Subscribe to our Newsletter!

January 10, 1942 – Ford earns WWII Jeep contract

A Ford Jeep on Utah Beach, photography on July 18, 1944.

Prior to the US entering WWII, the U.S. Army contacted 135 companies asking for prototypes of a four wheel drive reconnaissance car. Only two responded, American Bantam and Willys-Overland. After American Bantam delivered their working model for testing on September 21, 1941, the Army found it met nearly all of their criteria, except for a few issues with underperformance, such as engine torque. The Army was adamant about producing a vehicle that met very strict standards. 

The blueprints for the American Bantam vehicle, which the Army took ownership of, were sent to Willys and Ford, along with a list of hopeful improvements. Ultimately, Willys hit the mark and the Willys MB earned a production contract. As the United States joined WWII, it became clear the Army needed more vehicles than Willys could manufacture alone. To boost production of the vehicle that would become known as the Jeep, Ford received a contract to build copycat versions of the Willys design on this day in 1942. 

A Willys Jeep

The contract required Ford to build 15,000 GPWs, or General Purpose Willys, at a cost of $14,623,900, about $975 each. The Army believed American Bantam, the original designer of the vehicle, could not produce vehicles fast enough. In the end they received contracts to build various light items, such as trailers. Ford would ultimately go onto build some 300,000 Ford Jeeps.

Modern History of Jeep

As the war came to an end, Willys wanted to continue producing a similar vehicle for civilian use. Using the trademarked name Jeep, they did just that. With multiple models running for decades at a time, Jeep has become synonymous with ruggedness and outdoorsy vehicles. Today, Jeep is a subsidiary of Stellantis, which includes Chrysler and Dodge. It remains headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, where it’s been since its inception.

The Willys and Ford Jeeps of WWII are truly American Icons. Get it here and represent!

Sign up for the This Day in Automotive History newsletter!


  • David Morse

    GPW did not mean General Purpose Willy’s. In Ford model designations G meant Government contract. P meant 80 inch wheelbase. The designer, Ford, Willys, and the military never called them General Purpose vehicles. Army called it “truck, 1/4 ton, 4×4”. The Quartermaster Corp’s official designation for WWII Jeeps was G503.

  • Wes Hughes

    GPW is not an anacronym for General Purpose Willys. ‘G’ denotes Government contract, ‘P’ is the code for 80″ wheelbase and ‘W’ represents Willys licensed design. Furthermore, Ford had tendered the ‘Ford Pygmy’ which was also a forerunner of the standardised Willys MA’s and Ford GPW’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you learned something today,

please buy me a beer!