The Army, in a hurry to find a light, capable, go-anywhere vehicle for the upcoming war effort, solicited designs from the American automobile industry. The catch? They needed a working prototype in 49 days. Only Willys and Bantam responded and only Bantam was able to deliver a prototype.
The design was a last ditch effort, however. Bantam was bankrupt, shutting down operations, and had no engineers on staff. The initial prototype was designed by a freelancer, Karl Probst. And although the prototype passed muster at the Army's proving grounds, Bantam was in no position to build the large numbers of vehicles that would be needed. So the Army gave the design to Willys and Ford to make changes and ready the car for production. By war's end, Ford and Willys combined efforts had produced over 600,000 jeeps.
As one reporter at the time put it, “It did everything. It went everywhere. Was as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, as agile as a goat."
The Jeep helped America and its allies win World War II and then went on to spawn an entirely new category of civilian automobiles. All this from a prototype which was designed and built in less than 2 months.
The Jeep is one of the 20th-century's great, iconic vehicles.