The Willys Jeep is one of the most recognizable and iconic vehicles of all time. Thanks to this model, the name Jeep has become so synonymous with 4x4s, and many people colloquially refer to SUVs as Jeeps, regardless of manufacturer. The Jeep Willys was quickly designed, built and put into action to meet the objectives of the United States Army during World War II. The iconic design and ethos is still evident in modern production vehicles, including the Wrangler.
The original Jeep is also said to have directly influenced the design and functionality of the Land Rover Defender, arguably the other most iconic 4×4 ever built. Here are some important facts every gearhead should remember about the Willys Jeep.
ten 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 initial requests made by the US military included the requirement that a working prototype be made available within only 75 days. American Bantam indicated that it could meet this demand and was chosen as the preferred manufacturer.
The vehicle became known as the “Blitz Buggy” after its timely completion.
9 The War Department sent specifications to 135 manufacturers
Towards the end of the 1930s, the United States Army identified the need for an all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle. In order to provide ground resistance against 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 received specifications to assess and respond to.
The first three companies chosen were Willys-Overland Motor Company, Ford and American automaker Bantam. These three were selected to produce a prototype. Ultimately, all three companies were awarded manufacturing contracts.
8 Over 640,000 Jeeps were produced during World War II
Such was the demand and 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 around 360,000.
Ford in comparison produces around 270,000.
seven There are no keys or doors
In order to reduce production times and produce as many Jeeps as possible, things were kept as simple as possible. The Willys MB used a push button start and had no associated key. The system leaves a lot to be desired compared to keyless systems used in modern vehicles!
The Jeep was so simple it even lacked doors. The main reasons for this were to reduce the amount of metal needed during manufacture, to shorten assembly time and also to facilitate access inside and outside the vehicle.
6 Jeep releases a Wrangler Willys edition
The 2021 version of the Willys Edition Wrangler retails 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. Getting the Wrangler off the tarmac and into the wilderness, gloss black 17-inch 5-spoke wheels are fitted with 32-inch Firestone mud-terrain tires.
The Willys Edition isn’t just for show, high performance shock absorbers and rock guards have been installed, providing maximum protection from the environment. All Wranglers echo the classic Willys front end, in order to differentiate the edition, Jeep added gloss black detailing to the headlights and grille. Another cosmetic difference, albeit minimal, is the inclusion of exclusive decals inspired by the original on the hood and tailgate.
5 45 mph top speed
Under the hood of the Willy was a 60 hp 4-cylinder. When combined with a 3-speed transmission, a top speed of 45 mph could be achieved.
The transmission was also known as the Borg-Warner T-84 and was manually operated. Later versions of the Jeep used a more advanced T-90 version. In order to engage 4WD or high and low gears, additional selector levels could be found.
4 The iconic grille comes from Ford
The now instantly identifiable grille is a key design feature that has been around since the beginning. The original design was penned by Ford and unlike later models it actually had 9 vertical slots. This design was copyrighted by Ford, therefore Willys-Overland Motors had to make changes.
The design Willys opted for consisted of 7 slots instead, this 7 slot arrangement can still be seen in Jeep models today. The Wrangler’s grille most closely resembles the Willys design, as it has larger slots than other Jeep models.
3 Rear seat converts to a stretcher
One of the main purposes of reconnaissance is the aid and recovery of injured personnel. One of the main advantages of the Jeep Willys is the fact that it had a rear seat.
Easily convertible, the rear seat could be adapted to accommodate a stretcher. This allowed many soldiers to be extracted and taken away to receive life-saving medical intervention. Without the Willys Jeep, the death toll among the soldiers would undoubtedly be much higher. Of course, the back seat is only part of the story, the Jeep’s superior off-road capability made it possible to reach injured people in very remote, usually inaccessible areas.
2 They can run on rails
During the war, the Willys Jeep performed many different tasks and activities that differed from its original design brief. Originally designed as a all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle, the fact that it was later adapted for railway use is truly remarkable.
The conversion of the jeep to rail was necessary because during the targeted bombardments carried out by the Germans, many stations and locomotives were hit. Consequently, many parts of Europe were isolated and passengers and cargo were stopped. Obviously, this would have had a huge impact on the ability of the Allied forces to fight the war. In order to let the Jeep run on rails, specially designed “bogie wheels” were installed, which were so successful that adapted versions were sent to conflict regions around the world.
1 It’s not a comfortable ride
By today’s standards, the Jeep’s ride quality feels positively prehistoric, a truly bone-shaking experience.
Even in the 1940s, the ride was very harsh and utilitarian. Using leaf springs, the suspension was harsh and offered little damping.
The heavy-duty shocks found on the Willys Wrangler Edition not only provide more comfort over the original, but they’re more durable off-road. Suspension issues weren’t the only feature that reduced ride quality. The doorless design means soldiers have to be careful not to fall when traversing the kind of rough terrain the Jeep was designed for. Likewise, the soldiers were fully exposed to the effects of the weather, from cold winds to heavy rain.
We’ll cover the price of this utility vehicle today and go over a bit of the specs of the 1948 Willys Jeep.
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