Soldier driver's either loved them or hated them. Even the German's preferred them to their own "Kubelwagens"!

The four wheel drive vehicles that you see on the road today are derivatives of the original "Jeep", first thought of in 1938 and prototyped in the US in 1940, to meet the needs of the US military in view of the threatened WW2 in Europe.

Until this time the US army used motorcycles to carry out reconaissance duties, and sought a replacement vehicle of light and easily manouvreable construction. The US government put out tenders to a number of companies based on government plans.

Three potential manufacturers answered the challenge;the first being the American Bantam Car Co. who presented three designs of test models in September 1939, but these were considered too light for requirements. The second response came from the Willy's Overland Co. and in mid 1940 they produced plans for a vehicle of strong utility design capable of bearing a machine gun mounted on it.

The Bantam company won the contract based on government design and promised delivery dates, but the Willy's company said that a vehicle built to the government plans was unlikely to stand up to the conditions expected of it, and, as a result, Willy's and a third company, Ford, were then invited to supply prototypes of their designs for testing.

Willy's came up with a prototype model in June 1941 which met the requirements. It was a four wheel drive all purpose vehicle. The US government's specifications were changed to take account of the flaws which Willy's had pointed out, and production of it was put out to tender.

As a result, final production contracts were won by Willy's who produced the first 1600 vehicles. Then the US government, with an eye on the looming war, requested the Bantam and Ford companies to set up facilities to produce the Willy's design under licence.

By the end of WW2, Ford had produced nearly twice as many vehicles as the Willy's Overland Co., which is probably where it got the name "Ford Willy's Jeep" from, although it was referred to as the GP (General Purpose vehicle), which caught on as "Jeep"!

Figures are not available as to the total number produced, and it's a matter of opinion how the name "Jeep" came about. Some say it was from "General Purpose" or "GP", others say that it came from the cartoon character "Eugene the Jeep" from the "Popeye" series. What is known is that the "Jeep" served in every theatre of WW2 and afterwards, as an ambulane, taxi, pick-up truck and moble machine-gun vehicle. It was even used to quickly lay signal cables from one location to another!

In June 1950, the Willy's company registered the name "Jeep" as a trademark worldwide, which is now owned by the Daimler-Chrysler organisation.

Note: Personal comment: So far as I was concerned the Jeep was the best all-purpose light vehicle produced for use by the Allied forces. It was a pleasure to drive even without the modern day power steering! The Austin "Champ" and the Rover "Landrover" came nowhere near it for performance and versatility. In fact the Champ was prone to rolling over on corners and the LR was very thirsty for fuel. In winter it froze up on the inside and in summer it got full of dust. The ONLY problem with the Jeep was that it had all year round air conditioning and you could be heard coming from miles away-I loved them!-Ian.