There’s no doubt whatsoever that people do their best work under pressure, and in 1940 with WWII underway in Europe, the Americans knew that before long they’d be in need of a purpose-designed and built reconnaissance vehicle. Just 49 days after announcing the Ordnance Technical Committee specifications for the 4x4 quarter-ton vehicle, the Bantam prototype that would revolutionise off-road driving was delivered to Camp Holabird, Maryland, and 26 days after that some 70 examples, 8 with four-wheel steering, were ready for testing. Of course it wasn’t the first time there’d been the need for a machine that could, quite literally, do the donkey work for the armed forces, a converted Panhard, fitted with a Hotchkiss machine gun appeared in 1904, and thereafter the variations upon the theme were endless.
During the First World War Model T Fords with wooden bodywork and mounted machine guns were used with great success by the Allied forces, remaining in service for some years hence, due to a peacetime cessation of development. During the twenties the Germans and latterly the Americans made use of stripped down Austin Sevens, whilst in France Berliet produced a capable four-wheel drive model, succeeded by 1940 the Laffly V10 M which was set for production when their forces surrendered. There were rivals from the likes of Vidal, DAF, Tempo and Chevrolet, but none could come close to perfecting a vehicle that could traverse any terrain, let alone do so without resorting to a level of over-complexity that would make maintenance in the field a virtual impossibility.
"Since proving such an unprecedented success on the battlefields of WWII, the Jeep in its varying forms has never left active service..."
The definitive answer would essentially evolve from the Austin Seven, for it was from this that Bantam (formerly known as the American Austin Car Co.) and project manager Karl K. Probst took much of their inspiration. Joining Bantam as finalists in the competition to win the prized Army contract were Ford and Willys-Overland Inc., the latter emerging victorious, though only after they had been supplied with the Bantam designs, the Army quite unfairly judging that the financially troubled firm were incapable of fulfilling the order. In 1948 the Federal Trade Commission would take exception to Willys’ aggressive marketing claims that the Jeep had been of their design, reminding them of the invaluable work performed by Bantam and the US Army themselves. Perhaps Willys’ most significant contributions were their powerful “Go Devil” engine, and the name “Jeep” itself, their test driver Irving Hausmann publically referring to the vehicle as such, the term having been used by mechanics since World War I in reference to new vehicles.
Since proving such an unprecedented success on the battlefields of WWII, the Jeep in its varying forms has never left active service, not only militarily, but in the employ of everyone from firemen to racing drivers and lumberjacks to Tour de France officials. In the post-war years various companies specialised in converting the Jeep for other purposes, often rendering them unrecognisable in the process, though individuals proved more than capable of reimagining their faithful workhorses with eccentric results. The name “Jeep” no longer refers only to the iconic workhorse, now encompassing Chrysler’s range of luxurious off-road vehicles, lending them an uncontested place in the popular consciousness as the ultimate four-wheeled embodiment of strength, durability and reliability, proven on the toughest testing ground of them all.
Exhaust Notes 18 - Mark of Excellence
Exhaust Notes 17 - King Cobra