After World War I mechanization soared in importance among the world’s armies, leading to a proliferation in all types and sizes of vehicles. As another war loomed, so did the need for standardization, if mass production was to be achieved. On July 11, 1940, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps issued a specification to 135 American automotive companies for a quarter-ton, four-wheel drive reconnaissance car capable of carrying useful loads, with proposals to be submitted within just 11 days. Only three contenders responded, and by late November 1940 American Bantam Car Co., Ford Motor Co. and Willys-Overland Motors had delivered prototypes for comprehensive Army trials at Fort Knox, Ky.
Each of the contenders had its merits, but in the end it was Willys’ “Quad”—powered by a 60-hp L134 “Go Devil” engine that produced 105 foot-pounds of torque, compared to 83 for Bantam’s pilot and 85 for Ford’s “Pygmy”—that got the contract. Willys continued to refine its design as the MA in 1941 and finally the MB, of which more than 360,000 were produced between 1941 and 1945. Nearly one-third of that output went to Britain and the Soviet Union.
Soldiers found so many uses for the small general purpose (GP) vehicle that it seemed natural to name it a “jeep,” after the versatile magical creature from the popular Popeye theatrical cartoon shorts. The wheeled jeep became legendary for its exploits over the most inhospitable terrain, and improved versions—including the M151 Mutt, built by Ford—served through the 1990s. A total of 600,000 military jeeps were built during World War II, and countless such vehicles drive on in civilian hands.
this article first appeared in Military History magazine