Willys Overland Jeep MB

1944

  • On May 27 1940, during a meeting in Washington, the technical equipment Committee of the American Army approved the characteristics of a lightweight reconnaissance vehicle. The jeep was born.
  • It was at the Normandy landings that the Europeans first discovered this all-purpose vehicle, which would take an essential role in the Liberation before inspiring a whole new type of automobile.
  • Manufactured by Willy’s Overland and Ford, it needed to be able to get out of the most dangerous situations even rolling on rail tracks, with the tires removed.

The Zippo lighter, chewing gum, Coca-Cola and the Jeep form part of our collective consciousness. Even those who did not witness the Liberation firsthand can picture this strange machine transporting GIs with dazzling smiles. Deployed on the French coast in June 1944, the green machine with its painted white star had officially entered onto the world stage.

For some, Jeep, code-named '4 x 4 1/4 ton truck', stood for the initials 'GP', an abbreviation of the term 'general purpose'. Others believe the name is derived from an extremely skilful imaginary animal that appeared in the Popeye cartoon strip in the 1930s.

At the beginning of 1940, while yet to enter the war, the United States understood the need for a considerable increase in the production of lightweight military vehicles. One of the priorities was to equip the army with a four wheel drive vehicle for tactical manoeuvres, capable of transporting at least three soldiers and medium-weight equipment such as machine guns. It would be deployed in a wide variety of situations, particularly by the infantry.

Between the end of May and the beginning of June, a military commission laid down the basic premise for the future project, setting out the key technical characteristics. The general concept was sketched out by engineer Beasley. Among the list of requirements, the vehicle had to weigh less than 1323 lbs (which proved impossible to achieve), to have at least 160 mm of ground clearance, a wheelbase restricted to 2,032 mm, and above all be narrow enough to drive on railway tracks. This gives a pretty clear idea of its multi-purpose ambitions.

To be continued...