1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 (Pygmy)
Date(s) of Construction
ca. October 1940
Original Owner and Use
Ford Motor Company
U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps testing and development as a concept prototype pilot model
Present Owner and Use
U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum
Display and limited exhibition
Designer / Engineer / Builder
American Quartermaster Corps, United States Army – Col. William F. Lee (U.S. Army, Infantry) American Bantam Car Co. – Frank Fenn, President
Karl Probst, Design Engineer
Harold Crist, Factory Manager
Charles Harry Payne, Government Representative Ford Motor Company
The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1, also known as the Pygmy, is significant based on three out of four of the Criteria for Historic Significance. First, the GP-No. 1 is significant in its relation to historic events. It is the first of the prototype pilot model, ¼ ton reconnaissance vehicles built by the Ford Motor Company for the U.S. Army. Secondly GP-No. 1 is significant based on its design and construction value. Many of its features were adopted in the final production WWII jeep. The Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy design is perhaps most important as the first “jeep” prototype to feature a flat slatted front grille with integrated headlights which went on to become an iconic design element of the standardized mass produced WWII “jeep” and subsequent commercial versions. Finally, GP-No. 1 is significant for its informational value as the oldest known jeep. Furthermore, it retains much of its original paint, finishes and parts, having never been restored since leaving the Ford Motor Company in 1948.
The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy, is a ¼ ton, four-wheel drive, front engine vehicle. It has a one-off, Ford built, steel body mounted on a steel ladder-type frame. GP-No. 1 features a front-mounted gasoline powered, 119.7 cubic inch displacement (cid) flathead, inline four-cylinder engine. The engine is naturally aspirated and is equipped with a Holley 847-type single-barrel, downdraft carburetor. GP-No. 1 was originally fitted with an updraft carburetor, however, it was changed in period to the Holley downdraft based on initial test by the U.S. Army. The engine was likely sourced by Ford from their 1941 truck line and was rated at 30 horsepower in period. The four-cylinder engine is very similar in specification to the engine used in the 1941 Ford Model 9N tractor and over 5000 subsequent Ford Model GP “jeeps.” Power is transmitted to the wheels via a three-speed unsynchronized manual transmission, and a Spicer Model 18 two-speed transfer case. GP-No. 1 is driven by solid full-floating live-axles at the front and the rear. The vehicle is suspended with semi-elliptic leaf springs fore and aft and hydraulic double acting lever-type shock absorbers at each wheel. GP-No. 1 is equipped with four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, and rides on 16-inch bolt-on stamped steel wheels with 6.00 – 16 Firestone agricultural tires. The original Firestone off-road type tires used by Ford in 1940 were removed before the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum acquired the jeep and are no longer available. The jeep is painted with an olive drab green and has not been repainted since at least 1948. Overspray on various gaskets and surfaces indicate that GP-No. 1 may have been partially repainted at some point prior to the accession to the Ford Museum in 1948.
GP-No. 1 was built in the fall of 1940 by the Ford Motor Company. The Ford Motor Company delivered two prototype pilot models to Camp Holabird in Baltimore for US Army testing on 23 November 1940 – the first with a Ford body (serial number GP-No. 1) and the second (serial number GP-No. 2) with a body produced by the Edwin G. Budd Manufacturing Co. (Philadelphia). The Ford GP-No. 1 was based on specifications outlined by the Quartermaster Corps of the United States Army and an initial design by the American Bantam Car Company. The Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy is America’s oldest known “jeep.”
Between 1937 and 1939, the Army engaged representatives from American Bantam to help devise a lightweight utility vehicle that could be used in battle and for military support. Through American Bantam’s cooperation, the Army developed specifications for such a vehicle subsequently referred to as a quarter-ton, reconnaissance truck. The U.S. Army opened a bid for a contract on 11 July 1940 to 135 manufacturers.
At the onset, only American Bantam submitted plans and a prototype considered a “pilot model.” American Bantam delivered the first prototype to Camp Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland on 23 September 1940. After American Bantam submitted their plans, both Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. and Ford were requested by the U.S. Army to submit their own versions of the quarter-ton reconnaissance vehicle. Willys submitted their first pilot on 11 November 1940, named the Quad. Willys-Overland went on to produce at least one additional pilot model. The two Ford pilot models were delivered 23 November 1940 and were subsequently given the “Pygmy” nickname. Of the five pilot models produced by the three manufacturers only the two Ford pilot models are known to survive. By February 1941, the “jeep” moniker was in common usage for all of the quarter-ton prototype pilot models. The official origin of the name is not currently known.
Following the tests of the initial pilot models, the US Army, contracted all three manufactures to produce 1500 additional updated models apiece. These revised “prototypes” were tested in further evaluations at Camp Holabird and other Army bases throughout the country but were also placed into service. American Bantam, Willys-Overland and Ford variants were known as BRC, MA, and Model GP respectively. Many of the prototypes were shipped overseas as WWII escalated and the United States government entered into a Lend-Lease program with Allied nations. Because of the increased global war efforts and the success of the general “jeep” design, Ford went on to produce 5,767 Model GPs. The Model GPs featured many of the design elements from GP-No. 1, including headlights set in behind a slat grill, Spicer axles, floor shift, gas tank under the driver’s seat and a flathead four-cylinder 119.7 cid engine. Bantam produced 2,605 BRCs and Willys 1,553.
In August 1941 Willys was awarded a contract to begin serial production (initially 16,000) of its further refined Willys-Overland MB jeep. The design of the Willys-Overland MB became the standard military jeep utilized by the U.S. Army throughout WWII and incorporated designs from each of the original three manufacturers. The final standard military design Willys- Overland MB used the Willys-Overland commercial “Go-Devil” four-cylinder engine as the standard engine. There were immediate concerns as to whether or not Willys-Overland could supply the necessary number of jeeps and Ford was contracted to augment production. The WWII jeep produced by Ford of the Willys design, is known as the GPW. Ford manufactured the Willys-Overland engine under license for its GPW model (“W” for Willys). The Willys-Overland MB and Ford GPW models we near identical with interchangeable parts. American Bantam did not receive a contract to produce any of the standardized WWII “jeep” vehicles.
By the end of WWII, 641,230 of the standardized jeeps were produced; 279891 by Ford and 361,339 by Willys-Overland. GP-No. 1 contributed many featured to the final production jeep. Some of these unique contributions included a low cowl height, protected headlamps, center gearshift, truck-type parking-brake control, and tubular windshield.
After the war, Willys-Overland commercialized the “jeep” creating a civilian version known as the “CJ.” On 13 July 1950, Jeep® became a registered trademark of Willys-Overland. During the late 1940s the company launched the CJ-2A, CJ-3A, Jeep Station Wagon, Jeepster, pick-up and other trucks. Willys-Overland was sold to Kaiser Motors in 1953. In 1970, Kaiser-Jeep sold its Jeep operations to American Motors Corporation (AMC). Chrysler Corporation then purchased AMC in 1987. Today the Jeep® brand is owned by FCA, USA, LLC a member of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. family of companies. Neither Ford nor American Bantam pursued commercialization of the “jeep” following the war.
The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No. 1 Pygmy is currently owned by the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, AL where it is on display. GP-No. 1 was the only Ford pilot model tested at Camp Holabird and it was eventually returned to Ford. In 1948, Henry Ford II, then President of the Ford Motor Company, donated GP-No. 1 to The Henry Ford Museum. In September 1982, GP-No. 1 was sold to Randall Withrow at a Henry Ford Museum auction. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Withrow established the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum and GP-No. 1 became a founding element and centerpiece of the collection.