January 10, 1942 – Ford issued contract to build Willys Jeep

Prior to the US entering WWII, the U.S. Army contacted 135 companies and asked for prototypes of a four wheel drive reconnaissance car. Only two responded, American Bantam and Willys-Overland. After American Bantam delivered a 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. They Army was adamant about producing a vehicle that met very strict standards. 

The blueprints, which the Army took full control over, were sent to Willys and Ford, along with a list of hopeful improvements. Ultimately, the Willys MB design was awarded a production contract. but as the United States entered WWII the Army knew it would need more vehicles than Willys could manufacture. To boost production of the vehicle that would be known as the Jeep, Ford was granted a contract to build copycat versions of the Willys design on this day in 1942. 

Willys Jeep with a trailer that could have been produced by American Bantam. By Joe Ross, CC2.0

The contract required 15,000 Ford GPWs, or General Purpose Willys, to be built at a cost of $14,623,900, about $975 each. The Army believed American Bantam did not have the capacity to produce enough vehicles fast enough, but they were provided contracts to build various light items, such as trailers.

Cover: A Ford GPW jeep named “AL” belonging to Company A of the 50th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 6th Armored Division US (Super Sixth). This photo was taken shortly after disembarking Normandy Beach in June, 1944.