Jeep Junction at Johnston Motors

Oregon Coast Military Museum plans first celebration of the Jeep

It has been said that sometimes war can be the mother of necessity. While that can be said of each and every military conflict in history, WWII perhaps has likely resulted in some of the most significant advancements of our society. 

Advancements in aviation, medicine, communication, tactics and logistics, and even food came out of WWII.

And especially transportation.

Aviation was certainly advanced from the war effort.  Legendary aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Super Fortress were a result. 

Helicopters were first developed during WWII but didn’t really see service until the Korean War.  And jet powered airplanes also first saw action in WWII, although on the Axis side of the conflict.

Logistical advances in warfare resulted from WWII as well, such as strategic bombing practices as well as phenomenal production practices that resulted in the home-front cranking out munitions, planes, vehicles and many other items at record levels. For example,  276,000 airplanes were produced by the United States alone.

Having marked the 73rd anniversary of D-Day just last week on June 6, I viewed one of my favorite movies of that epic effort, “Ike,” produced by A&E for television — something i watch each year (at least once).

The logistics of the largest seaborne invasion in history are a prime example of the advancements in logistics that came out of WWII.

Communication advances included enhancements in radar; medical advances included enhancements in the use of plasma; even food advances brought us M&Ms candy.

But possibly one advancement in transportation needs out of WWII overshadows all other creations born out of the war — the birth of the Jeep.

Seeking a replacement for the cavalry horse as military tactics also evolved, the Army Quartermaster Corps produced specs which they thought would result in a perfect vehicle for reconnaissance and personal transportation to replace the horse. They invited 135 different auto manufacturers to submit bids and prototypes, but only two responded: American Bantam Car Company in Butler, Pa., and Willys-Overland in Toledo, Ohio.

American Bantam Car Company was an upstart firm coming out of the ashes of a failed attempt to establish a small-car market here in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

One of the efforts they tried for finding a niche market for their little car was to offer some vehicles to the Pennsylvania National Guard in the late 1930s for consideration as a light reconnaissance car.

So, they probably had a leg up on the competition when they started their prototype — but they also relied on good ole American ingenuity by utilizing off-the-shelf parts already in stock.

Virtually at the last minute, or at least on the last day, the American Bantam Car Company delivered their prototype to the Army Quartermaster Corps at Camp Holabird, MD, for intensive testing. As the process moved forward, refinements and changes were made and additional units were ordered for more extensive testing. 

Eventually, the Army realized that Bantam’s production capabilities would not be able to meet their anticipated production volumes. So Willy’s continued with its prototype, and the Army eventually talked Ford Motor Company into also participating.

Despite having designed and produced the original concept, with the production constraints of Bantam, they were eventually dropped from the contracts after delivering just shy of 3,000 vehicles, but continued on with other war effort contracts (such as the “jeep trailer,” as well as other armaments for the military.)

Both Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Company went on to produce the original WWII Jeeps for the military through mid-1945, with Willys producing approximately 348,849 units and Ford producing approximately 277,878 units.

In later years as the military sought to enhance the original design, both companies, or at least in Willys-Overland’s case, successor companies, would later produce other jeep vehicles such as the M38 of Korean War era and the M151 (Mutt) of Vietnam War era.

After WWII, American Bantam Car Company went on to manufacture a variety of other steel products but never entered the automotive industry again, and eventually faded into oblivion in the mid-1950s. 

Ford Motor Company wasn’t interested, at the time, in continuing Jeep production, and went back to their own passenger car and truck efforts in post-war years.

Willys-Overland realized the importance and potential of the Jeep vehicle that came out of the collaborative efforts of the war, and even before war’s end had started re-designing both the vehicle as well as uses for marketing and, in late 1945 and into 1946, began manufacturing the now famous CJ2A — both for the American market as well as overseas.

Despite the success of the little Jeep, Willys-Overland as a company wasn’t without troubles and, over the years, the Jeep brand was owned by a variety of parents including Kaiser, AMC/Renault, Chrysler, Daimler/Chrysler and now Fiat Chrysler.

Over the years, numerous models of that original military reconnaissance vehicle have been manufactured by a number of companies — right up to today's variant — the KJ and KJU models, which includes a four-door model.

To celebrate both the birth of the Jeep in WWII as well as the iconic Jeep it has become in the 76 years since, the Oregon Coast Military Museum is hosting an event Saturday, June 17, called “Jeep Junction.”

Sponsored by Banner Bank and Johnston Motor Company, come see examples of military Jeeps from WWII as well as subsequent war eras, vintage CJs and up to current production Wranglers at this “Jeep-only” show and shine at Johnston Motor Company.

Kick some tires, visit with enthusiastic Jeep owners and learn why we say, “It’s a Jeep thing.”

And if you’ve watched “Ike” recently like I did, you can ask me if the Jeep in the scene where Patton arrives at Ike’s European headquarters is a Willys or Ford.

There is a difference!

You can learn more by visiting the OCMM website at www .oregoncoastmilitarymuseum. com or visit the museum, which is open Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The museum is at 2145 Kingwood St. in Florence.


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