Tuesday, January 7, 2020


One of the most iconic vehicles of all time has to be the jeeps that propelled the American military through conflicts from World War II through Vietnam. When I think of a jeep the first things that come to mind are these military vehicles depicted in TV episodes of The Rat Patrol, George C. Scott rolling through Europe in one during PATTON, wounded soldiers being transported on them during the opening sequence of M.A.S.H., as well as real life family pictures of my grandfather working on them in a motor pool during the Battle of the Bulge.

The next thing that comes to mind is the favorite car I ever owned. A boxy Jeep Cherokee that was the first "new car" I ever owned bought when I finally has some financial stability in my late 20s. Jeeps may have been replaced on the battlefield by Humvees and other military motorized vehicles but they are now one of the most successful brands in the civilian automotive industry.

While the Jeep name is currently trademarked and the brand is owned by Chrysler when it comes to the sports utility vehicles being built for consumers today, Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford played a big part in producing the vehicles for the United States military. The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society is presenting a temporary exhibit at its Eastepointe museum this Winter highlighting the JEEPS OF FORD. On display will be 3 examples of Ford built jeeps, including a 1941 Ford GP prototype which on short-term loan to the museum. Thee will also be a number of Ford jeep related items from the museum's permanent collection to view. Stop in to discover this often-overlooked aspect of the “Truck, ¼ Ton, 4X4” story from Michigan's Arsenal of Democracy history.

Ford GP prototype

Going into World War II if you can believe it the U.S. Army was still utilizing horses and mules for its ground transportation needs along with some heavy-duty trucks supplied during World War I from the Dodge Brothers Motor Company. The Defense Department contracted with auto manufacturer Willy (the precursor to Chrysler's ownership of the brand by way of American Motors Corporation) and Ford to create prototype vehicles to determine which would be mass produced for use by the Army.

Willy's MA was selected over the Ford GP (general purpose vehicle) though the production model used in World War II utilized design elements from both prototypes. In fact, the pressed-metal grille that has become engrained with Jeep's brand image was actually a design feature in the Ford prototype that was incorporated into the final design by the Army. In fact, Jeep may have been slang originating from the GP in the Ford prototype name.


Because Willys couldn't keep up with the war time demand on their own, the automotive manufacturer, granted the United States Government a non-exclusive license to select allow another company to also manufacture these vehicles. Ford was selected as the second supplier building Jeeps based upon Willys' final design specifications. During World War II approximately 360,000 Willy MA models were manufactured and 280,000 Ford GPW jeeps were built. The G stood for "government contract." The P for the vehicles' 80 inch wheelbase. And the W for the Willy specifications of the vehicle. Not only were both of these jeeps used by American forces during World War II but they were also provided to the Soviet Union in their front against the Nazis and the Chinese in their confrontations with the Japanese.

In the 1950's Ford was awarded the contract to revise the design of the aging World War II fleet of jeeps. They created the M151 that became known as "Mutts." American Motors Corporation (which was an evolution of Willys through mergers and acquisitions) was granted a secondary contract to also build these 1/4 ton 4x4 general purpose trucks based upon Ford's specifications. Because of AMC's trademark of the Willy Jeep grille being used in civilian vehicles the Mutts used a different design. Ford Mutts were in service by the military until they were phased out in the mid-1980s by Humvees which were designed and manufactured by AM General, a military contractor spun off from AMC that continues the Willy heritage within the country's defense industry.

Michigan Military Technical Historical Society

So the history of the military jeep really is a tangled web isn't it? Gear heads and history geeks like this dad blogger are sure to appreciate the JEEPS OF FORD exhibition at the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society Museum. Get a close up look at these iconic vehicles by stopping by for a visit. This volunteer driven museum located at 16600 Stephens Road, Eastpointe Michigan 48021 is open on weekends. Saturdays 10 am - 5pm + Sundays Noon to 4pm.

The 11,000 square foot museum maintains and preserves Michigan's "Arsenal of Democracy" heritage. Have fun participating in a scavenger hunt through the museum's military equipment, uniforms, weapons and vehicles that points out educational trivia meant to pique the interest of kids and kids-at-heart. This place isn't just for military enthusiasts!


See NASA astronaut space gear worn on the space shuttle. Watch a Cold War "duck and cover" Civil Defense television public service announcement. Learn about Rosie the Riveter and the role women played in building the airplanes, cannons and jeeps used in World War II. There is a lot to discover at the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society Museum.

For more information about the museum and special events hosted by the Michigan Military Technical and Historical Society, go to mimths.org

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