Jeep: History

“Little Jeep, where did you come from?” to which he replies; “Every Jeep vehicle has a unique story to tell, with a rich heritage that links back to the Original Willys MA.”

“Our story is your story, go anywhere, do anything, it’s a way of life not just a campaign slogan”

The world’s first and oldest 4 x 4 is the Jeep, which started life in June 1940 when the US Army called for responses from 135 car manufacturers to supply the military with a vehicle tailored to their needs; “a light reconnaissance vehicle.” Only getting replies from three companies; Bantam, Ford and Willys, the task was set, a prototype was made and from design to completion took a matter of 75 days. Delivery of the vehicle was made on America’s Armistice Day, November 1940. What they delivered was a 4 x 4 called ‘the Quad’ named on the basis of its 4 x 4 system. Within the year, only two prototypes were made and later the cars were produced collectively, and as what we now know as the ‘Jeep.’ Simple as that really.

Jeep-38A1C
Jeep-38A1C

The Jeep brand is recognised all over the world as being tied to freedom, capability and adventure.

During the 40’s Willys-Overland was the solely responsible for the manufacture of the Willys Ma, which was sold at a remarkable $738.74. Its final weight was only 400lbs above the Army’s specifications of 2,160lbs.

Throughout the years Willys provided the US Army with a multitude of vehicles to help them with their endeavours. In 1953 – 64, the Jeep M-170 was typically used as a field ambulance because of its capabilities to carry the wounded inside, but also as a light troop carrier. The M-38A1C was a specially designed vehicle produced 1971, with the primary design of carrying 106mm and 105mm recoilless rifles; the windshield had a unique channel opening that meant the rifle’s barrel was able to sit on the front hood. The M-38A1C’s predecessor of 1952 (M-38A1) was awarded a permanent parking space at the Museum of Modern Art in 2002 after being claimed as the best Jeep ever built’. The same Museum dubbed the Jeep as a cultural icon.

This new farm replacement meant that all the nice hard-working horses could retire out to pasture, as the Willys team gave birth to the Jeep CJ-2A in 1945 (a model that would later be used as a base for the Wrangler): “A powerhouse on wheels!” A year later Jeeps were seen as Willys Wagon, all-encompassing steel farm beasts; 1946: The Jeep Station Wagon. Made of steel so it was as easy to clean as your kitchen worktops!

It wasn’t until 1957, that Willys Motors made a drastic design change that wouldn’t be seen until the company would be taken over by Chrysler in 1987. The Jeep FC-170, a pick-up truck; ‘a highly manoeuvrable forward-control (hence FC) series of 4WD trucks. This model came with 2 options; an 8 inch wheelbase: FC-150 with 4 cylinder F-Head engine or a FC-170 with 103.5 wheelbase, 6 cylinder L-Head engine. All complete with more boot space for the occasional dead cow you find on the farm.

1984 Cherokee (XJ)
1984 Cherokee (XJ)

But since the 40’s we’ve had competition from the British and their hardy farm cars; Land Rover. Come the 80’s, it’s inevitable that designs can mingle, and in my opinion come 1989, Land Rover’s Discovery is look a little (sh)Jeepish. We’re looking a little alike guys! 1984 lays witness the Wagoneer, Grand Wagoneer and Cherokee (XJ). Although Jeep claims that designs for these vehicles date back to 1978 “when a team of AMC and Renault engineers drew sketches and made clay models from existing SJ Cherokee.” The year was good for Jeep after winning ‘4 x 4 of the Year’ from three primary off-road magazines.

1989 Land Rover Discovery. I could just be the only one to see it.
1989 Land Rover Discovery. I could just be the only one to see it.

The Camel Trophy was a mark on the bed post for Jeep, but only the once, the competition got the better of them and Land Rover took over for the next 20 years. In 9180 Jeep was responsible for the competition held in Transamazonica. Here is a link to a YouTube clip of the Jeep in action:

(this link shows a teaser of the Camel Trophy ’88, and what the Jeep would have endured on its adventure. It is important to showcase this as part of its history – even if it was for one year.)

1987. The best year for Jeep. Not only did Chrysler pop its head into the company but the Wrangler (YJ) was put into production, and continued right through until 1996, where it had a thorough overhaul of engineering in 19797, one not seen since the Quad became the MB. The car went on to be branded as the ‘Ulitmate Escape Machine,’ and winning that ever sought after ‘4 x 4 of the Year’ award. When Chrysler took over, they gave a complete redesign to the Grand Cherokee in 1999; as Jeep claims that even though the design carried over many design ideas from its predecessors, it only took 27 carryover parts. It swept for floor for major 4×4 awards and dubbed the ‘most capable sport utility ever.’

Chrysler continues to reshape and redefine the Jeep brand into its 70th Anniversary, where any new Special Edition models are adorned with a new paint colour and ‘70th Anniversary’ badge!  The plucky farm machine has gone from replacing worked-out horses to enduring Transamazonica to becoming an American family’s reliable and competent car. May they continue.

Here is a link to Jeeps Blog: blog.jeep.com

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