Today In Ford History--nov. 23
On Nov. 23, 1940 Ford Motor Company delivered its first jeep prototype for testing at the U.S. Army proving grounds at Camp Holabird, Md., where it was the only vehicle among competing vendors’ to survive the Army’s torturous tough truck test in usable condition.
That initial Army testing, a year before Pearl Harbor, totaled 10,000 miles in two parts. The first 5,000 were driven on paved roads to limber up the prototypes for the second half of the test. That course included two hills, of 30- and 60-degree grades, and a circular track punctuated with ditches, mud, soft surfaces and a washboard road of concrete beams 12 inches apart, meant to twist the body and chassis.
Army drivers on two-hour shifts drove the prototypes over that hazard course in all types of weather conditions 24 hours a day. At an average speed of seven miles an hour, they took more than a month to complete the grueling second 5,000 miles.
After the full 10,000 miles, Army engineers carefully examined each prototype, testing them for loss of horsepower, then dismantling them to inspect for wear and broken components.
“The Ford frame was the only one to survive in useable condition,” author Ray Cowdery wrote in his book, All-American Wonder: the Military Jeep, 1941-1945.
The Army also liked the Ford prototype’s design, including its lower hood profile, placement of the spare tire above the right bumper and the gas tank under the driver’s seat, like the Model T. This permitted a larger capacity gas tank and provided space for instruments, radio equipment, a first aid kit and a glove compartment inside the cowl behind the dashboard.
Ford, however, declined the Army’s invitation to submit a revised design. It chose instead to supply the Army as a subcontractor under license from Willys. When Budd, the third vendor in the bidding, also chose not to proceed, the Army contract went to Willys by default.
By the end of WWII, Ford had built almost 280,000 vehicles of a type the Army called “trucks, light reconnaissance and command car, ¼-ton 4X4.” That forerunner of today’s Sport Utility Vehicle, it was also known as a GP or GPW—shortened in GI lingo to “jeep.”
Budd built less than 3,000 while the primary contractor, Willys, built almost 400,000 units during the war, after which it trademarked “Jeep” as a brand name.