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Jeep CJ and Australian digger


1944 Willys Jeep CJ


dash board 1944 Willys Jeep



1944 Willys Jeep manufacturers plate




1944 Willys Jeep with nine slot grille



Willys Jeep 1944

(NOTE: This story and images first appeared on mister-cars.com on Anzac Day, 2009)


On Anzac Day, April 25, in just about every town in Australia we gather to pay our respect to our diggers and fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen and women. It's a day that stops the nation as we reflect on who we are and where we have come from and the sacrifices that have enabled us to live the lives we lead today.Lives and freedom that give us the ability to follow our passions in life, like restoring automobiles.
Significantly the two passions – remembering our servicemen, and restoring vehicles – also cross paths on this Aussie day of days.Military Jeeps and Land Rovers are used to convey diggers unable to walk and wave to adoring flag-waving Aussies who stand deep along the edge of roads as the parades make their way to services.These vehicles have been restored by individuals whose most significant day of the year is when they get to carry our Anzacs.It is the coming together, and in some cases, re-uniting of a gritty little four wheel drive and equally determined diggers.
The Jeep traces its history to the late 1930's when Hitler was conquering Europe.America realised it needed a go-anywhere, four wheel drive light reconnaissance vehicle to replace its fleet of mainly motorcycles and sidecars ... and believe it or not the odd Model-T Ford.Tenders were put out for a 80 inch wheelbase, four wheel drive in June of 1940. There were three respondents: Ford, American Bantam Car Co., and Willys-Overland. While the best proposal came from Bantam, Willys had the best engine, a flat head-four cylinder called the `Go Devil', and Ford also brought some good ideas to the table.
After more submissions were made the US Government announced the winner and called it a GPW. G for Government, P for Pygmy, a Ford term, and W for Willys. Willys produced a Willys Quad, while Ford came up with the Ford Pygmy. Some say the Jeep came came from a shortening of this GPW term.While the vehicle was largely accepted as the Bantam proposal, Bantam did not have the mass production facilities that were offered by Willys, in Toledo, Ohio. The military wanted multiple suppliers, so Ford also got a guernsey. In late 1940 Willys was given a contract and a week later this was followed by Ford. Roughly 640,000 Jeeps were made between 1941-1945 of which 360,000 were produced by Willys.
In the theatre of war the Jeep proved to be a durable, hard working vehicle. They were light and manoeuvreable, with great ground clearance. Then, as today, they were pretty dreadful on tarmac over 60 kmh, but show them a muddy track or field and the Jeep was in its element.This four wheel drive, borne out of necessity, is alive today as the Jeep Wrangler, a direct descendant of the little war hero. After the war Willys recognised a civilian need for such a vehicle for duties on farms and for off-road works by agencies such as forest workers and government departments working in remote areas.As a result the first CJ (Civilian Jeep) CJ-2A was produced in 1945.
Contemporary Jeep owners will no doubt pick up on the fact these military Jeeps have a nine slot grille, unlike today's legendary seven slot grille. There's a good reason for this. It was a Ford innovation.Ford manufactured Jeeps featured a nine slot grille, while the Willys had a flat iron slat grille.By April 1942, Willys had adopted the Ford style grille which was cheaper to make.After the war, when Willys decided to continue production of the Jeep it changed the grille to a seven slotter, so as to be able to get it trademarked and this was introduced on the CJ-2A.While Willys and Ford worked together to get the rights to build Jeeps and co-operated during the war, when hostilities ceased the gloves were off as free enterprise took over.
Ford tried to sue Willys for the rights to the name `Jeep' but failed.So Jeep became a Willys name legally, and has continued through successive owners, these days being a brand of Chrysler.So widespread is the use and understanding of the term that in some places all four wheel drives are called `Jeeps.' 
Who knows what might have happened to not only the vehicle, but the name `Jeep' had Ford won the court case?

 (This page is dedicated to a family member, Pte William Gaulton Richardson killed in action in France on February 5, 1917, aged 20, who served in Gallipoli, Belgium and the Somme. 20th Battalion AIF)

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