The Willys Jeep is one of the most famous and iconic vehicles of all time. Thanks to this model, the name Jeep has become so synonymous with 4×4, and many people refer to SUVs as Jeeps, regardless of who made them. The Willys Jeep was designed, built and put into service quickly to meet the objectives of the US military from World War II. The iconic design and ethos is still evident in modern production vehicles, most notably the Wrangler.
The original Jeep is also said to have directly influenced the design and functionality of the Land Rover Defender, arguably the second most iconic 4×4 ever built. Here are some important facts that all gears should remember about the Willys Jeep.
10/10 It was produced by the American Bantam Car Company (Blitz Buggy)
The first manufacturer to produce the Willys Jeep was the American Bantam Car Company. Part of the original requirements from the US military included the requirement that a working prototype be made available within just 75 days. American Bantam indicated that they could meet this demand and was selected as the preferred manufacturer.
The vehicle became known as the “Blitz Buggy” after its completion within the specified time.
9/10 The War Department sent specifications to 135 manufacturers
Towards the end of the 1930s, the US military identified the need for an all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle. To provide a land-based resistance to the Germans, the US military was desperate to find a suitable manufacturer as quickly as possible. Given this immediate and essential need for the vehicle, 135 manufacturers were given specifications to assess and respond to.
The top three companies selected were Willys-Overland Motor Company, Ford and the American Bantam car company. These three were selected to produce a prototype. In the end, all three companies were awarded manufacturing contracts.
8/10 Over 640,000 Jeeps were produced during World War II
Such was the demand, and the popularity of the Willys Jeep over 640,000 were produced during the war. The manufacturer that contributed the most to this total was Willys MB, which produced approximately 360,000.
Ford in comparison, produced around 270,000.
7/10 There are no keys or doors
To reduce production times and produce as many Jeeps as possible, things were kept as simple as possible. The Willys MB used push button start and had no keys associated with it. The system leaves much to be desired compared to the keyless go systems used in modern vehicles!
The Jeep was kept so simple that it even lacked doors. The main reasons for this were to reduce the amount of metal needed during manufacturing, shorten assembly time and also provide easier access in and out of the vehicle.
6/10 Jeep released a Wrangler Willys Edition
The 2021 version of the Willys Edition Wrangler sells for a starting price of $36,365. Compared to the standard Wrangler, there have been a number of off-road component upgrades as well as cosmetic tweaks. Enabling the Wrangler to get off the tarmac and into the wild are gloss black, 5-spoke, 17-inch wheels wrapped in 32-inch Firestone mud tires.
The Willys Edition is not just for show, high performance shock absorbers and rock rails have been fitted, providing maximum protection against the environment. All Wranglers echo the classic Willys front, to differentiate the edition, Jeep has added gloss black details to the headlights and grill. Another cosmetic difference, albeit minor, is the inclusion of exclusive decals inspired by the original on both the hood and tailgate.
5/10 45 MPH top speed
Under the hood of the Willy was found a 60 hp 4-cylinder unit. Combined with a 3-speed gearbox, a top speed of 45 mph could be achieved.
The transmission was also known as a Borg-Warner T-84 and was operated manually. Later versions of the Jeep used a more advanced T-90 version. To engage four-wheel drive or high and low gearing, additional selector levels could be found.
4/10 The iconic grille came from Ford
The now instantly recognizable grille is a key design feature that has been there since the beginning. The original design was written by Ford and unlike later models actually had 9 vertical slots. This design was copyrighted by Ford, consequently Willys-Overland Motors had to make changes.
The design Willys chose consisted of 7 seats instead, this 7 hatch arrangement can still be witnessed in today’s Jeep models. The Wrangler’s grill bears the most resemblance to the Willys design, as it has larger grooves than other Jeep models.
3/10 The back seat turns into a stretcher
One of the main purposes of reconnaissance is to assist and recover injured personnel. A big advantage of the Willys Jeep is that it had a back seat.
The rear bench is easily converted and can be adapted to fit a stretcher. This allowed many soldiers to be extracted and brought to receive life-saving medical intervention. Without Willy’s Jeep, the death toll among soldiers would undoubtedly be much higher. Of course, the rear bench is only part of the story, the Jeep’s superior off-road capability allowed the casualties in very remote, usually inaccessible areas to be reached.
2/10 They can be driven on rails
During the war, the Willys Jeep performed many different tasks and activities that differed from its original design mission. Having been initially designed as a cross-country vehicle, the fact that it was then adapted for railway use is truly remarkable.
Jeep-to-rail replacement was required as many stations and locomotives were hit during the targeted bombing by the Germans. Consequently, many areas of Europe were cut off and both passengers and cargo were stopped. It is clear that this would have greatly affected the ability of the Allied forces to fight the war. To allow the Jeep to go on rails, specially designed “bogie wheels” were fitted, so successful were custom versions sent to conflict zones around the world.
1/10 It is not a comfortable journey
By today’s standards, the Jeep’s ride quality feels positively prehistoric, a true bone-shaking experience.
Already in the 1940s, travel was very hard and utilitarian. Using leaf springs, the suspension was stiff and offered little in the way of damping.
The heavy-duty shock absorbers found on the Willys Wrangler Edition not only provide more comfort compared to the original, but are more durable off-road. Suspension issues weren’t the only feature to reduce ride quality. The doorless design means soldiers have to be careful not to fall out when traversing the kind of rough terrain the Jeep was designed for. Similarly, soldiers were completely exposed to the effects of the weather, from cold winds to heavy rain.