Willys NC-1a Is a Fascinating Piece of Military Jeep History

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Willys NC-1a

Used primarily by the U.S. Navy, this barebones Jeep had to be nimble enough to navigate quickly around aircraft carriers and air fields.

Both Willys and Jeep share an obvious connection with the military. That much is what we like to call common knowledge. Heck, Jeep really exists thanks to the U.S. military and its desire to commission the creation of an all-purpose, go-anywhere vehicle. The rest, as they say, is history. And everyone knows a military Willys when they see one. But many fewer have ever heard of this crazy contraption, dubbed the Willys NC-1a. Nor have they ever seen one. Jalopnik recently published a story arguing whether it is a four- or three-wheeler, but as far we’re concerned, it’s a Jeep.

Thus, when you do come across these rare little wonders, it’s somewhat polarizing. Sure, it (mostly) looks like every other old Jeep you see running around. But the Willys NC-1a has one glaring difference that really sets it apart. We’re talking, of course, about the unusual setup on the rear of these nimble little suckers.

Willys NC-1a

Used primarily by the U.S. Navy, the Willys NC-1a had to be nimble enough to navigate quickly around aircraft carriers and air fields. Thus, the entire rear section is much different than your average Jeep. It has rear wheel steering, and came in a couple of different configurations. One used two rear wheels spaced out conventionally. The other, stranger one had two wheels mounted in tandem toward the center of the rear.

Willys NC-1a

Either way, the Willys NC-1a was an incredibly nimble vehicle. You can see soldiers whipping them around effortlessly in the video above. We’re guessing that there isn’t even a need to do a three-point turn in one of these bad boys, because you can simply crank the steering wheel and flip it right around.

As cool as the Willys NC-1a was/is, you just never see them. And it’s even harder to find detailed info on the history behind these cool little Jeeps. Which is a shame, because we’d love to get a chance to get behind the wheel of one.

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Brett Foote has been covering the automotive industry for over five years and is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto Group sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other popular sites.

He has been an automotive enthusiast since the day he came into this world and rode home from the hospital in a first-gen Mustang, and he's been wrenching on them nearly as long.

In addition to his expertise writing about cars, trucks, motorcycles, and every other type of automobile, Brett had spent several years running parts for local auto dealerships.

You can follow along with his builds and various automotive shenanigans on Instagram: @bfoote.

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