Why I Love...
Lotus and Mclaren designer Peter Stevens acts up in a Ford GPW Jeep
It was 1964 and I was driving along London’s Kings Road in an MG KN Magnette, which had belonged to my godfather, when a drunk driver hit the car and wrote it off,’ recalls Peter Stevens. ‘I was devastated.’ ‘With the MG written off, I bought a copy of Exchange
& Mart. Inside was an advert for a Jeep, which had just returned from the Arctic Circle. I thought, “if it can achieve that...” and bought it for £100. It was a 1943 model and a plaque on the body listed its entire military history, including being based in Italy.’
Peter had always had a passion for Ford’s Willy’s Jeep. ‘Simplicity has always had a place in my world of design so I felt an empathy. The story goes that a group of young engineers got together in a small rented office in Detroit to shape a basic military vehicle in 50 days; lacking proper tools they drew round cups and plates to create the right curves.’
The Jeep has many innovative touches, such as rotating headlamps that can be unbolted and moved to shine into the engine bay, and a driving position that can accommodate almost anyone without adjusting the seat.
However, as a member of the CND movement Peter had misgivings about his ex-military vehicle, with its proven wartime provenance. ‘As a compromise I painted the bonnet white. When I was 22 I used it to visit Egypt, part of a drive round the Mediterranean. My grandfather worked for Thomas Cook and I’d drive into Cairo where he’d made arrangements for me collect my mail and deposit my letters for home. Before setting out from England I bought some fine-looking cheap tyres. Unfortunately, the rubber was so poor they exploded in the heat, so old WW2 ‘bar tread’ tyres bought in Libya kept us going for the rest of the trip.’ In 1966 Peter worked as an extra in the feature film
Blow-up, which starred David Hemmings. ‘I arrived in the Jeep and the director said, “Great, we’ll have that in the film.” But unfortunately, his assistant suggested a British-built Austin Champ would be more appropriate.’ Sadly, Peter’s love affair with the Jeep was to be cut short. By this time values of Jeeps had grown markedly, and in 1970 his beloved machine was stolen and almost certainly broken up for parts and sold abroad.
‘I did buy another but the love just wasn’t there.’
‘When I was 22 I used it to visit Egypt. Before setting off around the Mediterranean I bought some fine-looking cheap tyres. Unfortunately, the rubber was so poor they exploded in the heat’