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Willys Jeep: buying guide and review (1941-1945)

Willys Jeep: buying guide and review (1941-1945) Classic and Performance Car
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Although it ended 66 years ago, the Second World War continues to exert a fascination on men of all ages. Most of us would secretly love to own a piece of hardware from that era, but anything armoured is now seriously expensive, not to mention a little impractical.
 
But if you’re looking for something that is something relatively cheap and cheerful, then you can’t do much better than a WW2 Jeep. More than 639,000 Jeeps were built during the war and there are always a number of survivors on the market today.
 
Interest in WW2 grows with every passing year and there are now plenty of military ’nostalgia’ events you can attend, besides the conventional classic car shows. Whether it’s the enormous War & Peace show that’s held every July in Kent, the Goodwood Revival or the classic car display in your local village fête, a Jeep fits the bill perfectly. Just as it did for the Allies, 70 years ago.
 
What’s more, the Jeep is surprisingly good to drive – dare we say it, much better than an early Land Rover. In particular, the Jeep has light and accurate steering, and performance is brisk from its 60bhp engine. Off-road it’s just superb – and you don’t need to worry about scratching the paint or getting it dirty.
 
Which one to buy? 
 
Various different manufacturers were tasked with building the Jeep, although the majority come from Willys and Ford, codenamed MB and GPW respectively. There are also many French Hotchkiss Jeeps, which were built under licence after the war. 
 
They are essentially the same vehicles but with detail differences; for example, the front crossmember on a Willys chassis is circular, whereas on a Ford it is an inverted U-section – except on the Fords that were built on Willys-supplied chassis! Do your homework if absolute originality is important to you, while remembering that all kinds of strange things happen in wartime…
 
Performance and specs
 
Engine 2199cc four cylinder, sidevalve, iron block and head
Power 54bhp @ 4000rpm 
Torque 105lb ft @ 2000rpm 
Transmission Three-speed manual with high/low ratio transfer box
Weight 1115kg 
Top speed c60mph
0-60mph n/a
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2032mm
Length 3327mm
Width 1575mm
Height 1829mm
Weight 1115kg 
 
Common problems
 
• The wonderful thing about Jeeps is that they wear their hearts on their sleeve, so to speak: corrosion will be obvious and nothing is hidden away. 

• The chassis generally survives quite well due to oil leaks from the engine and transmission. 

• You should look for signs of accident damage. The frame is not terribly rigid in the first place, but it’s made of decent-quality steel.

• The floorpans are the most prone to rot, because water collects in them, but you can buy new ones – in fact, you can buy a whole new body. Body panels are also readily available.

• All the MB/GPW Jeeps used a Willys-designed 2.2-litre engine, including the Ford-built examples. It’s a tough and simple unit, and all parts are available. 

• Original blocks and cranks are currently fairly easy to find, and other parts have been remanufactured. 

• The drivetrain is similarly robust.

• The quality of remanufactured parts varies depending on where in the world they are made and it’s still possible to buy some NOS spares if you’re prepared to hunt them out and pay a premium. 

• Be aware that a restored vehicle is likely to have been fitted with reproduction parts, especially for wartime fittings. 

• Original accessories are highly sought after, and sometimes turn up on eBay or the specialist military vehicle site www.milweb.net. And yes, you can buy replica guns, or deactivated real ones.

• Unless built as radio cars, Jeeps had six-volt electrical systems, which are adequate when in good condition; but some owners convert to 12-volt battery set-up for easier starting. 

• In the interior, soft trim was limited to seats and canvas tops, and is readily available from specialists. The same goes for rubber seals and correct-pattern tyres.
 
Model history
 
Nov 1932: US Infantry Board buys an American-built version of the Austin 7 pick-up to evaluate for a reconnaisance/messenger role.
 
April 1937: The Infantry School commissions a so-called ‘belly flopper’ light off-road prototype, based around an American Bantam (formerly American Austin) 750cc drivetrain – probably salvaged from the Austin 7 delivered in 1932. 
 
June 1940: US Ordnance Dept lays down specifications for a 4wd ‘Jeep’ and invites tenders from US car manufacturers. They will have just 75 days to produce a concept and 70 prototype vehicles, starting from a clean sheet of paper. Only American Bantam and Willys-Overland take up the challenge, 
but Ford is later persuaded to accept too – probably after some Government persuasion, since it
is realised that Ford’s massive production facilities will be invaluable in wartime. 
 
Aug 1940: Bantam wins the contract, despite being almost bankrupt, and builds a concept. After successful testing it then assembles the required 70 prototype Jeeps – the only manufacturer to do so.
 
Nov 1940: Despite not meeting 
the deadline and being officially disqualified from the tender, Willys starts testing its own concept, the Willys Quad. The Army likes it and approves it. A few days later, Ford submits its own concept for testing, the Ford Pygmy. With its flat bonnet and slatted grille, it most closely resembles what will become the production Jeep.
 
Dec 1940: All three companies are contracted to build 1500 vehicles each, based on their prototypes.
 
July 1941: Willys is asked to build 16,000 standardised Jeeps, powered by the Willys 2.2-litre ‘Go-Devil' sidevalve engine and codenamed MA. Only 1550 of the MA Jeeps are in fact built, most of which are lend-leased to the USSR.
 
Oct 1941: Realising that a second manufacturer will be needed for practical and logistical reasons, the US Army contracts Ford to build 15,000 Jeeps to the Willys design, codenamed GPW. Bantam is sidelined and will make just 2675 production vehicles, while Ford’s total will eventually be 277,896. Willys will make 361,349 of its revised version of the standard Jeep, codenamed MB and produced in parallel with the Ford GPW. Production ends in mid-1945 with the declaration of peace.
 
Clubs and websites
 
•www.willys-mb.co.uk - Jeeps, spares and accessories for sale
•www.milweb.net - Website specialising in military vehicles and paraphernalia 
•www.g503.com - Military Jeep forums
•www.mvt.org.uk - The Military Vehicle Trust. An owners club ensuring the conservation of military vehicles
 
Summary and prices
 
If you fancy a usable classic runaround that’s a bit different, a Jeep makes a great choice. It’s easy to look after and there’s no polishing of shiny paint or chrome to bother with! You also have the satisfaction of owning a vehicle that in all probability has real history behind it.
 
Although prices have risen in the last few years, Jeeps represent good value for money, and container-loads are still making their way across the Atlantic from the USA. A large number were shipped to Europe during WW2, of course, and some of these also turn up for sale.
 
Although there are still many restoration projects around, people generally want MoT’d and usable vehicles. They start at about £4000 and go to £20,000 or more for a real minter. Rarer types, such as the Bantam Jeeps, sell for much more.
 
Until recently, the French Hotchkiss Jeeps were a lot cheaper, but now there seems to be hardly any difference in prices. But for men of a certain age, the genuine WW2 article will always have a unique appeal.
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Last updated: 20th Oct 2015
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  • 1948 Willys Overland Jeep Pickup

    $59,500(£0) $59,500(£0)

    The civilian Willys pickup truck is perhaps not as well-known as the ubiquitous Jeep CJ Universal Utility Vehicle, but it is nonetheless a very important machine that helped set the stage for the pickup becoming one of America’s most popular vehicles. Willys Overland wisely capitalized on the “war hero” status of the Jeep, expanding the line into pickups and utility wagons proved a very wise move. Introduced to the market in 1947, the Jeep Truck shared the same basic architecture as the Station Wagon. Willys offered a Pickup, Stake Bed and Cab & Chassis configuration to buyers with either 2wd or 4wd. The 134 cubic inch “Go-Devil” F-head four-cylinder engine was standard, and while it wasn’t much of a powerhouse, it was virtually bomb-proof, having proved itself in harshest conditions imaginable during WWII. An equally tough 3-speed Borg Warner T-90 backed the engine, and four-wheel-drive models got a two speed transfer case. The 4WD had a 1-ton payload rating, and buyers could even opt for a power take off which could operate an endless variety of specialized equipment for farming and industry. Like the mechanical layout, the styling borrowed heavily from the classic Jeep CJ, with its iconic vertical grille and separate flat fenders up front. It was no doubt utilitarian, but it also had a particular charm that captivated buyers. The Willys Jeep Truck was built through 1964, and its DNA lives on in today’s ultra-capable Jeep vehicles. This 1948 Willys-Overland Jeep Truck is far and away one of the best we’ve ever encountered. It has been treated to a full nut and bolt restoration with careful attention paid to detail and accuracy. Awarded an AACA Senior National First Prize in 2011, it remains in outstanding condition from top to bottom. The attractive two-tone light blue paintwork is a factory correct color scheme, the darker blue main body and bed highlighted by light blue panels on the doors and roof. Body color steel wheels are unadorned with hubcaps or trim rings, with subtle red pin stripes being the only nod to decoration. The wheels are wrapped in chunky, period correct off-road tires that give the Jeep a fabulous, purposeful look. A single spare wheel is mounted to the bed side as original, allowing for an unobstructed cargo area. It is equipped with an original Power Take-Off on the rear bumper, complete with the original safety guard. Paint finish is outstanding, and the body fit is appropriately consistent with a utilitarian machine such as this. The bed appears to have never been used since the restoration and is straight and free of dents, dings or scuffs and features a fabulous “WO” logo tailgate. Chrome plating is limited to just the front bumper, headlight rims and some exterior hardware, but it is extremely nice, having been restored to the same high standard as the rest of the truck. This Jeep Truck truly is a beautiful beast. The cab is trimmed with maroon vinyl upholstery piped in white on the split bench seat as original, with tan cowlboard door cards and a red tweed headlining. Like the rest of this wonderful truck, the work impeccably executed. Being a workhorse means there’s little in the way of creature comforts, but it does have an original heater and a quintet of fully restored gauges to keep the driver in tune with happenings under the hood. The dash features a two-tone scheme that mimics the exterior, and the paint finishes, chrome plating and switchgear are all in excellent condition. The transmission is shifted via a column-mounted lever, while the three floor mounted levers control the transfer case in/out, high/low ranges, the in/out for the factory equipped PTO. The jack remains in factory location behind the seat, and a basic rubber mat lines the floor. The undercarriage and engine bay are equally well-presented, in basic black finishes on the chassis, axle and suspension components. It is exceptionally clean and tidy underneath, with paint work in the wheel wells as nice as that on the body. Willys’ Go-Devil four-cylinder engine runs very well and is fully detailed, showing some light use on the finishes but otherwise in excellent condition and very correct in terms of hardware, hose clamps and fittings. We can’t help but be big fans of this delightful Willys Overland Jeep Truck. It is basic and utilitarian yet so well detailed and beautifully restored that you can’t help but fall for its rugged charm. A true show-quality example of this rare and desirable Willys Overland, it is ready for further show duty, or for regular enjoyment on the road – or anywhere else you may dare to take it.

    For sale
    $59,500(£0) $59,500(£0)
    Hyman Ltd
    314-524-6000 View contact number