With World War Two well under way and the Americans still on the sideline the US war machine was already ramping up to produce armaments and military tools to keep the allies equipped. A need for a standardized general purpose vehicle that could be easily deployed was apparent and the US Army circulated RFQ’s to 135 different automobile manufacturers on July 11, 1940. The requirements were scoffed at by the vast majority in the automotive establishment as unrealistic; proposals due in 11 days, a working prototype in 75 days thereafter. The general consensus regarded the specifications as unattainable.
Initially only two companies, Bantam and Willys Overland submitted proposals. Bantam was awarded the original contract and delivered the first Bantam “Blitz Buggy” in 63 days. But the Army was concerned over Bantam’s financial wherewithal and existing manufacturing capacity to perform on the contract so additional awards were given to Willys and to Ford as a late entry bidder. Despite protest from Bantam, the Army gave Willys and Ford full access to the Bantam proposal and prototype and under severe time pressure issued purchase requisitions of 1500 units each to the three contractors.
Ford, using its conventional internal nomenclature named its version GP, for “government” use and “passenger” car. Ultimately the Army singled out the Willys design as superior, but because Willys could not meet the demand Ford was awarded a contract to build the Willys version which came to be known by Ford as the GPW. By 1945 a total of 637,385 units were produce of which 277,896 were Ford built GPW’s.
These humble but durable little vehicles gave birth to the Willys civilian CJ “Jeep” which became an iconic brand that endures today and which spawned interpretations of the genre by numerous other manufacturers, most notably Land Rover and Toyota.
The 1944 Ford GPW offered for sale here has been restored on top of what was a very solid and rust free chassis and tub. The hood and fenders have slight imperfections which indicate to me that the sheet metal is original as well. I purchased this GPW earlier this year from the estate of a Willys collector, restorer and enthusiast. I chose this one of the four MB/GPW’s available because of its originality and condition. There was a museum quality one in olive drab and Army livery but it was beyond my price threshold.
With the exception of the light blue paint (my son suggested it might be a Navy Jeep), the Pirelli Scorpion tires and 12 volt conversion this little GPW is completely stock. It came to me with a brand new canvas top that was still in a plastic bag. Opening it, unfolding it and installing it inside my shop made the whole place smell like a musty old army surplus store!
Equipped with what I believe to be its original drivetrain this GPW is powered by the Willys “Go Devil” 134 cubic inch flat head four designed to produce 60hp and 105lbs of torque delivered through the correct T84 three speed transmission and working two speed transfer case to drive the correct front and rear Dana axles and Warn locking hubs. The truck starts right up and idles with a little choke from the original one barrel Carter carburetor. It warms up quickly and runs cool with good oil pressure. The gas gauge is the only instrument not indicating. Steering, shifting and braking (four wheel hydraulic drum system) all work as they did when the rig was new, which is to say these are raucous, rough and tumble vehicles that offer little in terms of ergonomics, comfort or safety. Top speed was claimed to be 65mph although I can’t say I have gotten it much over 50mph but I do enjoy a casual cruise around the neighborhood and in the parade line (so long as I can avoid going in and out of that seriously low first gear).
I am going to guess that this car wasn’t driven much at all before I purchased it. I was impressed to see how readily it came to life but not really surprised because so much of it looks freshly restored. The motor is smooth, sounds good and has ample compression. It might grind a bit on a lazy shift and it does have a few weeps and drips after a day’s work but so do a lot of 72 year olds I know.
I fully admit to being a shameless car flipper. As such I have experienced a good percentage of my “bucket list” cars. I can tell you that this car attracts a lot of attention and draws people from walks of life far and away from the average car enthusiast. I have had the privilege of listening to memories of veterans that span the spectrum of emotions evoked by this little Jeep; from saving a life as a getaway vehicle in Korea to saving some sanity as a surfboard hauler in Vietnam. I have watched teenage girls give compelling (and as yet unsuccessful) arguments as to why their parent should buy them this car. One guy offered to store it for me in the foyer of his business. He didn’t want to drive it he just liked looking at it. Everyone loves the GPW.
Now, my bucket floweth over and it is time to move the GPW. This vehicle is located in Rowlett, Texas and is offered as is where is with no warranty implied or otherwise. Texas residents may be subject to sales tax and licensing fees. Feel free to ask question or schedule a pre-purchase inspection. Best offers and trades considered.