I t was a personnel carrier, versatile and popular, able to carry passengers and cargo across rough ground in hard weather. An able performer on-road and off, it could climb, tow, pull a plow, and carry out countless other tasks. It was the horse. Yet there was no place for horses in the mechanized warfare of the twentieth century. That was why the jeep—a kind of a motorized workhorse—was born. It helped the Allies win World War II. After the war, over the next half century, the jeep and its progeny would create an off- road revolution—the SUV phenomenon that is one of the driving forces in today’s motor world. Battle Wagon Blitzkrieg, they called it, the “lightning war”—fast, mobile mechanized combat employed so devastatingly by the armies of Hitler’s Third Reich. American military planners took note, preparing for the coming conflict. In 1940, U.S. Army brass challenged automakers to design and build a much-needed battlefield workhorse, a fast, lightweight, low-cost scout car. And they wanted it yesterday, or just about. They set a 49-day deadline for delivery of the prototype. Rising to the challenge was the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. Bantam’s Karl Probst and his engineering team built a four-man open car, a light reconnaissance vehicle with a four-cylinder engine and a four-wheel-drive system, just getting it in under the deadline. Bantam’s design blueprints were made available to Willys Overland and Ford, serving as a springboard for the models which they delivered two months later, in the fall of that year. Willys offered the prototype Quad, similar to the Bantam BRC but with more muscle, while Ford

This interior view of the 1942 MB jeep is a study in stark, functional simplicity. Its no-frills utilitarianism allowed for high-volume, mass production.

The little giant that started it all, the World War II-era jeep. This 1942-vintage Willys displays the model’s signature stamped metal grille and recessed headlights.


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