A brief history of Jeep

We look at the interesting history of Jeep...

Jeep are one of the most well-known brands in the world. Their vehicles are famous for their off-roading skills, and are popular with rural dwellers and, more recently, city dwellers, alike.

Jeep have had a rich history, one like no other vehicle manufacturer.

So in this article, we are going to look at the history of Jeep, from its founding to Fiat.

When did Jeep start making cars?

Interestingly, Jeep were founded specifically for the war. When it became obvious that the United States were going to become involved in the war in Europe, the U.S Army got in contact with 135 companies asking for prototypes of a four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car.

However, only two responded, American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. They were given just 49 days to supply a working prototype of what they asked for, when Willys-Overland asked for more time they were refused.

American Bantam were bankrupt, and had no engineering staff left on the payroll. They hired freelance designer Karl Probst, who initially turned down the request. However, an intervention by the US Army led to him accepting and he started work in July 1940.

The prototype was called the BRC or the Bantam Reconnaissance Car. Bantam’s bid was submitted in just two days, complete with blueprints. Most of the vehicle could be created with off-the-shelf automotive parts. The prototype was built by hand and was put together in Pennsylvania and driven to Maryland. The vehicle met all requirements except for engine torque.

The Ford Pygmy

However, because American Bantam were bankrupt, the Army didn’t feel that they were big enough to supply the number of vehicles it needed. It supplied the design to Willys-Overland and Ford, who were encouraged to make some modifications.

The results were the Ford Pygmy and Willys Quad. They looked very similar to the Bantam prototype and all used very similar drivetrain components.

1500, of all three models were built and field-tested extensively and ultimately, the Willys-Overland version would become the standard Jeep design. This was the model MB and was built in Ohio. However, the pressed-metal grille that has been associated with Jeep was actually designed by Ford, and incorporated into the final design by the Army.

Original Willys Jeep in black and white

Willys-Overland granted the United States Government a non-exclusive licence to allow a different company to manufacture the vehicles using the specifications. This is because they had to produce such a large number of vehicles in a short space of time. The Army chose Ford as a second supplier and American Bantam built around 2700 of these vehicles. However, they then spent the rest of the war building heavy-duty for the Army.

How did Jeep get its name?

There isn’t a solid explanation as to how the name Jeep came about, but there are a few theories.

The most popular theory is that the military designation GP, which stood for Government Purposes or General Purpose, was slurred into Jeep. It was thought that the President of Willys-Overland was the one to coin the word Jeep.

However, another theory disproves the above as it is argued that the vehicle was never referred to as General Purpose. Of course, it had a very specific purpose. The theory is that the soldiers were impressed with the vehicle, and named it after Eugene the Jeep. Eugene the Jeep was a character in the Thimble Theatre comic strip and cartoons. He was Popeye’s “jungle pet”.

Or, you might think this theory is correct. The word Jeep itself was used as early as 1914 by US Army mechanics assigned to new test vehicles. Tractors supplied by the US Army were called Jeeps and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was also referred to as the Jeep.

Regardless of which theory is correct, the original trademark for Jeep was filed in February 1943 by Willys-Overland.

What Jeeps were used in World War Two?

The final production versions were Model MB and Model GPW. The Model MB was built by Willys-Overland and the GPW was built by Ford. The two manufacturers produced approximately 640,000 Jeeps towards the war effort. This accounted for around 18% of all wheeled military vehicles built in America during the war.

They were used by every service of the military and were used for many purposes including sawmilling, cable laying, field ambulances and tractors.

The amphibious Jeep, or the seep (Sea Jeep) was built in modest numbers but it wasn’t good off road or in the water.

Nearly 30% of all Jeeps were supplied to Great Britain and the Soviet Red Army.

What happened to Jeep after World War Two?

After the war, Jeep began to experiment with new designs. These include a model that could drive under water. This was the CJ-V35/U and a contract for 1,000 units were approved. These vehicles were to be able to go underwater for a short period of time. The engine had a snorkel system so the engine could breathe underwater.

The M715 was developed in 1965 and was a militarised version of the J-Series Jeep truck. This served in the Vietnam War. It still serves in other countries and is being produced by Kia under a licence.

The Civilian Jeep, CJ, series was launched in 1945 with the CJ-2A, followed by the CJ-3B in 1953. Interestingly, the CJ-4 was only a prototype, but the CJ-5 was launched in 1955.

Jeep CJ5 parked on grass in black and white

When did American Motors Corporation buy Jeep

Willys-Overland was sold to Kaiser Motors in 1953. They were, at the time, the only company to continually produce Jeep vehicles after the war.

Kaiser Motors became Kaiser-Jeep in 1963. However, American Motors Corporation, AMC, purchased the Jeep operations in 1970. Jeep vehicles shared components with AMC’s passenger cars, this increased volume and capitalised Jeep’s international and government markets.

When did Chrysler buy AMC?

Renault began investing in AMC in 1979, but they themselves started experiencing financial difficulty in 1987.

Chrysler Corporation wanted the Jeep brand and other assets of AMC. They bought out AMC in 1987, shortly after the Jeep CJ-7 was replaced with the Jeep Wrangler.

Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 and formed DaimlerChrysler. They eventually sold most of Chrysler to a private equity company in 2007.

The Chrysler and Jeep division originally operated under the Chrysler Group LLC, and did so until 2014. It then changed its name to FCA US LLC, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

orange jeep wrangler hard top SUV driving some tough and rocky terrain

When was the Jeep Wrangler launched?

We mentioned briefly above that the Jeep Wrangler replaced the Jeep CJ-7 in 1987. It’s one of the most popular Jeep vehicles, and is currently in its third generation.

It’s a compact and mid-sized four-wheel-drive vehicle and was formally launched at the Chicago Auto Show in 1986. It was revised in 1996 and underwent a complete redesign in 2006.

There are various designations of the Wrangler, of which correspond to their generation. For example, the YJ and the TJ. Military versions of the Wrangler have the J8 designation.

In 2009, the Wrangler won the Best Resale Value Award from Kelley Blue Book in the SUV category. It was also awarded the same award in 2012 and 2013 in the compact-SUV category.

The Wrangler set the Guinness World Record for highest altitude attained by a four-wheeled vehicle in 2007.

It also won the Four-Wheeler of the Year Award in 2007 and 2013 by Four Wheeler magazine. It won 4×4 of the Year Award by Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine in 1997, 2007 and 2012. And, in 2009, Business Week named the Wrangler one of the Most Iconic Cars of the Last 20 Years.

There was, in 2008, plans for an electric Wrangler. It would have had a 40-mile range before a fuel engine kicked in and supplied additional electricity. However, Fiat SpA disbanded Chrysler’s electric car division so this never actually came to fruition.

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When was the Jeep Cherokee launched?

The Jeep Cherokee was originally sold as a variant of the Jeep Wagoneer. It has since evolved from a full-size SUV to one of the first compact SUVs on the market. It is now currently a crossover SUV. So, it’s had loads of incarnations.

It was first launched in 1974 and also created the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it’s most successful vehicle. The first model was a two-door, and was marketed as a sporty variant of the Jeep’s station wagon. It was around this time that the first use of the term “Sport Utility” was used by Jeep. The four-door was not added until a few years later.

The second generation Cherokee was credited with creating the modern SUV, as many automakers began to notice that this design began replacing regular cars. The replacement to this generation was the Grand Cherokee, and was sold as a separate vehicle, it was so successful that it started a successive line of vehicles as Jeep’s flagship.

The third generation of the Cherokee was launched in 2001 and was priced between the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. It was the smallest of the 4-door Jeep SUVs until the Compass and the Patriot arrived.

pearl white Jeep Grand Cherokee at sunset next to some snowy cliffs

The Cherokee is currently in its fifth generation and was launched in 2013. It was introduced at the New York International Auto Show for the 2014 model year. This is the first Cherokee model to be built on the Fiat Compact platform, developed together by Fiat and Chrysler. It has been so successful that FCA stopped selling the Dodge Dart and the Chrysler 200 to increase production capacity for the Cherokee. Both of these vehicles were mechanically similar to the Cherokee.

When was the Jeep Renegade launched?

The Renegade is a newer Jeep model, and was launched in 2014. It’s a mini SUV and is built in Italy, alongside the Fiat 500X. It was first revealed to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2014 and is the first Jeep to be produced exclusively outside of North America.

The Renegade has a My Sky removable roof. This can be retracted like a sunroof or removed completely. This gives an experience similar to the Wrangler.

That pretty much brings us to the present day. The Jeep Wagoneer is set to return in 2020, according to reports earlier this year. It will also be accompanied by the Grand Wagoneer. These are thought to be two luxury SUVs, set to compete with the Land Rover and Range Rover line up. Jeep are still hugely popular across the world, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Are you interested in Jeep as a manufacturer? Head over and discover how reliable they really are

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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