Seventy-five years after it wowed the U.S. Army, the oldest known Jeep is getting its due as a symbol of the Greatest Generation's fight and Detroit's role in what Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the Arsenal of Democracy" -- the manufacturing might that helped the Allies win World War II.
"It's an icon of WWII and a symbol of wartime production by the auto industry," said Matt Anderson, transportation curator at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. "It's also the grandfather of all SUVs. It's very rare to be able to trace a whole class of vehicles to a single one, but this is where it all began."
Ford GP-No.1, a prototype for a light, rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle for reconnaissance and other military use, was delivered to the Army for tests Nov. 23, 1940.
"The Army still had horse cavalry then," said 97-year-old Ed Welburn Sr., who served in the U.S. Army in Papua-New Guinea and Australia in WWII. "They brought horses to the island, but you can't use horses in the jungle. The Jeep was small and tough. It could travel most anywhere. The cavalry liked the Jeep much better than horses.