1942 Willys MB / Ford GPW Jeep
The Willys MB and Ford GPW, both formally called the U.S. Army Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4, Command Reconnaissance, commonly known as Jeepor jeep, and sometimes referred to as G503, are four-wheel drive military utility vehicles that were manufactured during World War II (from 1941 to 1945) to help mobilize the Allied forces.
Bantam's first prototype
The World War II jeep became the primary light wheeled vehicle of the United States Military and its WW II Allies, as well as the postwar period; becoming the world's first mass-produced 4-wheel drive car, manufactured in six-figure numbers. The jeep proved both exceptionally capable and versatile, and General George C. Marshall called the squared-off little vehicle “America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.” After the war, it evolved into the civilian Jeep CJ models, and inspired both an entire category of recreational 4WDs and several generations of military light utility vehicles.
Willys made its first 25,000 MB Jeeps with a welded flat iron "slat" radiator grille. It was Ford who first designed and implemented the now familiar and distinctive stamped, vertical-slot steel grille into its Jeep vehicles, which was lighter, used fewer resources, and was less costly to produce. Along with many other design features innovated by Ford, this was adopted by Willys and implemented into the standard World War II Jeep by April 1942.
In order to be able to get their grille design trademarked, Willys gave their post-war jeeps seven slots instead of the original Ford nine-slot design. Through a series of corporate takeovers and mergers, AM General Corporation ended up with the rights to use the seven-slot grille as well, which they in turn extended to Chrysler when it acquired American Motors Corporation, then manufacturer of Jeep, in 1987.
Vigorous testing for Army proving — shown a Ford GP, 1941.
Willys MA jeep at the Desert Training Center, Indio, California, June 1942.
Peter Soltis' graduation portrait upon completing gunnery school
Pete aboard "Queen of Hearts"
Ford GPA amphibious Jeep
The Soltis Collection's Jeep
Acquired in 2013 from a private owner in Simsbury, Connecticut, this 1942 MB Jeep was purchased in a "restored" state but the new owners quickly found out that, that wasn't the case. Father and son team, Dennis and Christopher Soltis wanted to acquire a WWII era Jeep to not only honor all of the WWII veterans but also one special veteran in particular, Peter J. Soltis, Dennis' father. Peter or "Pete" as he was known, served in the United Army Air Corps, 5th Airforce, 90th Bomb Group, 320th Squadron known as "The Moby Dick" Squadron. As the Flight Engineer and Top Turret gunner, Pete served a vital role flying aboard B-24 Liberators over the South Pacific in 1944-45.
When acquired, the Jeep was a blank slate that seemed to be in good working order and a viable project that could be detailed and personalized into a 90th BG base hack Jeep. A Jeep that Pete Soltis could have been driving around on New Guiena in 1944-45. But as the team began digging into the Jeep, they found much more than they bargained for.
The previous owner didn't give much background history to the vehicle, other than that it was purchased by a friend, who had purchased the Jeep (then a parts project) from a owner in New York State. The previous owner had the vehicle overhauled by a European auto-body shop in Hartford, seemingly cutting corners wherever possible. While the frame was Willys, the engine and transmission were both Ford GPW with Daimler Benz tags on them. The body was a reproduction metal tub that can be purchased from various companies today, while the remaining parts seemed to have been collected to create a somewhat complete MB Jeep. After some research and inquiring to local and international experts, the team surmised that the 1942 Jeep was (in-part at least) a Hotchkiss M201.
The Hotchkiss M201
Directly after the Second World War, the French government was presented by the US Army with 22,000 Willys Jeeps and Ford GPWs. The objective was to rapidly re-equip the army, with only about half of the vehicles in usable condition. In 1946 the E.R.G.M. (Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) began work to overhaul the vehicles at a Paris suburb called Maltournée. For over forty years the overhauled Jeeps served proudly with the French Army until 1981, with 8,000 Jeeps in use, the army finally took the decision to replace the M201 with the Mercedes designed Peugeot P4. Nearly two decades later, in 2000, the last of the M201s were taken out of service. Many of these Jeeps found their way onto the open market and were purchased by history buffs, collectors, museums, historical reenactment groups, and others.
Overhaul & Re-Restoration
As the team delved deeper into the vintage Jeep to ensure it was a road-worthy vehicle, more issues began to arise. Over the course of the following six years the Jeep was detailed, repaired, maintained, and driven to various events and shows, but not without its fair share of mechanical issues:
Emergency break line wrapped around driveshaft
Transmission overhauled not once, but twice
Brakes were adjusted for better stopping power
Exhaust replaced due to broken manifold
Rear axles replaced due to twisted splines on ends
Front driveshaft replaced
Motor mounts replaced
Alternator replaced Generator
Carburetor completely rebuilt
New welting between hood and grille
Right rear formation light replaced with additional brake light to increase visibility
Engine completely worn out, resulting in total overhaul
For Pete's Sake!
In January of 2020, after 10 months of repair work (and at no small expense to the owners) the Soltis Collection Jeep was finally returned to the Connecticut Air & Space Center. While the Jeep is privately owned by Dennis and Christopher, they are very humbled and thankful for being able to share this piece of American history with visitors young and old alike. The Jeep now has been given the name: "For Pete's Sake!" in honor of Staff Sergeant Peter J. Soltis. In 2022 with the closure of the CASC workshop and storage space in Bldg 6 at the Stratford Army Engine Plant, the Jeep has been relocated back to the Soltis home in Trumbull until display space is available.
If you or someone you know would like to utilize this historic WWII MB / GPW Jeep for parties, reenactments, weddings, symposiums, ceremonies, parades, or any other kind of event you may have, please contact:
NOTE: The Jeep (being a 78+ year-old military vehicle) is an invaluable antique that requires extensive care and handling. Sitting in the Jeep is off limits for most events due to wear & tear.