Willys Military Use & History
The Willys MB and Ford GPW were light duty 4x4 vehicles made for the US Army during WWII in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945. These front engine, rear wheel drive four wheel drive vehciels were made in response to the Germany army's Volkswagen Kübelwagen. These originally Willys vehicles played a pivotal point in helping the allies win the war. It is unclear exactly how the term Jeep became associated with the Willys MB however it was pulled from military slang or jargon.
While during WWII, Willys and Ford collaborated on the vehicles for the US government, post war the two competing automobile manufacturers fought over use of the Jeep trade name. Ford tried to sue Willys for the full rights but lost leaving Willys with the ability to use the name for future civilian CJ models.
After the war Willys continued to make military vehicles with the Willys M38 and M38A1. The M38 featured a heavier suspension then the civilian CJ3A. Following this was the Kaiser and AM General M151 MUTT which ran all through the Vietnam War and until 1982. This was then replaced by the light armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) known as the Humvee, which is still in service today. This also led to the civilian Hummer which along with the Toyota FJ Cruiser comprises much of the modern competition against Jeep Wrangler models.
Willys Jeeps including the first CJ models were the first mass produced four wheel drive vehicles for the general public. The CJ carried through many generational changes with very popular and rare models which are highly sought after on the market today. One particular example of this is the CJ8 Jeep Scrambler. The most popular of the CJ lines was the CJ5 and CJ7 which led to the development of the Jeep Wrangler including the YJ, TJ and JK.
On top of leading to the extremely popular Jeep Wrangler, there were also several variations of the Willys Jeep made throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. This includes the following models.
- Willys Jeep Station Wagon - made by Willys-Overland, Kaiser & Ford
- Willys Jeep Truck - made by Willys-Overland Motors & Kaiser-Jeep
- Willys-Overland Jeepster - made by Willys-Overland Motors
Sixteen years after the discontinuation of the Willys Jeepster, Kaiser Jeep made the Jeepster Commando which was offered as a pickup truck, convertible, roadster and wagon. It was principally made to compete with the larger SUVS on the market at the time, namely the Toyota Land Cruiser and Ford Bronco. The Jeepster Commando ran for seven years and led to the American Motors Jeep Cherokee (SJ).
Willys WWII Legacy
The first Willys US Army Jeep made from 1941 and 1945 severed an important role in helping the Allies fight WWII against Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers. A lesser known fact is that the German Army had a similar vehicle during the war called the Volkswagen Kübelwagen, which was actually the inspiration for the Jeep.
This "tub truck" however lacked four wheel drive and was larger. While performing well on snow and ice the VW Kübelwagen was bulkier and lacked the ability to travel over as rugged terrain.