“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. “-Henry Ford
When three American automakers answered the plea of the U.S. Motor Transport Board in July of 1941 to submit prototypes for a new military multi-purpose transport vehicle, little did Ford Motor Company know that they were soon to become reinforcement for the age-old adage that the reward for a job well done is always the opportunity to do more work. While Fords recent development of a quarter-ton prototype vehicle capable of meeting the Army’s stringent specifications AND complete it in just 49 days could have been considered nothing short of a mechanical miracle, the task that lay ahead for them seemed insurmountable- take all the things that made their Ford GP (Jeep) great and make it all work on water, as well as land.
By late 1941, Jeeps were being produced in record numbers by both Ford Motor Co. as well as Willys-Overland in an attempt to keep up with the high demand that the ongoing war efforts dictated. Ford decided that they would use their original Jeep prototype, the Ford Pygmy, as the basis for the new water-going craft. The military wanted to have the new sea-worthy vehicles in service before the close of 1942 and Ford was truly in uncharted waters, not allowing for a surplus of time to develop an entirely new base concept to build off of. Ford contracted master yacht builders Sparkman & Stephens to focus their vast boat designing skills on the task of developing a hull that could be mated to the existing Jeeps chassis and thus allow the 2,000 pound GP to attain buoyancy or, better yet, full-fledged marine mobility. I can only imagine that the engineers assigned to this project must have sensed how overwhelming a task this really was. Although the Ford GP was originally held to a rigorous weigh standard, the sincere truth still remained. If the good Lord wanted elephants to swim, he would have given them a slimmer waistline and some fins.
By the time all of the weighty metal structures of the hull, bow and stern had taken shape and the components added to propel them, the curb weight of the new vessel had climbed upward to a massive 3,500 pounds, 4,300 when loaded. While there was little doubt that this new Ford GPA (The ‘A’ is for amphibious) would indeed float, there was very little advanced testing performed due to time constraints. This amphibious creation had largely given up the GP’s light weight and nimble mannerisms on land in trade for its newfound ability to walk on water, where it handled much like any other barge or tanker. Its immense weight caused it to ride very low in the water, a fact that proved to serve well in calm waters but when exposed to the choppy waters of the oceans surf, was a little less than confidence-inspiring. To help improve its rough water abilities, a surf shield was installed across the bow to reduce the amount of water that rolled over and into the cabin. In addition, the GPA’s 4-5 passenger carrying capacity was often compromised by a soldier in favor of remaining afloat and successfully reaching shore. The Ford GPA’s ocean-going ability was impressive enough that it was nicknamed the “Sea-Jeep”, or ‘Seep’ for short.
These shortcomings aside, the Ford GPA had literally been able to attain the unattainable, to transport its passengers across water OR land, safely and somewhat efficiently, and do so with a respectable level of excellence. Certainly, no boat had ever been able to do the same, nor had anyone ever bothered to ask one to. A total of roughly 12,774 units were built with production ceasing in June of 1943 leaving the dual duties of water & land conveyance to the formidable GMC DUKW, or ‘Duck’, for short. It’s believed that only a few hundred of the amphibious Jeeps still remain in existence today, one of which can be seen at the Omix-ADA Jeep Collection website at: http://www.jeepcollection.com/portfolio/1942-ford-gpa/