1940-1941 Jeep

Differences Between Willys, Bantam, and Ford Early Jeeps

The Willys-Overland Quad made its debut on November 11, 1940.
The Willys-Overland Quad made its debut on November 11, 1940.
©Chrysler LLC

After the extensive testing of the Willys, Bantam, and Ford early jeep models was completed, the QMC placed an order for 1,500 more of the little machines from each company. This represented a compromise, worked out on November 14, 1940, with the help of the National Defense Advisory Commission. The General Staff had wanted the original order to go entirely to Bantam, while the Quartermaster General -- who took a dim view of Bantam's production prospects -- preferred to rely on other suppliers.

All three manufacturers had submitted proposals that were essentially satisfactory. There were, however, some significant differences between models, and they are the following:

  • Weight. The Army, in a concession to reality, had raised the limit from 1,300 to 2,160 pounds. At 2,050 and 2,150 pounds, respectively, both Bantam and Ford met that specification; but the Willys weighed in at 2,450 pounds -- an unacceptable figure, as far as the Army was concerned.
  • Fuel mileage. Bantam, powered by a 112-cid, 40 horsepower Continental engine, won this one.
  • Braking distance and steering. Here again, the nod went to Bantam.
  • Driver comfort and convenience. This one was Ford's, all the way.
  • Engine performance. The 61-horsepower "Go-Devil" engine put the Willys far ahead of its rivals in this respect, though both Bantam and Ford had re-rated their engines from 40 to 45 horsepower.
  • Hood configuration. While the three vehicles looked very much alike, the Ford pilot had a broad, flat hood, in contrast to the rounded shape used by Bantam and Willys. The flat design was considered superior because it added usable surface to the body.
  • Deliveries of this new order of 1,500 units from each manufacturer were to commence early in 1941. In addition, each manufacturer was to make certain modifications to correct deficiencies uncovered in the testing process. All three were to adopt the Ford's hood and grille designs, and certain requirements were laid down:
  • A maximum level road speed of 55 miles per hour was specified, at an engine rpm not over the peak horsepower speed.
  • A minimum level road speed of not more than three miles per hour was mandated.
  • The ability to ford hard-bottom water crossings at least 18 inches in depth was required.
  • Construction must permit the installation and satisfactory use of tire chains.

Thus, though all three models differed in several ways, they were becoming increasingly similar. Willys, however, was up against a serious problem, for the Army made it known that the 2,160-pound weight limit was official and final.

The Bantam jeep model was the lightest and most fuel efficient of the jeep prototypes. The Bantam jeep model was the lightest and most fuel efficient of the jeep prototypes.
The Bantam jeep model was the lightest and most fuel efficient of the jeep prototypes.
©Chrysler LLC

As Wells tells the story, "Only the decision of Under-Secretary of War Patterson broke the impasse." Colonel (later Brig. General) H. J. Lawes, the commandant of the test center at Camp Holabird, told Willys-Overland officials that there was some flexibility in the weight specification. So Patterson agreed to permit Willys to proceed with the production of their 1,500 vehicles with an exemption to the weight limitation.

Not that the issue was forever settled. Ward Canaday later recalled, "We had won a first round, but we still were squarely faced with the threat of losing all future orders beyond the 1,500 if we did not make the 2,160 pounds weight and of losing them anyway, on a performance basis, if we abandoned our own powerful engine and rugged design in order to meet the lower weight requirement."

So it became imperative for Willys to pare 263 pounds -- 12 percent of the total -- from the weight of an already bare-bones vehicle. And, they had to do this with no sacrifice of either strength or power.

On the next page, find out how Willys achieved a lighter jeep that surpassed the designs of both Bantam and Ford.

For more information on Jeeps, see:

  • History of Jeep
  • Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
  • Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews