While the Jeep is famous in its history of serving the US military there is some misunderstanding concerning who created the original Jeep. Many incorrectly attribute the development of the first Jeep to Willys. The true inspiration of the first Jeep design came from a small and relatively unknown company by the name of the American Bantam Car Company based in Butler, PA.
The US military was concerned about Bantam’s ability to produce the necessary amount of vehicles and because of this they decided to offer other manufacturers the opportunity to produce the vehicle. The requirement was to design a vehicle and with the approval of the US military, the manufacturer was then to build and deliver a prototype within 49 days. With the military’s approval of the prototype, an additional 70 working rigs were to be delivered in 75 days. The required weight limit caused many manufacturers to turn away from the project with only Bantam and Willys participating initially, and Ford joining in later.
Bantam continued to produce its production version, known, as the Bantam 40 BRC, but the US Army did not want it because it was non-standard. The already produced vehicles and the new production units were forwarded to the Russian and British armies. It is very interesting to note that after watching the testing trials the Russian military actually chose the Bantam over the Willys’ and Ford’s units. The eventual Willys’ design closely resembles the 40 BRC.
In the winter of 1941 the army wanted to develop a second source for the vehicle because Willys couldn’t keep up with production requirements and a wanted a safeguard against the possible sabotage at the one production facility. In November the US Army awarded Ford to build 15,000 jeeps to the Willys design and drawing. The Willys MB and the Ford GPW vary in minor details only as the military required that the parts be interchangeable. The GPW in the Ford model’s name was reference to G for government vehicle, P referred to its wheel base size, and the W was for designating that it had a Willys’ engine. The one change Ford made, which was adopted by the military as standard design, was the now all-familiar grill. With Ford now producing the jeep along with Willys, the military was able to provide the jeeps to its allies and production of the Bantam 40 BRC was discontinued.
So, who created the original jeep? Well historically this has seen a bit of controversy going back as far as 1943 when the Fair Trade Commission ultimately charged Willys with false and misleading advertising claims stating that Willys had created the Jeep. The court determined that the Jeep was fostered and conceived in Butler, PA, by the American Bantam Car Company. The primary designer who worked on the Jeep project for Bantam was Karl Probst, and, now you know who really created the first Jeep!