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Fancy The Ultimate Off Roader
Pros & Cons
The military Jeep must surely be one of the most instantly recognisable vehicles in the world, and even the most uninitiated person on motors would know what it is. Interestingly and to this very day, many folk will refer to virtually any four-wheel drive vehicle as a Jeep. Willys Overland won the contract to build a huge number of them for the war effort during WW2. What’s in a name? Well John North Willys purchased the Overland Motor Division of the Standard Wheel Company in 1908. The name was changed to the Willys- Overland Motor Company in 1912, and again in 1936 to Willys-Overland Motors Inc. Nowadays the Willys Jeep are highly sought after by military vehicle preservation enthusiasts, and to acquire an example that actually saw combat action during WW2 is as good as it gets!
On July 7 1940 the US Quartermaster Corps invited 135 American vehicle manufacturers to tender for a new light weight military vehicle. Design criteria was very specifi c, it had to be four-wheel drive and powered by an engine that developed at least 85lb fi t of torque, it had to weight a maximum of 1300lbs (later revised to 2160lbs) have a wheel base of 75-inches maximum (later revised to 80-inches) a maximum track of 47-inches, accommodated three crew, have a 660lb payload and a folding windscreen. Three companies were in the running for the tender, Willys-Overland, Ford Motor Company and the American Bantam Car Company. All three had only 49 days to produce a prototype for testing with a further 70 Jeeps required 75 days later for more tests. The Bantam Company was fi rst at the post with its 40BRC, but due to not having mass production capabilities and being fi nancially precarious, the design was not chosen and ultimately the Willys Jeep won the contract with their MA (military vehicle A, later to become the MB). Indeed, Ford were subcontracted to produce the Willys under license with their virtually identical GPW (General Purpose Willys). Ford also designated the letter G for vehicles built for the Government and the letter P stood for Ford’s 80-inch wheelbase reference. Approximately 363,000 Willys Jeeps were built and 280,000 Ford GPW’s, between 1941-1945.
Creature comforts were way down on the list priorities when the Jeep was designed, so don’t expect too much here! Seats are thinly padded but adequate, poor road surfaces will result in vibration being transmitted through the steering wheel, and on wet roads they can slide about, due to the chunky tyre tread pattern. Top speed is around 55mph, but a comfortable steady cruise will be nearer to 45mph. There’s no synchromesh on fi rst gear, but there is on second and third gear. Some owners like to double declutch when changing down.
What To Look For
- Amazingly replacement parts are still readily available nowadays, and it would be possible to virtually build a Jeep using genuine and pattern parts. Naturally it was built to endure an extremely rugged and often a very short life and longevity wasn’t a priority.
- Chassis are pretty strong and not boxed in which makes pre-purchase inspection relatively simple and you will soon be able to spot any signs of corrosion or cracks.
- If the basic body tub is past redemption, this is not a problem, as brand new tubs are available, as is the full body/tub kit.
- Other areas commonly known to rust are around the side steps, inside the rear too lockers, supports for the front fl oor, and the fl oorpan itself.
- Original Jeeps utilised a six volt electrical system, which nowadays will still suffi ce, though some owners will have converted theirs to 12 volt electrics.
- The 2199cc four-cylinder ‘Go-Devil’ side valve engine is relatively robust, but listen for timing chain rattles on tick-over which will disappear when the engine is revved.
- The engine block can be prone to cracks and water leaks, especially in the areas above and below the distributor.
- The front axle can suffer from wheel wobble which can be traced to the pre-load on the bearings on the swivel housing.
- Original combat style wheels will be split-rim and held together with eight studs .
- The Jeeps weakest link on the drivetrain is the gearbox which can be quite noisy. If well worn, it’s not unknown to jump out of second gear, mainly on the overrun and they can leak oil.
Jeeps can be great fun and you’ve got four wheel drive capabilities as well. To get the most out of ownership then joining a military vehicle preservation society with like-minded enthusiasts would be a prudent move. This would be of paramount importance if absolute authenticity is required for your Jeep. Collecting period accessories can be very rewarding and is also a huge part of the Jeep scene.