The oldest known “jeep” recently celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday and we thought you might enjoy a fun look back at some of the more intriguing facts of the early history of the ¼ ton, four-wheel-drive reconnaissance truck that became know as “jeep.”
Born In Butler
The first ¼ ton, four-wheel drive reconnaissance truck “pilot model” produced for the U.S. Army was built by the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. It was delivered for testing to Maryland’s Camp Holabird army base on September 23, 1940. Subsequent designs by Willys-Overland and Ford — the brands best remembered by jeep enthusiasts today — were actually refinements on this original U.S. Army and American Bantam concept.
Grilled By Ford
[source: U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum and Library of Congress]
Thanks go to Ford for one of the most distinctive elements of the jeep design — the flat slotted grill with integrated headlights. Ford’s Pilot Model GP- No. 1 “Pygmy” featured a flat grille with integrated headlights delivered to the U.S. Army on November 23, 1940. From 13 slots (1940), to nine slots (1941), to seven slots (1945) — that’s the history of the iconic jeep grille.
The Devil’s In The Details
[source: AACA Museum]
The main reason Willys-Overland won the lion’s share of the production for the WWII jeep was its engine. Willys-Overland began reworking its L134 engine in 1938 with the arrival of Barney Roos as chief engineer. The result was the durable and powerful “Go-Devil” engine that became the heart of the jeep for decades.
Where Is Willy?
Willys-Overland produced at least two Pilot Model “Quads” in 1940. The photo above was taken after 1952 based on the line up of military jeep models and includes a Willys-Overland Pilot Model Quad (far left). Anyone know where it is now? Buried in a Toledo garage perhaps?
American Bantam Receives The Consolation Prize
American Bantam is credited for development of the jeep concept but lost out on the big military contract for the standardized WWII jeep. What they did get was the contract to produce the trailers for the jeep. During the war, American Bantam produced approximately 74,000 T3 trailers for the U.S. military.
“Willies” Or “Willis?”
[source: Library of Congress]
So is Willys pronounced “Willies” or “Willis.” In 1952, the Toledo Blade newspaper got to the bottom of the story and concluded that the proper pronunciation is “Willis”— so that’s what we’re talkin’ ‘bout!
Woodies For The Masses
Prior to the war, “woodie” station wagons were expensive handcrafted, wood paneled, luxury vehicles. But that would all change thanks to designer Brooks Stevens. Willys-Overland wanted their new product line to leverage on the success of jeep-style vehicle. The answer for 1946: the Willys-Overland all steel, two-door, two-wheel drive “station wagon” with a woodie-look. It was a hit—finally a woodie for masses!
The Long List Of Jeep Paternity Claims
[source: Heinz History Center]
It’s said that “success has many fathers” and, in the case of jeeps, the list of those that have claimed or are sometimes credited with “fathering the jeep” include: Colonel William F. Lee (U.S. Army, Infantry); Charles Harry Payne, sales (American Bantam); Frank Fenn, President (American Bantam); Charles Probst, design engineer (American Bantam); Harold Crist, factory manager (American Bantam); Delmar “Barney” Roos, chief engineer (Willys-Overland). Are there any others?
Keeping It Spicy!
[source: Library of Congress]
The unsung hero in the history of Jeep is definitely the four-wheel-drive transfer case Model 18 produced by Spicer Manufacturing. Spicer’s model was a linchpin design concept of military-era jeeps and for decades of later civilian models. In 1946, Spicer changed its corporate name to Dana Corporation.
They Sold Grandpa
The Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” was sold at auction by The Henry Ford Museum in 1982. At the time, they might not have known it was the oldest surviving jeep. Today, the Henry Ford Museum displays a 1943 Willys-Overland Model MB and GP-No. 1 is on display at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Alabama.
America’s Oldest Jeep Is A Ford
American Bantam delivered the first pilot model to the U.S. Army on Sep. 23, 1940. Willys-Overland delivered the first of two pilot model “Quads” to the Army on November 11, 1940. Ford delivered its two pilot models GP-No. 1 and GP-No. 2 on November 23, 1940. Of theses five pilot models produced only the two Ford versions are known to survive making the 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” America’s oldest known jeep.
On Dec. 7, 2015 the 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” was announced as the eighth vehicle to be recorded under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Heritage Documentation. The documentation will be part of the National Historic Vehicle Register and the Historic American Engineering Record that is permanently archived in the Library of Congress. The documentation is part of an ongoing collaboration between the HVA and the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Heritage Documentation Programs to document historically significant automobiles, trucks and motorcycles. Principle funding and support for the documentation of the 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy was provided by Shell Lubricants, Hagerty and FARO Technologies, Inc. The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy is owned by the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Ala. where it is on permanent display.