The Blue Oval has had a long and distinguished military career
Ford Motor Co. has a long history of building vehicles, or at least supplying engines, for United States military. Some of the memorable and collectible of all vintage U.S. vehicles were produced by Ford.
Following are some of the most important Blue Oval machines ever to wear olive drab.
In 1941 and ’42, Ford and Willys scrambled to create a vehicle competitive with Bantam’s Reconnaissance Car. Ford’s entry was the Pygmy. Ford modified one of its standard tractor engines to power the Pygmy, but the “Go-Devil” powering Willys’ Quad proved superior.
Ford constructed a second prototype, this time using a body supplied by Philadelphia’s Budd Company. This version more closely resembled the Bantam body with its unusually shaped door openings. Only one vehicle of this design was produced and, surprisingly, it survives today.
About 1,500 reconnaissance trucks were ordered each from Bantam, Willys and Ford for extended service trials. The Ford vehicle delivered was assigned the Ford product designation GP. Using Ford’s standard product codes, G refers to government contract vehicle, P indicating an 80-inch wheelbase reconnaissance car. In addition to the 1,500 vehicles on the initial contract, a further 2,958 units were built on later orders.
Many of the attributes now associated with Jeep were in fact developed by Ford, and introduced with the Pygmy. These included grille-mounted headlights, dog-legged windshield hinges and squared-off hood.
Fifty of these vehicles were experimentally equipped with four-wheel steering. This idea was abandoned as excessively dangerous, as well as adding numerous parts to the supply channel.
Weight: 2,100 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 129" x 62" x 71"
Max speed: 55 mph
Range: 165 miles
With the Jeep’s design having been standardized as that of the Willys MB, a second source of supply was sought. Ford was licensed to build copies of the Willys design, to which Ford assigned its model designation GPW. Again, G meant government contract vehicle, P indicated it was an 80-inch wheelbase reconnaissance car and the W suffix indicated it used the Willys-designed engine.
Like the MB, earliest models had the maker’s name embossed in script on the rear panel. The grille was of fabricated steel construction until Jan. 6, 1942. Then Ford introduced the stamped steel grille, which was later ironically registered as a trademark for Chrysler’s Jeep.
Ford built its own bodies at the Lincoln plant until the fall of 1943. Then Ford began buying bodies from American Central, which was already supplying bodies to Willys. After only a short time, representatives of Ford, Willys and the Ordnance Department met and created the composite body, which incorporated the best features of each maker’s body. This body is what is now known as the composite body, and it was used by both Ford and Willys from January 1944 onward, although a few were used during the last months of 1943.
Throughout the production of the 277,896 GPWs, Ford marked many of the components with the Ford “F” logo. Among these components were pintle hooks, fenders, bolts, etc. However, due to materials shortages, non-F parts were sometimes substituted on the assembly line.
The script Ford name on the rear panel was discontinued in July 1942.
As a rule, the most readily spotted difference between the MB and the GPW involves the front cross member. This is a tubular member on Willys vehicles, and an inverted U-channel on the Ford.Ford built the GPW at six plants: Louisville, Dallas, Edgewater, Richmond, Calif., Chester, Pa., and of course Ford’s huge Rouge complex.
Weight: 2,450 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 132" x 62" x 72"
Max Speed: 65 mph
Range: 285 miles
America’s Cup champion Roderick Stephens of the Sparkman and Stephens Co. designed the hull for the amphibious Jeep, as he did for the later, larger DUKW. Ford did the assembly work as well as the automotive engineering for this “Jeep in a bathtub.”
Not only did the overhanging front and rear hull sections make the GPA longer than the standard Jeep, but the wheelbase itself was four inches longer than its non-amphibious brother. On the bow of the vehicle was a hinged splash shield for use in water and a capstan winch. The winch was driven via a pulley off the front of the engine. At the rear of the vehicle were a propeller and rudder, as well as the standard pintle hook.
Inside, the passenger compartment was much like a standard Jeep, with two individual seats in the front and a bench-type seat in the rear. Steps were recessed into the hull sides to permit entrance and egress to the vehicle.
The GPA was developed at the request of the Quartermaster Corps by Ford Motor Co., working with the National Defense Research Council.
Mechanically, the GPA is very similar to the GPW, with the same type engine, transmission, axles and transfer case, with only slight modifications to adapt them to the amphibious role. While Ford built the last of the 12,778 GPAs in 1943, unlicensed copies continued to be built in the Soviet Union for some time after that.
Weight: 3,660 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 182" x 64" x 69"
Top Speed, Land: 55 mph
Top Speed, Water: 5.5 mph
For many laymen, indeed for many buffs, any 1/4-ton 4x4 vehicle is a “Jeep.” But the final generation of vehicle in this weight class fielded by the U.S. military had its own name, the MUTT (Military Utility Tactical Truck). Developmental work for what would become the MUTT began in the late 1940s, even prior to the adoption of the M38. Both the M38 and M38A1 were considered interim vehicles until the improved model could be fielded.
Ford Motor Co. was awarded a contract to begin development of a new light utility truck. Light weight was a prime concern. To address this issue, Ford proposed various vehicle designs and materials. Ultimately, the unibody design won favor, and it was tested in both aluminum and steel construction. During trials, however, the lightweight alloy bodies developed stress fractures, and the idea was dropped in favor of a steel unibodied vehicle. The new vehicle, designated M151, was placed into production.
The rear suspension of the M151 was found to sometimes buckle or collapse, particularly when heavily loaded. This was often the case when the vehicle was burdened with mounted weapons and cargo. The redesign featured new high-strength rear suspension arms, with extra bump-stops. Production of the vehicles with this improved suspension, known as model M151A1, began by Willys Motors in December 1963. In January 1964, the name on the builder’s plate of the M151A1s being produced was changed to Kaiser-Jeep Corp.
In 1964, a new round of bidding resulted in Ford regaining the 1/4-ton truck contract and Ford resumed production of the Mutt in January 1965. Ford’s production of the M151A1 continued up through 1969.
Weight: 2,320 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 133" x 64" x 71"
Max Speed: 66 mph
Range: 288 miles
The M151 had a nasty habit of rolling over during sharp cornering, and its independent suspension often masked the oncoming threat until it was too late for corrective action. Realizing that increased driver training alone would not alleviate the problem, the military initiated another round of suspension redesign.
This time the rear suspension system was completely redesigned. Rather than the independent “A”-frame used on the M151 and M151A1 suspension, a semi-trailing arm suspension system was used. This allowed maximum interchangeability of repair parts with the previous designs, as well as retaining many of the advantages of the independent suspension.
The improved vehicle design was designated the M151A2. Production of the M151A2 began in 1969. Ford was the initial contractor, but in 1971 AM General was awarded its first MUTT contract. AM General went on to win all the remaining US M151 contracts through 1985. A short production run for foreign sales in 1988 marked the end of the MUTT-era. All the AM General built trucks were produced in South Bend, Ind. AM General was the successor firm to Kaiser-Jeep’s military sales operations.
The Marine Corps continued to use the M151A2 as the basis for its Fast Attack Vehicle well after it had been phased out of service as a utility vehicle.
Weight: 2,385 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 133" x 64" x 71"
Max Speed: 66 mph
Range: 288 miles
In the early 1960s, Ford was awarded a contract to produce a series of 5-ton 8x8 vehicles. These vehicles evolved from the XM453E2 program. The production models were the M656 5-ton 8x8 cargo truck, M757 five-ton 8x8 tractor and the M791 5-ton expansible van truck. All of these models were also available with a front-mounted self-recovery winch. These trucks were typically used to support the Pershing missile system.
The XM656 had an eight-month testing program ending in 1964, which involved 40,000 miles of driving. These trucks were powered by Continental LDS-465-2 Multifuel engines, the most powerful version of the Multifuel to be placed into production. The engine was coupled to an Allison six-speed automatic transmission.
The XM656 differed from production models in details. The lifting shackle brackets were redesigned and a cup-shaped step was added to the front wheel assembly to make cab access easier.
These trucks had aluminum cabs and bodies, with the cargo body of the M656 having dropsides. Unlike similar looking civilian trucks, the cab did not tilt, rather, engine access was gained by removing a cover in the cab. Power steering was used to move all four front tires, and all eight wheels drove all the time through a single-speed transfer case. The trucks had air brakes, with outboard drums.
Weight: 24,500 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 314" x 98" x 142"
Max Speed: 50 mph
Range: 310 miles
Known to the British as the Greyhound, the Hercules JXD-powered M8 armored car’s high speed was its best defense. The welded armored hull and cast turret were proof only against rifle and light machine gun rounds. Design work on what became the M8 began in June of 1942, with production beginning the following March. By the time Ford’s St. Paul M8 assembly line was shut down in May 1945, 8,523 of these 6x6 vehicles had been built.
The Greyhound was armed with a 37mm M6 anti-tank gun mounted in its open topped turret. Mounted coaxial to the main gun was an M1919A4 .30-caliber machine gun. Antiaircraft defense was provided by a .50-caliber M2 HB machine gun installed on the turret. At first, an M49 ring with associated trolley and cradle was used for this installation, although on later models a machine gun socket was installed in the rear of the turret instead.
The clutch and accelerator controls of the M8 are hydraulic assisted.
The U.S. military phased the M8 out of service shortly after the Korean War, but the French used the cars as late as the Vietnam War.
Weight: 14,500 lbs.
Size (LxWxH): 197" x 100" x 90"
Max Speed: 56 mph
Range: 250 miles
M4A3 Sherman Tank
M4A3 was the variant of the Sherman that came to be “America’s tank.”
The engine installed in the M4A3 was the Ford-designed and -built model GAA V-8 liquid-cooled gasoline engine. The GAA was an adaptation of an experimental Ford V-12 aircraft engine.
Because of the similarities of the chassis, an M3 medium tank was modified for testing of the new engine, the tank then being redesignated M3E1. The engine passed its tests with flying colors, noted for its small size, high horsepower rating and ease of maintenance.
Ford began production of the M4A3 in May 1942, although Ford’s production of the tank would be relatively short lived. (Ford M4A3 production ended in September 1943.) M4A3 and variant production was continued by Fisher Tank Arsenal and Chrysler’s Detroit Tank Arsenal until eventually reaching a total of 12,596 units.
The slab-sided, V-8 powered M4A3 Sherman would form the backbone of America’s armored force throughout World War II and well into the next decade. Like the other models of the Sherman, it was the basis for an assortment of variants during the course of the war and after.