I received a nice letter last week from Dave Eilers, owner of the eWillys.com website and a history expert on the legend of Jeep. Dave saw my article that went out last week and provides illumination on a subject he admits is tough to decipher. Here’s Dave’s letter:
Q: Greg, I deal with vintage Jeep and Jeep history on a daily basis, and I’d like to further update some of your article’s notes. Explaining the history of the Willys/Ford/Bantam (Jeep) is very complex and gets confusing.
1. The first jeep sold by Willys-Overland in 1945 to the public was the Willys CJ-2A. Early CJ-2A production units used some left over parts from the military versions, making VEC CJ-2As highly collectible among civilian collectors.
2. The Willys Quad was the first prototype Willys-Overland developed in 1940 (the second Prototype was the Willys MA).
3. The Willys Quad wasn’t an exact “copy” of the Bantam BRC, although there were similarities as you noted since Willys got to look at the Bantam plans before shipping the Quad.
4. Ford indeed had a hand in Jeep history, as Ford’s first prototype was the Ford Pygmy. A second prototype was the Ford Budd. Ford’s third prototype was the Ford GP (which doesn’t stand for general purpose but for G=Government and P=80-inch wheelbase). The WWII production Jeep was the Ford GPW (the W standing for Willys design).
5. As you noted and to explain further about Willys getting to use the name Jeep, Willys and Ford battled over the name Jeep. Willys didn’t win the right to use the name Jeep until the 1950s, which is the reason the hood and windshields of the CJ-2As and the CJ-3As were stamped Willys. There are a few rare CJ-2s that are stamped “JEEP” (http://www.willys-overland.com/index.htm).
6. While the original Bantam BRC is considered the first Jeep, the Jeep photo in your article is a Bantam BRC-40, which was the third prototype (see the three different Bantams on my website).
7. Despite having arguably the worst of the three designs, Ford initially won the Army Quartermaster contract. However, there was enough push-back that the contract was transferred to Willys-Overland and Ford assigned as a second-source status as you noted.
I hope this helps, and if you have any future questions about vintage Jeeps I’ll be happy to help. Thanks, David Eilers.
A: Dave, thanks for your updates as the history of Jeep brand is sure interesting. I’m glad I wasn’t too far off the mark in certain areas, and your help is much appreciated! I recommend my readers going to Dave’s website for more.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions or responses on auto nostalgia, collector cars and old-time motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.