In the late 1930s, the war in Europe was raging and it was becoming obvious that America was about to be pulled in. Because of this, the various branches of the American military began looking at the supplies necessary to go to war. In early 1940, the US Army focused on transportation. They issued a RFQ (Request for Quote) to over 100 vehicle manufacturers for a compact, 4WD reconnaissance vehicle. Only two responded: Willys-Overland and American Bantam. The lack of response almost certainly due to the deadline they had placed on the request: a working prototype within a just 49 days!
Willys immediately put their engineers to work. The American Bantam Car Company was just entering bankruptcy but solicited Karl Probst, a well-regarded, ex-Bantam engineer to help them out. Probst laid out full plans for the Bantam prototype in just a few days. Because much of the vehicle could be assembled from off-the-shelf parts, Bantam had a hand-built prototype built by September 21, 1940.
The second round
Although the Bantam prototype met almost all of the requirements, the Army felt that the Bantam Company was too small to supply the enormous number of vehicles it needed so it supplied the Bantam design to Willys and Ford for high volume quotes. Our automotive historian at East Hills Jeep (Greenvale, NY) told us that the resulting prototypes were called the Ford “Pygmy” and Willys “Quad,” not “Jeeps.” (More on this below.)
The Pygmy and Quad are tested
1500 of each of the two models were built and field-tested by the Army. The Willys version of the car would become the standardized design. The Army chose Ford as the second supplier but Ford was required to build their Jeeps to the Willys’ design. American Bantam, the creators of the original design, swas put in charge of building all the trailers involved.
The Jeep word
None of the original manufacturers actually used the term “Jeep” to designate their vehicles. Although there is some debate as to the origin of the name, many historians acknowledge that it was a slang that was applied to the vehicle’s military name “GP Vehicle” (General Purpose).
Today, Jeep is a major brand of automobiles manufactured by the Fiat Chrysler Corporation. The former Chrysler Corporation acquired the Jeep brand along with its remaining assets in 1987 from American Motors Corporation (AMC).