as a wartime hero.

With the nearing reality of the United States involvement in the raging war in Europe, the U.S. Army requested a working prototype of a four wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle from 135 different companies. Only two companies responded to the request, The American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. With a seemingly impossible deadline of 49 days to provide a working prototype, the two companies got to work. Without any engineering staff left, the bankrupt American Bantam Car Company, with the help from the U.S. Army, brought in a talented freelance designer from Detroit, Karl Probst.

Probst had complete plans for the Bantam prototype laid out in two days with the total cost the following. With complete blueprints, Bantam’s bid was submitted. Using off-the-shelf automotive parts, a hand-built prototype was completed in Butler, PA and driven to Camp Holabird, MD for Army testing on September 21, 1940. All but the engine of the Bantam prototype met the Army’s criteria.

Because the Army felt that the Bantam company was too small to supply the number of vehicles needed, Willys and Ford were supplied with the Bantam design and with encouragement to make their own changes and modifications. This resulted in the Ford Pygmy and Willys Quad prototypes that shared many of the same off-the-shelf parts and design. 1,500 of each of the three models were built and extensively field tested.

Willys-Overland’s chief engineer, Delmar Roos, made design changes to meet the revised weight specifications that in turn allowed the use of the powerful Willys “Go Devil” engine and won the initial production contract. This allowed the Willys version of the vehicle to become the standardized design.

Since the War Department required a large number of vehicles to be manufactured in a short amount of time, Willys-Overland granted the United States Government a license to allow other companies to manufacture the vehicle to Willys’ specifications. The Army chose for the be the second supplier of the vehicle while the inventor of the first Jeep, American Bantam Car Company, worked throughout the war building heavy-duty trailers for the Army.

With an average of 145 supplied to every infantry regiment, Jeeps were used in every division of the U.S military. Jeeps were used for everything from ambulances to tractors with variations such as amphibious models being developed.



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