I
f you believe Enzo Ferrari, then “the Jeep is the only true American sportscar”. While it’s argued that the man behind some of the most lusty supercars to grace roads and bedroom walls was actually taking a dig at GM’s Corvette with that quote, a compliment is a compliment. More than Mustang and Corvette combined, the go-anywhere, do-anything attitude and ability of the Jeep defines the very culture it was born to defend. So essential was the Jeep to the American war effort that General Dwight D. Eisenhower concluded publicly that America could not have won World War II without it.
When the request to replace the aging Model-T platform came down the line from the United States Department of War, the task was daunting to say the least. The vehicle had to be four-wheel-drive; it must be powered by an engine with at least 85 ft-lbs of torque; have a wheelbase of 75” or less and a track width of 47” or less; it must carry a 660 lbs payload and tip the scales at a weight that would send Colin Chapman into convulsions: 1,300 lbs. With only 49 days given to develop a prototype and the 75 following to create a fleet of 70 for testing, the list of bidders was small — there were only two.
American Bantam (nee American Austin Car Company) initially won the contract. Working from a design penned in just two days by freelance engineer Karl Probst (it ignored the anorexic curb weight restriction), Bantam would create the first Jeep. Calling it the Blitz Buggy and later the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) 40, Bantam would go on to provide 2,605 vehicles for the war effort, with most serving British forces. Faced with growing demand, the United States Army Quartermaster Corps turned to the lone remaining bidder, Willys-Overland Motors, to bolster production numbers. By July of 1941 ⟀

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it was clear that American Bantam couldn’t cope with contractual obligations and Jeep production, along with Probst’s design, became the property of Willys-Overland Motors. It didn’t hurt that the Willys’ model, known as the MB, was actually cheaper to produce and came equipped with a more powerful engine — the “Go Devil” — that soldiers preferred. Willys-Overland would go on to produce 363,000 MBs for the War effort.

American Bantam (nee American Austin Car Company) initially won the contract. Working from a design penned in just two days by freelance engineer Karl Probst (it ignored the anorexic curb weight restriction), Bantam

would create the first Jeep. Calling it the Blitz Buggy and later the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) 40, Bantam would go on to provide 2,605 vehicles for the war effort, with most serving British forces. Faced with growing demand, the United States Army Quartermaster Corps turned to the lone remaining bidder, Willys-Overland Motors, to bolster production numbers. By July of 1941 it was clear that American Bantam couldn’t cope with contractual obligations and Jeep production, along with Probst’s design, became the property of Willys-Overland Motors. It didn’t hurt that the Willys’ model, known as the MB, was actually cheaper to produce and came equipped with a more powerful engine — the “Go Devil” — that
soldiers preferred. Willys-Overland would go on to produce 363,000 MBs for the War effort. Thanks to its short wheelbase, lightweight construction and torquey 4×4 agility, the MB became the vehicular everyman in the trenches. With little to no field modifications, the Willys could become ambulances, firetrucks, supply shuttles or rides of choice for visiting dignitaries — it could even run on railway tracks, if so desired.

Unfortunately, the vehicle was so successful that Willys began to struggle with overwhelming demands. Ford was tapped to step in. Working from Willys’ version of the original Bantam design, the Ford GP began rolling off assembly lines too. In fact, the ⟀

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“Jeep” moniker is believed to stem from Ford’s original designation of their 4×4 as the “GP” (meaning general purpose or government personnel). With roughly 150 Jeeps being supplied to every Army regiment, it didn’t take long for the name to gain traction. The bastardization soon cemented itself in the public eye when Katherine Hillyer used the term to describe the vehicle in the Washington Daily News when covering an event staged by Willys at the Capitol Building.

Strangely it was Ford, not Willys, that was credited with creating the most important

piece of Jeep iconography of all: the grille. Originally a 9-slot design, the stamped and slotted Ford grille was more economical, lighter and a much more resource-efficient design than Willy’s flat, iron-slat version. Seventy-three years later that grille, flanked by those circular headlights, continues to signify the ultimate in off-road abilities. Sure, much like ourselves, today’s Jeep is a little larger and softer around the edges, but it remains distinct, purpose built and hell bent on overcoming whatever obstacles its faced with.

There may be prettier, faster, more capable

and more luxurious sport-utility choices out there, but they were all born of Jeep DNA. Now, onto the iconic 1965 Shelby GT.

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