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70 years of Jeep

This iconic vehicle has been around for more than 70 years

Larry Jewett - August 01, 2011 09:00 AM

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The 1941 Willys MA was able to shed some pounds and become more fitting for combat.

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The 1953 CJ-3B was the start of one of the longest running Jeeps in the history of the auto.

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 Mail carriers came to rely on the Jeep for delivery. The vehicle was dependable and light, but could carry a heavy load.

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The CJ-7 (1977 model shown) brought an end to the long-running popularity of the CJ-5. It had a wheelbase that was 10 inches longer, easily accommodating the automatic transmission. 

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The Wrangler came onto the scene in 1987. It added the “creature comforts” from passenger cars to the CJ series and brought about the end of the popular CJ. The Wrangler ushered in the Chrysler era as the company took over in 1987.

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Most of the Jeeps you see on the road today have the look of the Jeep Cherokee line, including the Grand Cherokee. The Jeep “family wagon” opened new opportunities for the market while continuing to be found in favor of the hobbyist who could utilize another model for fun.

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The “Pork Chop” started as a 2011 Wrangler Sport, and the goal was to make a lighter vehicle. The removal of 850 pounds produced a Jeep designed for open air, off-road fun.  

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The latest Wrangler has been “Moparized.” With a 475 horsepower, 6.4L Hemi V-8 from the SRT team, it offers a lot of what was good in the jeeps of the 1970s and puts today’s modern technology to complete the package.   

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The 2008 Jeep Renegade Concept featured electric motors on each axle and a 1.5 liter three-cylinder engine as a range extender.

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 An original Bantam reconnaissance car. 

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The Bantam manufacturing plant.

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 Off-road action will be part of the Jeep Heritage Festival.

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There has been plenty of attention in the last decade or so about the “sport utility vehicle” or SUV. The country’s highways are full of them. When it comes to pure utility, though, it all started nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

The birth of the Jeep (with the capital J) is quite clear, but the birth of the jeep itself (small j) is a matter of ongoing contention. We’ll get into that discussion a little later because it remains an unsolved mystery.

The concept came about when the U.S. military was looking for a reconnaissance vehicle. It had be something bigger than the motorcycle and the modified Model Ts that were in use as well. To a great degree, it would also be designed to replace the reliance on horses that were still being used as needed for certain duties. The Army was put in charge and developed several criteria surrounding load capacity, height, wheelbase, seating and weight, to name a few components.

The only real contenders to develop the auto proved to be the Butler, Pennsylvania-based American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland, though Ford Motor Company arrived a little later. In the end, the government contract was somewhat controversially delivered to Willys-Overland with some concession to Ford, leaving Bantam as the odd company out.

The Army issued its contracts in March 1941. The Willys Quad went through a series of modifications and design changes, each time changing its name, first to the MA, then the MB. The Army and the world started calling it the “Jeep.”

By the end of that year, the United States entered into World War II, putting the military and its entities to the test. Willys-Overland was tabbed to produce the bulk of the vehicles, and Ford got a share as well. When the war ended, Willys-Overland began producing the CJ, which stood for “Civilian Jeep.” Willys trademarked the “Jeep” name and started making vehicles for public use. The civilian jeep had similarities but offered more aspects that would be applicable for highway driving rather than off-road. The first CJ, the 2A, was produced for four years and offered a 134ci I-4 engine and full floating Dana 25 front and Dana 23-2 rear axles, which would be standard for some upcoming models.

Design changes would occur through the ’50s, really taking hold when Henry J. Kaiser bought Willys-Overland in 1953. The CJ-3B and CJ-5, along with the long wheelbase CJ-6, became some of the longest running models in the Jeep line.

As the motoring public demanded different types of vehicles, the Jeep responded. A pickup truck model can be found as early as 1947. An automatic transmission for a four-wheel-drive vehicle can be first found in the Wagoneer in 1962. The Wagoneer served as the platform of development for the popular Cherokee. The Kaiser automotive arm was sold to American Motors in 1970, which continued to establish the Jeep’s place in history. AMC brought on the CJ-7 in 1976, reflecting the first design change in two decades. It offered a molded plastic top and steel doors as options. The CJ-7 brought an end to the CJ-5. The production of the Wrangler in 1987 merged some of the creature comforts found in standard passenger cars with looks and feel of the utility four-wheel-drive vehicle. Shortly after the introduction of the Wrangler, American Motors was sold to Chrysler Corporation.

Today’s Jeep proudly carries it heritage, and Jeep sales remain strong. The 21st century Jeeps are not likely to see time on a battlefield, but they continue to be a strong choice for a diverse motoring public. It’s not uncommon to roll up to a Grand Cherokee, Rubicon or Liberty, and it’s not unusual to see Jeeps heading to the trails for a weekend of fun. The idea of developing a line of vehicles to appeal to many tastes in easily found in the history of the Jeep.

A complete timeline and history for this can be found at www.chrysler.com.

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