While driving past the Warehouse Bar & Grill near Jack London Square in Oakland a couple of months ago, I spied what I thought was a perfectly nice, WWII-era, Willys jeep. Upon talking to the owner, a gentleman named Eddie, I learned that it was actually a Ford GPW. W for Willys.
How did this combination come about? Well, back in the late 1930s, while the US government watched stability break down in Europe, it hurried to update its aging fleet motorcycles, sidecars, and, yes, Model T’s. By the summer of 1940, when they finally formalized their needs for a general-purpose utility vehicle, the war in Europe was already underway.
The Army, now feeling rushed, issued an impossible deadline: 49 days for a prototype and another 75 for pre-production examples. Only two companies took up the challenge, the American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland Motors. Of the two, only American Bantam, working furiously, was able to meet the deadline.
Being a small company though, it had nowhere near the production capacity the government required, so its design was appropriated and sent to both Ford and Willys, who, along with Bantam, each produced a further developed 1,500 pre-production models for field testing.
Willys won the contract with its prototype (the MA model), which featured the company’s more powerful Go Devil engine. Before production began, however, the best features of all three companies’ pre-production vehicles were incorporated into the Willys design. Willys then built this new model, the MB, in quantity. Production was underway.
By the fall of 1941, however, it became apparent that Willys couldn’t keep up with government demand. It was then that Ford was offered a deal to produce the Willys jeep under license in order to pick up the slack, which it did until 1946.
What we’re looking at here is a Ford-built, Willys jeep from the first year of its production: the Ford GPW.
The 4-cylinder, Go Devil engine put its scrappy 60 hp to the tarmac via a 3-speed, T-84 transmission and a 2-speed transfer case (all manual, of course). According to the owner, drivers at the time reported that the little jeep ”went the like the devil” but that it also “took the devil to stop it.” Apparently the brakes weren’t as scrappy as the engine.
During the course of the war Willys produced some 363,000 jeeps to Ford’s 280,000.
The owner reports that the machine mounts were also used to hold bouquets of flowers at the end of World War II, a nice touch.
Thanks again to Eddie for sharing his extraordinarily nice Ford jeep.