In 1940, Ford, Willys-Overland, and the tiny Bantam Company, of Pennsylvania, all submitted designs for a light, sturdy four-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle. Surprisingly, the Bantam version was best received; however, the Army Quartermasters could see that Bantam didn’t have the financial strength or manufacturing capacity to produce the quantities demanded by the military. An initial order for 1,500 from each manufacturer quickly followed and, after further evaluation, the Willys product was selected. The Army, however, proposed awarding the contract to Ford, based upon its much larger production capacity.
The Army felt the Jeep showed capabilities and adaptability much greater than its original concept as a reconnaissance car and would be needed in far greater quantities than the few thousand originally contemplated. It was only due to the intervention of former GM Manufacturing Chief Lt. General William S. Knudsen in his role as head of war production that the Willys version was chosen and the first production contract granted. Still, Ford received a massive 277,896 unit piece of the Jeep pie. It must have been galling to the giant Dearborn-based automaker to have to build its own version of the Willys MA, including the bulletproof and easily serviced Willys “Go-Devil” L-head four. The resulting Ford-built Jeeps were designated GPW, for “General Purpose Willys”.
60 hp, 134 cu. in. L-head inline four-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission with two-speed transfer case, four-wheel drive, live axle front suspension with leaf springs, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 80 in.