Jeep has had an interesting and storied history since the American Bantam Car Company built the first pilot model for the U.S. Army in 1940. Jeep will be celebrating 75 years of production this year, and in honor of that, the guys at PRNewswire came up with a list of 12 facts about Jeep’s history.
1. The Birthplace
Butler, PA is where the first “pilot model” of the 1/4-ton four-wheel drive truck was produced for the U.S Army and was built by the American Bantam Car Company. The first prototype model was delivered to camp Holabird in Baltimore on September 23, 1940, for testing. Even with design changes by Willys-Overland and Ford, the changes were refinements on the original Bantam concept.
2. The Grille
The slotted grille we all know and love is courtesy of Ford. The company’s pilot model, GP-No. 1 “Pygmy,” featured a flat grille with integrated headlights. The first generation of the grille featured 13 slots in 1940, nine slots in 1941 and ended with the iconic seven-slot design in 1945.
3. The Go-Devil
The much-loved Willys-Overland Go-Devil engine is the main reason it won the lions share of the WWII production contract. Willys began reworking the L134 engine after bringing Chief Engineer Barney Roos on-board in 1938, resulting a durable and potent motor that powered Jeeps for years.
4. Original Willys
Willys-Overland produced two pilot models in 1940 called “Quads.” However, no one knows where it is now.
5. American Bantam Builds T3 trailers
Even though American Bantam is credited with the development of the jeep concept that started it all, the company lost out big on the military contract for the standardized WWII Jeep. They did, however, get the contract to build 74,000 T3 trailers for the U.S. military.
6. How do you say it?
There has been several arguments over the pronunciation of Willys. Is it pronounced “Willies” or “Willis”? In 1952, the Toledo Blade newspaper researched this issue and concluded it is pronounced “Willis.” Interesting.
7. Woody Willys
Willys Overland wanted their new product line to build on the success of the WWII Jeep. Designer Brooks Stevens was able to create an all-steel two-door, two-wheel-drive “station wagon” with a woody-look that was a hit!
8. Creator(s) of the Jeep
With such a successful vehicle it’s no surprise there is more than one person who claims or is credited with fathering the Jeep. The list includes Col. 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), and many more.
9. It’s All in the T-Case
The Spicer Model 18 transfer case was at the heart of the WWII Jeeps functionality, durability and off-road capability. This key to a stout 4x4 system lived on in civilian Jeeps for years.
10. Ford GP-No. 1 Hits The Auction Block
The Henry Ford museum auctioned off the Ford Pilot model GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” in 1982, not knowing at the time it was the oldest surviving Jeep. “Pygmy” currently resides at the U.S. Veterans Museum in Huntsville, Alabama, while the Henry Ford museum displays a 1943 Willys-Overland Model MB.
11. America’s Oldest Jeep -- It’s A Ford
American Bantam delivered the first pilot model to the U.S. Army on September 23, 1940, Willys-Overland delivered its first two pilot models, “Quads” on November 11, 1940, and Ford delivered theirs last GP-No. 1 and GP-No. 2 on November 23, 1940. Of these five original jeeps, only the two Ford vehicles have survived, making GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” America’s oldest jeep.
12. “Pygmy” Honored as One of America’s Most Significant Vehicles
The Ford pilot model, GP-No. 1, is America’s oldest jeep, and on December 7, 2015, it was added to the Historical Vehicle Association’s National Historic Vehicle Register and the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress. This documentation is a collaboration between the Historic Vehicle Association and the U.S. Department of Interior. The Heritage Documentation program is deigned to document historically significant automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles. The GP-No. 1 “Pygmy” fits that bill perfectly and is the eighth vehicle to have the honor of being recorded. You can see the 1940 Ford pilot model GP-No. 1 at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Alabama, where it sits on permanent display.