The real McCoy!
Some would say that the vehicle you see on this webpage is the most iconic vehicle in existence. It took part in wars, featured in every form of pop culture and spawned an entire brand, which still relies on its basic design elements to this day. This is the original Jeep…
This is real Jeep. But it is also an original Ford.
To put that opening line into perspective, a short trip down history lane: The United States Army, when it became clear the country would enter World War II, needed a light motor vehicle, and it needed it double time. In 1940, the army drew up a new set of requirements and sent this list to 135 manufacturers.
It sounds like a standard tender procedure, but the timeframe was virtually impossible: The army expected a response in 11 days, after which manufacturers had 49 days to build a working prototype. Another 75 days after that, the army would need to have 70 vehicles for testing.
Only three companies entered a bid: American Bantam Car Company, Willys Overland Motors, and Ford.
Bantam was the first to submit and also the only manufacturer willing to provide a working prototype within the timeframe. The lead designer, Karl Probst, actually designed the entire vehicle in just 72 hours.
The war effort demanded a lot more Jeeps than initially expected, which meant that Willys Overland and Ford were called upon to start manufacturing the vehicle too. Bantam had to reluctantly hand over its design, of which it eventually only built 4 500. Ford produced roughly 270 000, with Willys producing well over 300 000.
Of those, only three eventually made their way to South Africa and of those three, only two have matching chassis and engine numbers. This car is one of those.
So this Jeep is the real deal and not some FrankenJeep made up of various other bits and imitation pieces.
Its real trump card is the original factory plaque on the dashboard. It shows the chassis number, engine number, where it was made and where it was delivered. Because of this information, its owner, Deon Rupert, was able to track most of the vehicle’s history.
It was built in Ford’s plant in Louisville, Kentucky and it was the fifth vehicle assigned to the US Army’s famous 101st airborne unit, who most likely used it for training purposes, as the Jeep never left the US, or saw active duty.
That makes it an extremely rare find, because most Jeeps stationed in Europe or in the Pacific were simply given away to the locals, or disassembled and shipped away in stacks.
The reason Deon wanted one? Because he read war comics as a young boy and anyone who had ever seen one of those will know that it features predominantly. A mere replica wasn’t good enough – it had to be the original, right down to the pistons.
The engine is a 2.2-litre and it drives all four wheels via a three-speed manual with a two-speed transfer case. In case you were wondering, it’s also original, right down to the pistons.
In fact, we’ve never encountered an owner who has put so much time and effort into restoring a vehicle. The rucksack mounted on the side actually belonged to a marine who fought in the war. His name is written on the outside, with a few more details scribbled on the inside. That’s mighty impressive, but nothing compared to the bolts you’ll find on this car.
As the Jeep was a standard design, Ford had to employ other tactics to let the public know that it was, in fact, a Ford. So it stamped a little ‘F’ onto the top of every bolt used to put its Jeeps together.
When Deon’s car arrived, it was a mess, but he lovingly restored it from the ground up into the condition it is today. One of the final changes he made was to remove all the standard bolts that snuck in over the years and replace them with “F” bolts, which had to be imported at great cost from the US. Such is his attention to detail.
The good news is that this Jeep is available to rent for static display purposes. So if you’re a Jeep (or Ford) dealer, think of all the attention it would bring in and the story that comes with it.
It’s not the stuff legends are made of. It is a legend.
WWII Jeep specifications:
Engine Four-cylinder Willys L134 ‘Go Devil’
Capacity 2 199cc
Power 45kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 142Nm @ 2 000r/min
Fuel system Carburettor
Drive system Three-speed manual with transfer case
Suspension Live axles on leaf springs
Top speed 105km/h
Operational range 482km
Text: Gerhard Horn
Photographs: Deon van der Walt