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The History of Military Jeeps - Military Brats

Line Up
Christian Hazel
| Brand Manager, Four Wheeler
Posted January 1, 2009
Photographers: Jp Archives, Courtesy Chrysler and LLC.

Fightin' Jeeps And Jeeps Through The Years

Everybody loves a military jeep. The thing is, not everybody can distinguish between them. Some people think every jeep driving down the road was once in the military. Others can tell the difference between a GPW and an MB by smell alone. But most folks fall somewhere in between.

It all began in 1940, when the Bantam Pilot was delivered to the US Army for consideration as a light 4x4 reconnaissance and scout vehicle. Powered by a 45-horse Continental four-cylinder engine and with a curb weight of 2,030 pounds, the little Bantam Pilot and 69 subsequent Bantam BRC-60 prototypes whetted the Army's appetite and proved the viability of the concept. An open bid was issued and ultimately Willys, Ford, and Bantam slugged it out with prototypes of their own.

The year 1941 saw production of "pre-standardized" jeeps from all three manufacturers. Ford cranked out roughly 4,458 GPs, Bantam with 2,605 BRC-40s, and Willys with 1,555 MAs. It was from the strengths of these three pre-standardized vehicles that the Army developed its criteria for its "standardized" jeep, which Willys would build during the remainder of the war as the MB and Ford would build as the GPW. The smaller Bantam company would build the trailers towed into combat by the little 1/4-ton vehicles, as well as other parts and components for the war effort.

And from there it was mostly uphill for the military jeep. Up until the late '80s and early '90s, the military kept a fleet of Jeep vehicles for any and all sorts of duties. Even today, foreign countries welcome the Jeep as part of their armed forces. It's the little horse that just keeps on fighting. Here are some of the more common models, how to identify them, and a few key highlights.

1941-1945 Willys MB
Key features that set the Willys MB apart from its GPW cousin are a tubular front crossmember and a flat toolbox lid in the rear fender. The GPW models had a C-channel front crossmember and ridges on the tool box cover. Early '42 models will also have Willys stamped on the rear of the tub and no glovebox in the dash. Either MB or GPW identification is easy, as the grilles have 9 slats, not 7, and smaller headlights that can be pivoted towards the engine for nighttime repairs..

MB Specs
Engine: 134 cube, four-cylinder Go-Devil L-head enginePower: 60hp @ 4,000rpm; 105 lb-ft @ 2,000rpmTransmission: Warner Gear T-84Transfer Case: Spicer 18, 1.97:1 LowFront Axle: Dana 25, 4.88 gearsRear Axle: Dana 23-2, 4.88 gearsWheelbase: 80 inchesCurb Weight: 2,315 lbsHighlights: Nimble, highly sought after, full floating axleshafts, shovel indents on driver side, headlights flipped backwards to work on engine at night, tons of character.Lowlights: Transmission somewhat weak, 9-inch brakes, small 3/4-inch t-case intermediate shaft, rock hard seats.

The 134 Go-Devil delivered 60hp, which by 1941 standards was pretty good considering Ford's popular V-8 flathead only cranked out 85hp. This particular model was rejuvenated after sitting in a field for years. Ease of maintenance was a big selling feature for the MB and GPW, although both were sometimes plagued by carburetor troubles. If needed, an L-head can be rebuilt in the field without removing the engine by dropping the oil pan and removing the cylinder head.

1942-1945 Ford GPW
Aside from the differences between the MB and GPW as mentioned above, other ways of quickly identifying a WWII flattie are the rear wheelwell toolboxes, possibly a machine gun mount on the floor, a fuel tank bulge that protrudes past the rocker of the tub on the drive-side, driver-side shovel and pioneering tool indents, and a passenger-side glove box in the dashboard. Also, early GPWs featured a Ford "F" script stamped into the driver side rear tub as well as F-stamping on many individual parts from pintle hooks to even bolt heads.

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