The "Truck, 1/4-Ton, 4x4" Is Born
Everyone likes to say, "No good comes from war." Yeah, the Jeep is a real Debbie Downer. It has been famously called "the most useful motor vehicle we've ever had" by General Courtney Hodges, and it scored a memorable war motto of "The sun never sets on the Willys-built Jeep." The dogfaces considered it their best weapon in the field. Civilians were so gung-ho about getting their hands on one, its spirit is still alive and well in the JK. And to think, we could've come this close to buying Ford Wranglers.
The year was 1940, and the U.S. Army had a plea: Someone please build us a lightweight, rugged reconnaissance vehicle that could replace the fleet of motorcycles and Ford Model Ts. The invite went out to 135 manufacturers, and the spec requirements included a wheelbase shorter than 75 inches, it could be no taller than 36 inches, it required a two-speed transfer case, and the windshield should fold down. Its gross vehicle weight could be no more than 1,300 pounds.
The whole "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" thing hadn't yet been invented, so only two companies initially responded with bids: Willys-Overland and American Bantam. Willys-Overland blew the deadline, so Bantam got to build 70 pre-Jeep, Jeep-looking vehicles. A deadline extension was granted to Willys-Overland, and then Ford also signed up to play. That's when the prototype war began, and so did Jeep's military history.
Eventually, Jeeps were replaced by vehicles the powers that be believed were more refined, such as in the comfort department. Therefore, the M38A1 made room for the Ford M-151-the MUTT. The CJ-10 pickup was the last of the Jeeps for the U.S. military market. However, many Jeep models are still alive and well outside of North America, as Jeep licenses companies to build military rigs overseas. The J8 in this month's Dispatch is a military vehicle that Jeep itself built-but also for overseas.
Willys-Overland created the Quad, Bantam the Model 40 BRC, and Ford the GP Pygmy. They each excelled-and sucked-in different ways. Despite that, the army went ahead and ordered 1,500 from all three companies, and after further testing, took a little from column A, B, and C and Frankensteined an idea to be built on the Willys chassis. But don't pity Bantam and Ford-their models went to Russia and Great Britain (the latter called its Ford the Blitz Buggy).
The biggest problem with the Quad was its weight, and the biggest hit was its Go-Devil engine. But once it was army-fied, it shed about 360 pounds and was christened the '41 MA, with about 1,800 of them being built. It had a gearshift on the steering column and a hand brake on the left side. But it didn't take long for the MA to go through its first redesign; that same year it became the MB, which had awelded steel slat grille (Pygmy design), although the stamped grille came shortly after. The hand brake was moved to the center, and the gas tank was also moved underneath the driver seat.
Because vehicle demand was so high and Willys lacked production capability, Ford won a contract to make the MB, too. Ford's version was the same vehicle Willys-Overland was building (with some minor differences), but it got the name GPW. Nearly 278,000 of them were built by Ford, making the MB a seriously mass-produced military vehicle. It clocked in at a total of 368,714.
The next key vehicle came after World War II: the '50 Willys Model MC, better known as the M38. It was the military version of the CJ-3A, but with a heartier frame and suspension and 24-volt electricals. It lasted through 1951, and 60,345 were produced. Also in 1951 (through 1971) was the Model MD, or M38A1, and 90,529 of those were made. It sported the future-CJ-5's round fenders, and its different front end was caused by wedging in an F-head mill. In 1960, the M38A1D debuted, which had a missile launcher-and the ability to fire tactical nukes! The cargo M-715 Gladiator descendent was produced from 1967 to 1969.