It’s one of the oldest brands of four-wheel drive vehicles, and the original SUV. It has a history that goes back over six decades, starting as a military vehicle in World War II. It’s a design which is instantly recognizable, and a name that’s synonymous with capability. Pull up a chair by the fire, children, it’s time to hear about the story of one of the most iconic vehicles on the planet—the Jeep®.
1940 – The Birth of the Jeep®
The Jeep® was born from necessity in 1940, when the United States entered into World War II. The Army needed a light, four-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle, and set a number of companies to work on designing one that met their specifications. The prototype, which would become the Jeep® we know today, actually came from a freelance Detroit designer named Karl Probst. Working for the American Bantam Car Company, he designed the Bantam BRC. However, it came up a little short of the Army’s requirements, and Bantam was too small to handle the Army’s supply needs. So the Bantam BRC design was handed over to the Ford Motor Company and Willys-Overland for tweaking. Of the two resulting designs, the Willys Model MB—the ancestor of today’s Jeep® Wrangler—was given the thumbs up, and both companies began working to churn out the new vehicle by the hundreds. The design was so capable, the U.S. military even supplied them to their Soviet and British allies, making the Jeep® a ubiquitous sight on battlefields across Europe.
1945 – Post-War Service
After World War II came to an end, military demand for the Jeep® didn’t stop, but another market opened up. Many of the soldiers returning home had seen the capability of the Jeep MB in field, and were hungry for a personal Jeep®. Seeing the opportunity, in 1945, Willy-Overland began construction of the CJ—Civilian Jeep®—which became the world’s first mass-produced four-wheel drive vehicle for civilian use. As people began moving to the suburbs, Willys also began selling a station wagon and truck variant. While they weren’t necessarily as rugged as their 4×4 cousin, they still had that iconic Jeep® styling, and were capable in their own ways.
1955 – Going to Work
By 1955, a different sort of buyer came knocking—commercial customers. The Jeep® was such a hard-working vehicle, many companies and organizations (including the U.S. Postal Service) saw the benefit of using them as fleet vehicles. Willys (now operating as an arm of Kaiser Jeep) answered the call by releasing a two-wheel drive variant called the DJ—Dispatcher Jeep®. The DJ was available with both open and closed body designs. A delivery van variant, the Fleetvan Jeep®, was later released in 1961.
1974 – Inventing the Sport Utility Vehicle
Meanwhile, the consumer model was also growing up, with Willys releasing the Jeep® Wagoneer in 1962. The Wagoneer was the successor to the Willys Jeep® Station Wagon which debuted back in 1946. The Wagoneer was the direct precursor to what we, today, call the Sport Utility Vehicle. It pioneered the concept—taking a 4×4 design but making it more car-like for a luxury experience. While station wagons went out of vogue, the Wagoneer lives on (in spirit) in the Jeep® Grand Cherokee luxury SUV. But the first true full-size SUV in the world was born when Jeep® (the brand now owned by American Motors) unveiled the original Jeep® Cherokee in 1974. The original Cherokee was a two-door “sport utility vehicle”—we coined the term to describe it! It built on the Wagoneer’s success to create a design so influential, it launched an entirely new kind of automobile other manufacturers have been chasing ever since. The Jeep® Cherokee (briefly renamed the Liberty) and Grand Cherokee have both come a long way since the 70s, and because they’re such capable vehicles, we’re still making them to this day!
1987 – Building on a Legend
In 1987, Jeep® (now part of the Chrysler family) went back to the original—the Willys CJ—for inspiration. Drawing on that iconic look and legendary capability, Jeep® unveiled the Wrangler, an off-road 4×4 SUV which has no equal. The Wrangler incorporates many of the elements the Willys design pioneered in the 1940’s, but refined (and continues to refine!) them with the latest in automotive developments. Elements like a separate body and frame, solid axles, a flat-fold windshield, convertible hard- and soft-top roofs, and the ability to drive it without doors, have been iconic parts of the classic Jeep® for decades—and the Wrangler incorporates them all. It’s no coincidence one of the trims for the Wrangler JK is the “Willys Wheeler.” For over 20 years, the Wrangler has been winning awards for being one of the most versatile and capable four-wheel drive vehicles on the planet. That includes being named as Motortrend’s 2019 SUV the Year.
1993 – In the Popular Culture
In the decades since its debut, the Jeep® has become so iconic that you can instantly recognize it. That includes on the big screen, where the 1992 Wrangler YJ Sahara was the vehicle of choice for John Hammond (and Steven Spielberg) when he was designing his dinosaur zoo in “Jurassic Park.” This isn’t the first time a Jeep® has made a splash in the popular culture. The original “Charlie’s Angels” drove around in a 1980 Jeep® CJ-5. Daisy Duke kept up with her cousins Bo and Duke in “Dixie,” her 1979 Jeep® CJ-7 in the “Dukes of Hazzard.” Even more recently, DEA Agent Hank Schrader was tooling around in his 2006 Jeep® Commander in the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Whenever a character on screen needs a rugged vehicle which can handle hard work, it seems they often turn to Jeep® to get the job done.
2019 – Jeep® Moving Forward
In addition to the ongoing success of the iconic Wrangler, the classic Cherokee and the luxury Grand Cherokee, Jeep® would go on to introduce a few more members of the family in the 2000s. Among them is our compact four-door Jeep® Compass, introduced in 2007. In 2015, we also unveiled the subcompact Jeep® Renegade. Both models are still available in 2019. A new member of the family is rolling off the assembly line in time for 2020 — the Jeep® Gladiator pickup truck. We’ve been out of the truck market since the Comanche line ended in 1992, but people have continued to ask for a mid-size 4×4 pickup with the kind of capability they can only expect from a Jeep® vehicle. Well, we heard the call, and the Gladiator is coming to deliver. We’ve got a comeback brewing, too—remember our old station wagon, the Jeep® Wagoneer? Well, with demand for spacious three-row SUV’s on the rise, we decided to update the old design for the modern buyer. You’ll have to be a little more patient to see the new Wagoneer, though—this baby isn’t due until 2021.
Jeep® has a history so rich, it took us over 1,000 words just to summarize it! But you know what? It’s a nearly 70 year journey that’s worth seeing for yourself, when you come to Go Auto Don Mills Chrysler to check out the latest Jeep® models. Come in to test drive that legacy today.