Jeep was an original war horse

By Jil McIntosh Wheels.ca

Oct 12, 2012 4 min. read

Article was updated 11 years ago

Join the Conversation (0)
Jeep was the brainchild of the U.S. army, which in 1940 was watching the war in Europe and getting ready in case the country got involved. It sent a request to 135 auto companies, asking them to design a small, light “scout car.” One of the few that answered was American Bantam, a struggling Pennsylvania-based company that made tiny, inexpensive cars.

Bantam didn’t design its own cars, so it hired Karl Probst, an engineer from Detroit, who drew up the sketches in one weekend. Willys-Overland and Ford were also in the running, and their designs were heavily influenced by Probst’s work. Those two companies made most of the Jeeps used in the war, while Bantam turned out about 3,000 of them.

So how did Jeep get its name? There are several theories: that it was for GP, or General Purpose vehicle; that Ford’s internal name for it was GPW; or that it was named for Eugene the Jeep, a character in the popular Popeye cartoons. No one knows for sure.

More on names:

specifically, Plymouth. Walter Chrysler introduced the now-defunct brand in 1928 as a lower-priced line in his company. It replaced the four-cylinder Chrysler models he had been selling, and at $725, was intended to pull buyers away from entry-level cars offered by Ford and Chevrolet.

The brand used the Mayflower as its mascot, and so most assumed it was named for the ship that carried the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. However, there’s an alternate (and plausible) story that has Joe Frazer, an executive at Chrysler and later head of his own car company, suggesting the name because Plymouth was a popular brand of binder twine at the time. And since much of the U.S. was still rural and farmers would recognize the name, that’s what Walter Chrysler used.

Humble beginnings for SAE

SAE International is a global association that devises and publishes technical standards and recommended practices for automotive component design and engineering. It was originally the Society of Automobile Engineers and was founded in the U.S. in 1905 to help the numerous small auto companies of the day.

The seeds were planted when writers for two magazines, The Horseless Age and The Automobile, wrote editorials calling for a technical society to assist automakers as they started to adopt common construction techniques. Nine men volunteered their time as officers, including Henry Ford, who was the first vice-president. Thirty engineers paid $10 each in annual dues to join.

By 1916, the Society had 1,800 members, and when the tractor, power boat and aeronautical industries expressed interest, the SAE changed its name from Automobile to Automotive, and encompassed all self-powered vehicles. SAE standards proved important in military production during the First and Second World Wars, while a European tour in 1960 brought the first of several co-operative agreements with associations in other countries. Today, it manages and creates more vehicle standards than any other organization worldwide.

Trying to strike a Cord

Every so often, a car comes along that seemingly doesn’t want to be built. That was the case with the Indiana-built Cord. It started life as the L-29 model in 1929 and was front-wheel-drive, which was virtually unknown at the time. But it was expensive and had been stung hard by the Depression, and it wrapped up in 1931.

In 1936, Cord tried again, with an unusual style that became known as the “coffin-nose” for its long flat hood. The company, which had also made the Auburn and Duesenberg, was in trouble and folded in 1937, but the Cord itself wasn’t quite done. The dies went to Hupmobile, a Detroit-based automaker that had been around since 1909. After some front-end restyling to the design, Hupp made 35 prototypes. It called the new model the Skylark, and at the 1939 New York Auto Show, some 6,000 people put their orders in.

Unfortunately, the cash-starved Hupp couldn’t fill them. It struck a deal with another Detroit automaker, Graham-Paige, and authorized use of the dies to build a new car, the Graham Hollywood, alongside the Skylarks that Hupp would buy back and sell as its own. But the design proved very difficult for an assembly line: the roof alone was seven pieces of steel welded together. Strapped for cash, Graham-Paige turned to military production. The auto lines stopped in 1940, after just 319 Skylarks and 1,860 Hollywoods were built. No one knows what happened to the dies after that.
[reviews-news-gallery id=1]




More from Wheels & Partners