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
Top speed c60mph
Dimensions and weight
• 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.
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.