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How the Jeep Brand Began

In the late 1930s, it became obvious that US was going to be pulled into the war in Europe. The various military branches began to look at the necessary material preparations required.  In particular, in early 1940, the US Army got ahold of 134 companies and asked them if they were interested in building a prototype of a compact, 4WD reconnaissance car. Only a couple of companies responded to the request; Willys-Overland and The American Bantam Company.  The lack of response was almost certainly due to the deadline they had placed on their request: a working prototype needed to be delivered within only 49 days.


It was Rush, Rush, Rush

Willys asked for more time to deliver a prototype but the Army denied the request.  The bankrupt American Bantam Car Company, who had nobody on their engineering team, got Karl Probst, an ex-Bantam consultant to assist them. After turning down Bantam’s initial request, Probst responded to a direct Army request and started work. Working at a rapid pace, Probst made planned out the Bantam prototype, known as the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car), in only two days.  While much of the vehicle could be put together from off-the-shelf parts, custom 4WD components were to be provided by Spicer Corporation. Once Probst’s hand-built prototype was finished, it was driven to Camp Holabird, MD for Army testing September 21, 1940.


Although the Bantam prototype met nearly all of the requirements, the Army still felt that the company (Bantam) was too tiny to supply the number of vehicles it required, so it supplied the Bantam design to Willys and Ford who were told to make any desired changes and modifications. The resulting Ford “Pygmy” and Willys “Quad” prototypes looked similar to the Bantam BRC prototype and Spicer supplied similar four-wheel drivetrain components to all three manufacturers. Now, it was a contest among three potential suppliers.


1.5 thousand of each of the three models were constructed and extensively field-tested by the Army. The Willys version of the vehicle would become the standardized jeep design, designated the Model MB and would be built at their plant in Toledo, Ohio.  The Army selected Ford as the second supplier but Ford was required to build their Jeeps to the Willys’ design. According to, American Bantam, the makers of the first Jeep, spent the rest of the war putting together heavy-duty trailers for the Army.


Recent Jeep Name & Brand Evolution

You know what? None of the original manufacturers actually used the term “Jeep” to designate their vehicles. Although there is some debate as to the name’s origin, many historians suspect that it was a slang that was applied to the vehicle’s military name, which was “GP Vehicle” (General Purpose). Today, Jeep is a huge brand of automobiles that is made by Chrysler Group LLC, a multi-national company in a global strategic alliance with the FIAT Group SPA.  The former Chrysler Corporation obtained the Jeep brand along with its remaining assets in the late 1980s from American Motors Corporation (AMC). Although it has made trucks, Jeep’s line of vehicles today still consists solely of SUVs and off-road vehicles.