Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

| 14 Sep 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Why you’d want an Army Jeep

In 1940, the US War Department asked 135 manufacturers to design a 4x4, 40bhp, 1300lb recce car: only the American Bantam Car Co met the tight timescale of a working prototype in 49 days.

Bantam did a great job, then the War Dept gave the blueprints to Ford and Willys to build it in quantity, with Bantam getting the contract to build trailers.

Vastly more capable than the rear-wheel-drive German Volkswagen Kübelwagen, of which just 50,000 were built, Jeeps rapidly spread throughout Allied forces and continued to serve in armies around the world for decades after WW2.

The French Army found it so useful that it had Hotchkiss licence-build a mildly updated Willys MB right up to 1966.

Fewer than 30,000 Hotchkiss M201s were built, compared to 650,000 wartime Jeeps, but they survive in much better condition – partly due to various improvements including a thicker-gauge chassis, timing gears rather than a chain, plus better gearbox bearings and clutch, but mainly due to not having served in conflict.

For regular use and practicality they are ideal, and only connoisseurs know the difference; prices are now close to wartime machines.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

There are various ways to tell each type apart. The Ford GPW chassis number is stamped on top of the left-front chassis rail behind the front crossmember, while the Willys MB is on a plate attached to the inner face of the same chassis rail ahead of the crossmember.

Hotchkiss M201s have an extra channel-section reinforcement inserted vertically in each chassis leg ahead of the front grille, and have shallower swaging at the bottom of the grille pressing. Both Willys and Hotchkiss have a round-tube front crossmember, while Fords use an inverted channel section.

The piano hinge for the bonnet has nine segments on Willys, 11 on Fords and 13 on the Hotchkiss. The folded flange across the top of the dash has much more pronounced spot-welds on the M201, and lacks the central rebate found on Willys/Ford bodies. The Ford had numerous detail differences from the Willys, including the ‘Ford’ or ‘F’ logo on every component.

Wartime Jeeps were used for a huge range of tasks, often modified crudely to suit one use then changed again for another purpose. Don’t expect them to be identical: they were thrown together, repaired with whatever parts were to hand and wear their scars with pride.

Just beware of poor-quality modern reproduction parts, which are even more of a curse on Jeeps than other classics.

Images: James Mann


Army Jeeps: what to look for

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Trouble spots

See above for what to check when looking at the various types of Army Jeeps for sale.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Engine

The Willys ‘Go Devil’ sidevalve engine was also built under licence by Ford and is a gutsy slogger of a unit.

You can still buy a new Carter 539 carburettor, or substitute a much cheaper Solex M32 PBIC, or rebuild either.

Cork seals, diaphragms and fuel pipes need to be replaced to cope with modern E10 fuel.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Identification

Check here for identification: a round crossmember means Willys or M201; a channel means Ford; the Hotchkiss has extra stiffening on the main legs.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Transmission

Check all transmission options for operation: listen for excessive noise, clonks and whining, and for jumping out of second gear on the overrun.

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Rust

This is a common rot spot, so look out for repairs; the reinforcement under the ‘door’ should be a smooth curve (M201s had straight lines with a fold).

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Radiator

Look in the radiator for signs of oil contamination: cooling should be adequate, but watch out for block and head cracks or blown head gaskets.


Army Jeeps: before you buy

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Primitive by modern standards, a Jeep presents a very different driving experience.

The three-speed gearbox has reverse where first would normally be, and there are two other levers – one selects high or low range, the other four-wheel drive instead of the normal rear-wheel drive. It’s best to stop before changing range, and four-wheel drive only works in low.

Most operate on a 6V battery; radio Jeeps were 24V and many (both 6V and 24V) have since been converted to 12V electrics.

These are honest vehicles that will show mechanical faults fairly readily – insist on a road test of several miles if it’s road-legal, get the engine thoroughly warmed up, and check all the gears and drive options.

Oil pressure should be 40-50psi on the road and 10psi at idle when hot (20psi on a Hotchkiss); temperature should sit at around 160-185ºF.

Check the engine carefully for cracks in the block or head, especially around the distributor, and look for signs of oil in the coolant and coolant in the oil, either from cracks or a blown head gasket.

Check for excessive smoke: worn bores/rings if worst when driving, valve guides if worst on the overrun.

A tired engine will show through low oil pressure, excessive oil breathing and leaks, and knocking sounds.

A worn transmission will reveal itself through jumping out of second gear on the overrun and an excessive whining noise from the axles, transfer box and gearbox.

Look for heavy oil leaks from all, and ask the vendor how often they check and top them up.


Army Jeeps price guide*

  • Show/rebuilt £30,000/40,000
  • Average £14,000/20,000
  • Restoration £5000/8000
     

*M201/MB & GPW


Army Jeeps history

1940 US Army tender for 4WD, 40bhp, 1300lb reconnaissance car won by Bantam, shared by the Army with Willys and Ford

1941 Oct Contract for Bantam BRC 40, Willys MA, Ford GP, all with ‘Go Devil’ engine

1942 Regular production Willys MB, Ford GPW. Ford builds engines under licence; Bantam only builds trailers. Apr Willys replaces slatted grille with stamped. The first 16,000 MBs, 15,000 GPWs have ‘Willys’ or ‘Ford’ stamped into the rear panel

1944 American Central Manufacturing Co builds ‘composite’ bodies for Ford and Willys

1945 Wartime production ends: 2675 Bantams, 363,496 Willys, 281,448 Fords

1955 Hotchkiss M201 production starts in France: updated MB, built under licence

1966 M201 production ends (27,628 built)


The owner’s view

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

Adam Trowbridge is keeping military vehicles in the family: “My first was a Dodge Command Car, like General Patton’s – I’ve had it 22 years now.

“I bought this Ford 20 years ago as a present for my wife – that’s why it’s called ‘Duchess’. Her father has collected military vehicles for 50 years and it’s nice to take the Jeep to shows with the kids, so they can see Grandad.

“I bought the GPW restored, then had to rebuild the engine, gearbox and transfer box. It had Hotchkiss parts, but I was able to acquire the correct ’boxes from Nick Jeffrey, and the engine from Devon – I found six scrap Jeeps that had been there for 50 years and managed to get a correct 1942 Ford block from one.

“It’s nice to keep these vehicles going out of respect, as a way of remembering the fallen. We wouldn’t have this hobby if it weren’t for them.”


Also consider

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps
Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps
The Fiat Campagnola (left) and Land-Rover S1 are alternative buys

FIAT CAMPAGNOLA

Also built by Zastava, the Campagnola was clearly influenced by the Jeep: a bit heavier, with similar power from a 1.9-litre petrol or diesel ohv ‘four’, it was sold for both military and civilian service.

Sold 1951-’73 • No. built 39,086 • Price now £4-15,000


LAND-ROVER S1

The Wilks brothers’ brilliant, Jeep-inspired farmer’s all-rounder started a dynasty and is now hugely sought-after. Early petrol 1.6 was uprated to 2 litres in 1952, getting a diesel option in 1957.

Sold 1948-’58 • No. built c200,000 • Price now £4-40,000


Army Jeeps: the Classic & Sports Car verdict

Classic & Sports Car – Buyer’s guide: Army Jeeps

There’s a huge range of Jeeps out there: cosmetically great vehicles with worn-out and/or non-original mechanical parts; good runners but in scruffy condition; or rebuilt throughout, but with non-original components.

In service, parts would have been swapped at random so, to most owners, originality doesn’t matter. Very few are fully rebuilt with all-correct items for their year and model.

It’s a personal choice, but it does affect the price, so make sure it’s fair.

FOR 

  • Almost everything is available in new, reproduction or substitute form, making the Jeep very practical to own and enjoy – provided you don’t want every detail period-correct
     

AGAINST

  • It can be frustrating if you want the right logos on every component
  • Many have been bodged
  • Reproduction parts are often poor quality

Army Jeeps: specifications

  • Sold/number built 1941-’66/647,619 in wartime, plus 27,628 by Hotchkiss
  • Construction steel ladder-frame chassis with bolt-on steel body
  • Engine all-iron, sidevalve 2200cc ‘four’, with Carter WO-539S carburettor (Solex M32 PBIC on Hotchkiss)
  • Max power 54bhp @ 4000rpm
  • Max torque 95lb ft @ 2000rpm
  • Transmission three-speed manual with transfer box, RWD/4WD
  • Suspension live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers f/r
  • Steering Ross cam and lever
  • Brakes 9in (229mm) hydraulic drums, with transmission handbrake
  • Length 11ft (3360mm)
  • Width 5ft 2in (1575mm)
  • Height 6ft (1829mm)
  • Wheelbase 6ft 8in (2032mm)
  • Weight 2454lb (1113kg)
  • 0-60mph n/a
  • Top speed 60-65mph
  • Mpg 14-18
  • Price new n/a 

READ MORE

All Classic & Sports Car buyer’s guides

Alpine trial: Willys MB Jeep vs Alfa Romeo 1900M AR51 vs Fiat 1101 Campagnola

Buyer’s guide: Land-Rover Series I