Car: Willys Mb Jeep, 1942

In 1938, with war clouds gathering over Europe, the US Army decided to replace its motorized motorcycle-sidecar combinations (used for messenger and advance reconnaissance duties) with a small, general-purpose vehicle. It let American motor manufacturers know its requirements in 1940, and three companies responded with prototype vehicles—Willys Overland’s Quad, the American Bantam Car Co.’s Blitz Buggy, and the Ford Motor Company’s GP.

1942 model car Willys Mb Jeep
GIs test an early Jeep at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 1941, seeing how it would—literally—fly over tough terrain.

After a protracted and complex bidding process, Willys’s concept for a light 2,106lb (955kg), maneuverable, and powerful all-purpose vehicle, capable of carrying troops as well as weapons, was selected for production. It boasted selectable two- or four-wheel drive—a true breakthrough.

1942 model car Willys Mb Jeep
1942 model car Willys Mb Jeep

It went on to serve in every major World War II campaign as a machine-gun firing mount, reconnaissance vehicle, pick-up truck, frontline limousine, ammunition bearer, wire-layer, and taxi. In the Ardennes during the 1944–45 Battle of the Bulge, Jeeps loaded with stretchers, raced to safety ahead of spearheading Nazi armor. In Egypt, Britain used a combat patrol of Jeeps to knock out a fleet of fuel tankers en route to German Field Marshal Rommel’s armour forces on the eve of the battle of El Alamein.

1944 model car Willys Mb Jeep
1944 model car Willys Mb Jeep

“Jeep” soon became a household word, many assuming it was a slurring of the acronym GP, for General Purpose. Willys offered civilian editions from 1945, and the Jeep name was registered as an international trademark five years later.

“America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.”

General George C. Marshall, On Willys Mb Jeep

Video model car Willys Mb Jeep

Specification model car Willys Mb Jeep

HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 134ci (2,199cc)
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving all four wheels
BODYWORK: four-seater utility
TOP SPEED: 60mph (97kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 363,000 (plus 280,000 made by licensee Ford, and 2,675 by Bantam)