From the Mag: Born to Be Customized

The origins of the Jeep concept trace back 85 years to 1937, when Marmon-Herrington Co. presented the United States government with five Fords that had been fitted with the Indianapolis company’s four-wheel drive conversions.

That same year, the U.S. Army built a prototype of a low-profile scout and gun mover called with Howie-Wiley Machine Gun Carrier. The prototype, built by Capt. Robert G. Howie and Master Sgt. Melvin C. Wiley—and later dubbed the Wiley Belly Flopper—was ordered by Gen. Walter Short, assistant commander of the Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The scout car was completed in April 1937. It was designed to carry a driver and a gunner, in a prone position, able to operate a .30 caliber machine gun on the move. When the first military Jeeps were contracted out, they were officially specified as Truck, ¼-ton, 4×4, although, in truth, they were more like that first scout car than a truck.

The earliest Jeeps—the Willys MB, the Ford GPW and a pilot model made by Checker—met the Army’s truck requirements and were officially called Command Reconnaissance vehicles. They became highly successful U.S. military vehicles with off-road capabilities.

They had a more-or-less standardized design and were built in large numbers for the U.S. and its Allied forces for use in World War II.

After the MB model Jeep entered production at the Willys-Overland factory in Toledo, Ohio, the automaker went to work planning postwar civilian Jeep models. They included the Jeep station wagon, the Jeepster phaeton, and pickup and sedan delivery trucks.

Most came in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations, and both still show up at hot rod shows and events today. Enthusiasts like them because they are different and cool.

During WWII, industrial designer Brooks Stevens penned a magazine article that predicted a line of Jeep-based civilian vehicles that would evolve in America after the fighting stopped. Barney Roos, the head of Willys engineering, read the article and hired Stevens to design a new line of Willys cars and trucks for the postwar marketplace.

Click here to read the full article in the December 2022 issue of THE SHOP

John Gunnell

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

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