The Jeep Wrangler has a long and illustrious history. Trace its ancestry back to its lowercase-”jeep” forefathers, and it goes back to before America entered World War II, through at least a dozen models that share its uncomplicated, irreplaceable DNA.

The genealogy of the jeep starts in May 1940, with the small U.S. automaker Bantam. The company was losing at the car game and looking for government work to stay afloat. That month it submitted proposals to the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps Ordnance Technical Committee for reconnaissance cars it had developed from its small Bantam Roadster.

The committee liked the idea so much, it shopped it out to 135 manufacturers. Each was to submit proposals for a quarter-ton reconnaissance vehicle with four-wheel drive, room for three and a 30-caliber machine gun, a payload of 600 pounds, and a feather-light weight limit of 1,300 pounds. Any automaker interested had just 49 days to build a working prototype.

Bantam was only manufacturer to meet that deadline, but Willys-Overland and Ford soon submitted proposals of their own, though based off Bantam’s design. The Army ordered 1,500 sample vehicles from each manufacturer for further evaluation—and Willys’ design beat them all.

1944 Willys MB jeep

The final design, called the MB, used Willys’ reliable 60-horsepower 134-cubic-inch (2.2-liter) “Go-Devil” 4-cylinder engine, weighed in at 2,450 pounds, and incorporated the flat hood that Ford had pioneered. Willys-Overland eventually built 362,841 military General Purpose vehicles, while Ford built 280,448 under the name GPW for General Purpose Willys. Bantam, which had […]

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