Jeep Military Prototypes - 1940 to 1953

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Jeep Military Prototypes - 1940 to 1953
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From humble origins -- a handful of prototypes built by six different manufacturers -- the Jeep 1/4-ton utility vehicle has evolved over the years into one of the most popular and versatile vehicles ever made. Named the "Universal Jeep" by Willys-Overland shortly after World War II, it's been used in combat and for desert racing, for rock crawling or daily driving . . . in short, if there's a road or trail anywhere in the world, chances are that sometime, somehow, a Jeep has driven over it. This page presents a short history of the military prototype vehicle that started the 4x4 craze nearly 70 years ago, and a line that continues to thrive to this day.

"[The] equipment...among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe
were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2 1/2 ton
truck, and the C-47 airplane. 
Curiously enough, none of these
is designed for combat."
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

"America's only real sports car"
Enzo Ferrari
  • Bantam Mark I - "Old Number One", the undisputed first "Jeep",  was produced by the American Bantam Car Company and delivered to Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 23, 1940.  It was destroyed in an accident in 1941 and sent back to Bantam's Butler, Pennsylvania factory for disassembly.  It's mechanical pieces were probably incorporated into the Mark IIs that were then in production.  Legend has it that the unusable body sections of the Mark I were buried on the Bantam grounds.  It is also noteworthy that as early as 1938 Bantam had spotted the potential of a light reconnaissance vehicle for military use and lent the National Guard three of its Austin based Roadsters to evaluate. The company continued to press the case for such a vehicle until a meeting with the Military was finally arranged at the Bantam factory on June 19th 1940. Worried by the mobility and ease with which the German Army had taken France and intelligence reports that the Germans were about to convert the Volkswagen for military use, they at last showed a real interest in Bantam's proposal.  The Mark I is also known as the Bantam GPV (General Purpose Vehicle) or as the Bantam "Blitz Buggy".

    
1940 Bantam Mark I
  • Bantam Mark II - Essentially a Mark I with minor mechanical changes, only 70 Mark II were produced in '40-'41.  Only one Mark II is known to have survived.  "Number Seven" is owned by the Smithsonian Institution and is currently located at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum on Fort Eustis, Virginia.  The Mark II is also known as the Mk II, BRC-60 and GPV (General Purpose Vehicle).

1940 Bantam Mark II / BRC-60
  • Willys QUAD - Only two QUADs were built, the true heavy-weight of the Bantam, Willys, and Ford competition for military contracts, with it's 60hp "Go-Devil" 4-cylinder.  Both QUADs have since disappeared (last seen in 1950).
  • Ford PYGMY - Only one Ford PYGMY was produced in 1940.  It was powered by a modified Ford tractor engine.  Later Willys MBs were patterned from the Ford.  The PYGMY is still in existence, owned by the Alabama Center of Military History.
  • Ford / Budd PYGMY - Very Similar to the Ford PYGMY, the Budd PYGMY was a slightly different body design which was build by the Budd Corporation in 1940.  The Budd body design was eventually reject by the Army in favor of the Ford body design.  The Budd prototype was seen throughout the 1940's in parades and war bond drives, but disappeared shortly after the end of WWII.  It was later rediscovered in the deserts of California in 1998.
  
1940 Ford / Budd PYGMY (left) and 1940 Ford PYGMY (right)
  • Willys-Overland MA - The original prototype Jeep submitted by Willys-Overland for the military contract in 1940. "M" stood for "military"; "A" for the first model.  The MA was the least common of the pre-production Willys and only about 30 are know to exist of the 1553 originally produced.

1940 Willys-Overland MA
  • Ford GP - The original prototype Jeep submitted by Ford for the military contract in 1940. "G" indicated government issue; "P" indicated an 80" wheelbase reconnaissance vehicle.  4456 GPs were built  in 1941.  Only about 200 are known to have survived.

1941 Ford GP
  • Checker BRC - The Checker Car Company (the same of Checker Taxi fame) produced three four-wheel steering prototypes for the 1940 government bid.  Only two are in existence: one in the hands of private owner in California, the other in the Hickory Corners Auto Museum outside Kalamazoo, Michigan.  The third BRC was more than likely destroyed in testing at Aberdeen, Maryland and cannibalized for parts.
  • Chevrolet CPJ - Only two CPJ were built by Chevrolet in 1940.

1940 Chevrolet CPJ
  • Willys-Overland MLW-2 - In late 1943, the U.S. Army contracted with Willys-Overland to build a 1/2-ton jeep providing greater payload and mobility over the swampy jungle terrain of the Southwest Pacific. The prototype MLW-1 (M meaning "government", LW meaning "long wheelbase") was apparently never completed, but photographs of the MLW-2 "Jungle Jeep" pilot model appear in Fred Coldwell's book Preproduction Civilian Jeeps.The body incorporated several features which would later appear in the Civilian Jeep program, including a tailgate, closed underseat toolboxes, and a side-mounted spare tire holder similar to the CJ-1. (There was a second spare tire location inside the body, behind the front seats.) The storage compartment behind the rear wheel was not included on any CJ.

1943 Willys-Overland MLW-2
  • Willys X-98 - The Jeep bearing the experimental vehicle number X-98 had flat fenders, but with a grille and hood not unlike the eventual CJ-5 grille. It may have been the first F-head-powered Jeep utility, built in 1949 or 1950 under Willys Engineering Release 5607. It had civilian features such as a tailgate, side-mounted spare, and "WILLYS" stamped on the hood, but photos indicate that X-98 was also tested by the military, perhaps several times. Photos taken in 1950 show it labelled on the bumper as X-98, whereas test photos from 1951 show it as vehicle 205. It was even referred to as the CJ-4M, although that designation seems to be more correctly belong to the slightly later military prototype.
  • Willys CJ-4M - The CJ-4M military prototype had the same front end design (never used on a production-model Jeep) as the civilian CJ-4, with skirted fenders and a unique front clip. Blackout lamps replaced the marker lights, and headlamp guards as on the M-38 were also fitted. This pilot for the M-38A1 (model MD), probably built in 1950, has also been referred to as the M-38E1. There were also two CJ-4MA long-wheelbase prototypes with the same front end, which apparently preceded the M-170 ambulance.
  • Willys Bobcat / Aero Jeep - The 1953 Bobcat, or "Aero Jeep" as it was going to be officially called, was designed to be a 1500 pound Air Borne Combat Vehicle which would share as many parts as possible with the M-38 and M-38A1. The frame was apparently derived from the MB frame tooling to save costs, and the prototype weighed 1475 pounds, a little less than the experimental MBL (lightweight) of World War II. Like the MBL, the Bobcat did not go into production, and the concept of a small, lightweight combat vehicle was soon taken a step further in the aluminum-bodied M-422 Mighty Mite.

1953 Willys Bobcat / Aero Jeep

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