The first prototype jeep was built for the army by a company called American Bantam in 1940. Willys-Overland and Ford followed with two competing prototypes. American Bantam actually designed and built the first vehicle for the army, but the engine didn’t have enough torque and the company was too small to fill the Army’s orders, so Willys and Ford were asked to submit new designs that corrected the flaws in the Bantam vehicle.
Thanks to a gifted chief engineer and extensive design changes that met revised weight specifications, Willys was able to produce a powerful and heavy engine and that became the standardized jeep for the military. The first Willys jeep was called the MB model and it was built in Toledo Ohio, which was Willys-Overland’s only manufacturing facility.
The Army was concerned with Willys-Overland’s ability to produce enough jeeps to meet the demand, so the government awarded Ford a contract to produce the vehicle using Willys engine design. Ford called the model GPW. G designated it as a Government vehicle; P stood for 80 inch wheelbase and the W was for the Willys engine design. Willys and Ford produced 600,000 jeeps through the war years. The original contract cost of each jeep was less than $750, but the cost increased as the war continued.