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Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., Toledo, Ohio. Truck: Utility 1/4 Ton 4 x 4 (M38A1) Jeep. 1952

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Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., Toledo, Ohio (American, established 1909)

Truck: Utility 1/4 Ton 4 x 4 (M38A1) Jeep

The artist
Steel body
6' 1 3/4" x 60 7/8" x 11' 6 5/8" (187.3 x 154.6 x 352.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund
MoMA Number:
Audio Program excerpt

AUTObodies: speed, sport, transport

, June 29–September 16, 2002

Curator, Peter Reed: The legendary American Jeep conjures up many associations. As part of a generation who never experienced the Second World War or Korean War, I think of the TV show MASH, where the Jeep seemed one of the leading characters. But of course, today, we associate Jeeps with outdoor sporting activities too.

Invented during World War II, the Jeep is a supreme example of American engineering and ingenuity. The Army needed a small, powerful, four-wheel drive vehicle capable of transporting 500 pounds. It had to perform well on and off road. The design of the original Jeep involved engineers from the American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company, and Willys-Overland Motors. After the war, the Willys-Overland company continued to produce the Jeep for military and civilian markets. The Army Jeep you're looking at, made in 1953, is slightly larger and faster than the original. Known by its model number—M38A1—it's considered by many the best military Jeep ever built.

I think of the Jeep as a pragmatic, no-nonsense tool. When MoMA first exhibited one in 1951, the curator described it as a "sturdy sardine can on wheels." There are good reasons for this. The flat body rides high above the ground for clearance over rough terrain. Even the gas tank has been tucked up under the drivers seat. The overall height remains low for strategic reasons, and the windshield can be folded down on the hood. The lack of doors makes it easy to hop in and out of. Basic shelter is provided by a fold-away canvas hood.

Notice how theres no attempt to conceal the nuts and bolts here inside or out. It's almost like a toy Erector set with every element of the structure exposed. That's because the Jeep's standardized parts are designed for quick assembly and replacement. You can even take off the top and the wheels and stack these cars like boxes for easy transport [...]. Now, walk around to the front of the Jeep. Notice that distinctive grille panel with its bold vertical slots the recessed headlamps and the curved hood and fenders. You can still recognize these trademark features on Jeeps made today. Next time you see one on the street, take a look.

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