World War II Barn Find – Rare 1943 Willys Jeep Found
For anyone of a certain age who grew up with classic Saturday night Hollywood war films (think of films like A Bridge Too Far and John Wayne in Cast A Giant Shadow) or TV series like M*A*S*H, the site of the ubiquitous American army Willys Jeep will be etched in their minds. Even Action Man had a much sought after American-style jeep with the fold-flat windscreen in the seventies… Now marry all this nostalgia and almost universal appreciation of a fine World War II iconic 4×4 to the concept of a barn find and you have something quite special.
Recently, a rare barn find Willys Jeep has appeared on eBay at a price of around £14,000. The 1943 Jeep is nearly all original and hails from the USA, where the climate can be kinder to historic and classic vehicles – and this Jeep has clearly benefitted from the dry climate, exhibiting minimal signs of rust having been stored (or more accurately, left) in a barn for around 50 years.
What makes this particular Willys MB Jeep barn find so special, is that this is one of the rare Ford-built chassis before they ran out. It cannot be stressed enough how much of a strain the war effort put on companies like Ford. It was the motor company’s fledgling vision of mass production combined with the demands placed on industries during WWII that helped to make the huge wartime manufacturing requirements near enough attainable.
In July 1940, just over a year preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the US Army had contacted 135 American vehicle manufacturers with a plan to update their aging fleet with the threat of war looming large. Time was of the essence, and those willing to take the task on board had only 11 days in which to make the decision to bid. A prototype would be required within 49 days and 70 approved test vehicles within just 75 days. Unsurprisingly, only 3 companies responded – Ford, Bantam and Willys Overland Motors. Bantam led the race initially and completed a prototype. It soon became clear that due to their limited production capacity, Bantam would not be able to continue to fulfil War Department demands, so Ford and Willys were again asked if they would get on board.
The War Department expressed a desire to standardise and Willys won the next order of 16,000 vehicles with the best design features from Ford and Bantam being incorporated into the design. As demands increased even further, Ford stepped in to assist with production and thus the connection between Willys and Ford became cemented in history.
Henry Ford was actually a pacifist and vigorously opposed America’s entry into the war, but following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan, there was no going back – and Ford (the company) worked in sync with fellow industries to literally ‘build’ America’s war support structure. This included 86,865 Ford-built aircraft and 57,851 aircraft engines by the end of the war. Ford’s manufacturing plants across the USA, Great Britain and Canada also turned out tanks, armoured cars as well as the Willys Jeep.
The Willys Jeep was such a success, maybe thanks to Ford’s manufacturing might, that it became the first mass-produced 4×4 in the world with around 640,000 built – a staggering quarter of all non weaponised vehicles built for and during the war. Eisenhower described it as one of the six most vital American vehicles that would win the war.
Such a fascinating history and such a mythical status; you can see why there is so much excitement around this barn find. Yes, many were built, but by the sheer nature of what they were required to do, not so many have survived – especially in near original condition. The more you think about it in this day and age, the more amazing the story is – this is not a medal found in a sock drawer, this is a complete Willys Jeep albeit with a slightly later model engine and civilian rims, suggesting that the Jeep saw action as a regular vehicle following the war. Indeed, registration papers indicate this Jeep was still ‘in action’ as late as 1973!
If you fancy many long hours (possibly years) locked in your garage lovingly restoring a piece of history, contemplating what the wartime past behind this Sparkey’s Jeep might be, then £14,000 doesn’t seem like much to ask.
Images: ebay.co.uk c/o cullpeppercattlecompany, dukewayne.com, wwiijeepparts.com