Gear Head Tuesday – The Versatile WWII Willys Jeep

Gear Head

“Unkle Jerry” is the most recent of several readers to send a nice collection of photos of the rugged Jeep in action in World War II. We use that as a starting point for today’s post. Some of the text is adapted from an article at AutoWeek.


The Jeep story begins with the American Bantam Motor Company who produced compact cars before compact cars became a “thing”. With World War II engulfing the world the U.S. government was casting about for a compact rugged and versatile vehicle that could be used by the various branches of the military. Freelance designer Jack Probst penned for Bantam the design that would become the Jeep in about 18 hours. A prototype was built and the prototype exceeded the Army’s expectations in testing in September, 1940.

The government feared that Bantam was too small to be able to build the necessary number of vehicles and awarded the contract to Willy-Overland on 16 July, 1941 with Ford also getting a contract to build a number of the new vehicles. It was a contract that over the years saw the Jeep grow into one of the world’s most valuable brands. Bantam was awarded something of a consolation prize with a contract to build trailers to be towed behind the vehicle Jack Probst designed for them. Willys and Ford produced more than 637,000 Jeeps during the war.

Many think that the name “Jeep” came about as a GI contraction of “General Purpose Vehicle”. Early Jeeps were often called “Peeps” by the GIs. The story of the evolution of the name is found in an article by Ken Massey and David Zatz at There is some debate as to the proper pronunciation of “Willys”. Is it “Will-eze” or “Will-iss”? John North Willys pronounced his name as “Will-iss”.

The Jeep brand has outlived several owners. As World War II wound down, Willys produced civilian versions of the Jeep, including the first all steel station wagon – a Brooks Stevens design. Struggling Kaiser bought Willys – to get the Jeep – in 1953. Kaiser sold its automotive operations to American Motors in 1969-1970, thus AMC carried the Jeep banner. AMC disastrously allied with Renault before Chrysler rescued Jeep. Chrysler (and Jeep) allied with Daimler-Benz. Next, Daimler-Benz  sold Chrysler to Cerberus Capital. Cerberus wasn’t interested in developing cars – it was only interested in a fast return on its investment and Chrysler-Jeep suffered as a result. FIAT stepped in to rescue Chrysler, its chairman (the late Sergio Marchionne) recognizing the global potential of the Jeep brand.

Marchionne was right. Jeep has grown into the largest and most valuable part of the FIAT-Chrysler portfolio. FIAT-Chrysler is on track to build 2,000,000 Jeeps globally a year by 2020. Jeep has become so successful that some European investors in FIAT-Chrysler are urging the company to drop its European brands and build only Jeeps.

The Jeep in Action in World War II:

Jeeps leaving the factory

Above: a railcar of Jeeps leaving the factory.
Below: Knock down Jeep kit for overseas shipment.

Jeep-knock down kit

Jeep essentials

Above: Jeep essential equipment
Below: The go anywhere, do anything Jeep:

Jeeps doing rail duty

Jeep with off road tracks
Above: off road tracks to move it through the snow
Below: “mud waders”

Jeep fitted with mud waders

Jeep-hang on
Above: Hang on!

Jeep artillery carrier

Jeep on patrol

Below: Jeeps doing ambulance duty. The scene isn’t identified in either of the photos but I wonder if these photos weren’t taken during the Battle of the Bulge in the extremely bitter cold winter of 1944. Note the bullet holes in the windshield of the Jeep in the lower photo.

Jeep ambulance

Jeep ambulance-II

Below: Grateful French salute the U.S. troops

Jeep in France

… And now, we close with a little double entendre:

Willys Service


Add yours →

  1. Gary Lindstrom 13/11/2018 — 08:06

    I note that all of these WW II Jeeps had a nine slot grille, not the seven slot grille that became a Jeep Trademark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t include this tidbit in the text but in reading for the story, I saw that the iconic seven slot grill was used on the Ford-produced Jeeps. At some point later Willys adopted the seven slot grill.

      … hee hee … Once again, you catch the details! 🙂


  2. Again, very interesting. Much I did not know but I remember that little dude was TOUGH. I watched kids from NYC leard to drive them in crash courses. (Crash did not necessarily mean fast, just dangerous!) LOL Gears clutch and trannny had to be tough them kids could grind some gears.
    Anyway a good education in the Willys name…

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: