Author: Jeremy Flint, Former Infantry Officer, Former Captain U.S. Army
On July 15, 1941, in the throes of World War II, a momentous milestone in automotive history took place. The U.S. government handed over a hefty contract to the Willys-Overland Motor Co. to manufacture the now-legendary Willys MB.
This contract wasn’t just about building a vehicle for military use—it was about designing an all-terrain, versatile machine that would change the face of warfare and have a lasting impact on the civilian car and truck industry.
The Willys MB, fondly known as the Jeep, became a symbol of American military prowess and technological ingenuity.
Fast forward to 81 years later, the essence of the original Willys MB is still embodied in the contemporary Jeep Wrangler, with both vehicles sharing a unique bond of history, design, and function.
Photo Credit: National Museum of American History
Built on Tradition
The Willys MB was designed to endure the harshest conditions and terrains during World War II. It was compact, light, yet robust—truly a vehicle built for combat.
Its four-wheel-drive capabilities and durable structure made it perfect for navigating the harsh terrains of the battlefield. Indeed, the MB’s significance extended beyond just transportation; it was a beacon of hope, signifying the possibility of victory against the odds.
Photo Credit: Car and Driver
A Lasting Legacy
Now, turning our gaze to the modern-day Jeep Wrangler, one can clearly trace its lineage back to the Willys MB.
Just as the Willys MB was built to traverse through the challenging terrain of war-torn areas, the Jeep Wrangler today is designed to conquer diverse landscapes, whether it be city streets, country roads, or challenging off-road trails.
Although the technological advances and design improvements over the years are considerable, the core concept of a tough, adaptable, go-anywhere vehicle has been faithfully preserved.
The Jeep Wrangler’s bold design is reminiscent of the Willys MB’s simple, rugged construction.
Both vehicles share a distinctive look—round headlights, seven-slot grille, squared-off wheel arches, and an open-top structure—a homage to the historical military vehicle.
In the modern Wrangler, the hardiness and versatility of the Willys MB are manifested in its impressive off-road capabilities. With advanced 4×4 systems, skid plates, high ground clearance, and an abundance of torque, the Wrangler is built to overcome almost any obstacle nature throws its way, a testament to the enduring spirit of the Willys MB.
Photo Credit: Stellantis
Symbol of Freedom
Importantly, the legacy of the Willys MB is not confined to physical attributes. Both the MB and the Wrangler are symbols of freedom and adventure. The MB, aiding the Allies to victory in World War II, represented liberation from oppression. In contrast, the Wrangler, by empowering drivers to venture into unknown terrains and distant landscapes, signifies liberation from the constraints of urban living.
Moreover, both vehicles embody a sense of community and camaraderie. During the war, the MB was more than a military asset—it was a companion to the soldiers, accompanying them through thick and thin. Similarly, the Jeep cultivates a culture of togetherness amongst its owners. Jeep Jamborees, club meetings, off-road excursions, all contribute to a sense of unity, echoing the strong bonds formed around the original Willys MB.
A Modern Juggernaut Tied to Tradition
The modern Jeep Wrangler is not just a vehicle—it’s a living testament to the history, versatility, and enduring spirit of the original Willys MB.
Over 80 years, the Jeep has evolved, with modern features and innovations enhancing its capabilities and comfort. But beneath the updated aesthetics and advanced technology, the basic spirit of the Willys MB remains.
The journey from the Willys MB to the Jeep Wrangler tells a tale of evolution while retaining a core identity, a tale of a vehicle that transformed from a wartime necessity to a civilian delight. In its essence, the Jeep Wrangler is a modern embodiment of the spirit of the Willys MB—an enduring symbol of ruggedness, freedom, and adventure.
Author Jeremy Flint is a former Infantry Officer and Former Captain in the U.S. Army. He currently works for the Department of Veteran Affairs and is a freelance writer. And interestingly enough, we learned Jeremy used his military car buying benefits while overseas and purchased a Jeep from Military AutoSource in 2015.
About Military AutoSource
Military AutoSource provides a factory-direct car buying program tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of military and diplomatic life. As the only DOD and Exchange authorized car buying program, MAS is the exclusive military distributor and retailer for Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Harley-Davidson, Jeep, Lincoln, Nissan, Ram, Subaru, Volkswagen, and more.
Through our program U.S. Military stationed, deployed, or on TDY as well as DOD contractors, civilians and the diplomatic community serving overseas can purchase a car for delivery in the US or to more than 50 overseas duty locations. Learn more about your overseas U.S. military car buying benefits.