1944 Ford GPW Jeep

The elegantly simple, rugged and cleverly-designed Jeep is one of the most important vehicles in American history, second only to the Ford Model T. The Jeep served as an indispensable tool for our soldiers and is perhaps the most iconic vehicle of the WWII era. It features prominently in stories, photos and movies from the war and has truly become part of the fabric of our history.

The origins of the Jeep date back to the late 1930’s when the US Government was beginning to sense tensions growing overseas, and felt the immediate need to update the Army’s ageing motor fleet – at the time consisting mostly of modified Model Ts, sidecar motorcycles and primitive tanks. One of the more pressings needs was for a lightweight, all-terrain utility vehicle that could serve multiple purposes. A guideline was announced and bidding was opened for manufacturers to submit their proposals. One would think car companies would be jumping at the opportunity for a lucrative government contract, but only two companies initially entered the fray – Willys Overland and American Bantam. Ford was later encouraged to join and they somewhat reluctantly tossed their hat in the ring as well. Through a series of tests and bids, American Bantam’s entry was awarded the contract and they immediately set to work building their prototypes. Bantam committed to the Army’s stringent timeline and delivered “The Blitz Buggy” to Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 23, 1940. Unfortunately for Bantam, their financial state was less than stable, and they were unable to commit to the production volume required. With Bantam’s support, Government officials forwarded the blueprints to Ford and Willys who were encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Unsurprisingly, the Willys Quad and Ford Pygmy prototypes were remarkably similar and all shared many traits with the Blitz Buggy. Rather unusually, all three manufacturers were given contracts to produce 1,500 vehicles each for testing – most likely due to the enormous pressure the government was feeling to get vehicles in the field.

When a single manufacturer was settled on for the initial production run of 15,000 vehicles, it was Willys who came out on top. Soldiers raved about the powerful engine and lower silhouette of the Willys and its performance was quickly proven by those who relied on it for their lives. But even Willys could not keep up by 1941, and with war looming, Ford’s massive resources were called upon once again. Ford agreed to produce what became known as the GPW (Ford’s internal designation, G- Government contract, P- any 80” wheelbase vehicle, W- built under Willys license). The Jeep we know and love was really an amalgamation of all three designs, which in hindsight is probably why it was so successful. Stories vary about where the Jeep name comes from, and perhaps its best never to know for sure as it just adds more layers to the unique gestation of this legendary, iconic, and heroic vehicle.

Over the course of the war, 277,000 GPWs were produced by Ford. Given the extreme conditions they served in, it is no wonder that just a fraction of those have survived today. This GPW is rare in that it resonates with different types of collectors. It is not only a World War II artifact, it is also a Paramount Pictures “movie star,” and includes the original pink slip from Paramount accounting for their ownership and movie heritage. The vehicle has been featured in several films including “Hell is for Heroes,” directed by Don Siegel and starring Steve McQueen, as well as “Is Paris Burning?” with screenplay by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola. This Jeep has been treated to a very nice restoration and presents in very solid and straight condition, finished in drab green. It has not been over restored, so it maintains an appropriately utilitarian feel that is consistent with how a military Jeep should be. It is nicely equipped with a restored radio, axe, shovel, antenna mount and jerry cans. The fun and affordable Ford GPW Jeep is an iconic piece of American history, as well as Hollywood history, that is a very usable and enjoyable vehicle, well suited for historic military events, casual shows as well as for weekend drives around the back forty.

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