Ford GPW: A Brief History
Refer to a legendary small, four-wheel-drive American military reconnaissance vehicle from World War II – a lower-case “Jeep®” – and inevitably it will be called a Willys Jeep®, though this one should be called a 1944 Ford GPW.
It was a Willys design for such a vehicle that the Army Quartermaster Corps approved in 1941, and that Willys0Overland popularized with civilian versions after the war. But at the same time, that gives short shrift to two other automakers central to the jeep story – American Bantam and Ford.
To hedge its bets, the Army gave the Bantam plans to Willys and Ford to see if they could do any better. The Willys version came in too heavy, but its “Go-Devil” 61-bhp four-cylinder engine – delivered great performance. Ford’s prototype had the less spectacular test results, but the company’s manufacturing might couldn’t be ignored.
The Willys model was accepted, but Ford contracted to build almost 300,000 GPW (General Purpose Willys) jeeps. However, the final design did incorporate the flush grille, inboard headlights, and flat hood that first appeared on the Ford prototype.