A Look Back: Jeep Throughout The Years

Unlike many other automotive brands, the Jeep name did not come from its founders. Instead, the name of this unique company came from the sound made when talking about the original Jeep model.

Before the name ever became a sound, or the brand became what we know today, the United States Department of Defense asked U.S. automakers to design a small vehicle capable of handling the terrain of war-torn Europe.

This request came shortly before the United States entered World War II. The resulting vehicle became a historically significant model for military and off-road adventures around the country.

The Answer to the Department of Defense

The request for a small vehicle capable of driving on all types of terrain came only from two small car companies: American Bantam Car Co. and Willy-Overland. The Bantam model exceeded expectations, as did the Willy version. Ford participated in the study, offering the product support that would be needed to produce the vehicle desired.

The Willy design won, and the vehicle that came from it was called the General Purpose (GP) vehicle. If you’ve ever watched an old World War II movie or the TV show MASH, you’ve seen the General Purpose vehicle on the screen.

Bantam Wasn’t Left in the Cold

Ford built the Willys during World War II under the guidance of the Willys engineers. Because the Bantam submission exceeded expectations by as much as it did, this company received a contract to build quarter-ton trailers pulled behind the GP models.

This meant all three companies worked together in some form or fashion to support the war effort and give the military the necessary vehicles to handle the pockmarked terrain all across Europe and eventually Japan.

Some Ford Items Remain

The Jeep Wrangler came from the GP vehicle from the Army, but we’ll get into that a little more later. Some of the stuff we still see on the Wrangler came from Ford. Specifically, the “T” latches used to hold down the hood, the single-piece slotted grille, and the round headlights.

These three items are some of what we consider iconic Jeep features, but they originally came from Ford when Willys and Ford were building the GP models for military efforts during World War II.

How Did the Army General Purpose Vehicle Become Jeep?

During testing of the General Purpose vehicle, Irving Hausmann, one of the Willys-Overland engineers, heard soldiers call the vehicle “Jeep,” and he adopted the name. It’s no secret that military personnel create their own unique language.

The military uses more acronyms than any other large organization, and some members turn these acronyms into words. The GP quickly became Jeep, and the name stuck.

The Ownership Wasn’t Stable

Over the years, Willys-Overland created several models using their new brand name that came from an odd sound made by soldiers testing the GP. Kaiser Manufacturing purchased the brand in 1953 and dropped the Willys name in 1963.

In 1969 American Motors purchased the company. The AMC ownership didn’t last long either, and Renault bought 25 percent of the company in 1978.

The Strength of AMC was Jeep

Under AMC’sleadership, the first XJ Cherokee model came to be, giving us a new SUV that was something new in the market. This SUV arrived in 1984 as a unibody model, something that other automakers weren’t attempting yet.

The classic features we associate with this brand appeared on the XJ, giving us a new model that looked great and sold well. The XJ Cherokee production run lasted 18 years, which meant it survived two more ownership changes for this brand. In 1987 AMC was acquired by Lee Iacocca and the Chrysler Corporation. The Jeep name has been married to the Chrysler brands since that time.

What is the Greatest Failure of this SUV Brand?

The most famous failure of the various Chrysler models, of which the Grand Cherokee was one, is the Death Wobble. Many drivers reported problems with the Grand Cherokee, Dodge Pickups, and Chrysler minivans regarding the steering at high speeds.

When these vehicles hit a bump, the steering became unpredictable, and the vehicles would begin to shake and vibrate violently. This caused them to become hard to handle unless the driver slowed down. This scary problem did not cause any accidents, thankfully, but became a trouble spot for the NHTSA.

Why is the Jeep Brand so Popular?

Until recently, most models from this brand were inefficient, didn’t offer three rows of seats, and couldn’t give you truck features or qualities. Even so, we’ve loved the Wrangler, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Compass, and Renegade for many years.

The Liberty and Patriot were popular models from this brand, and the new models such as the Gladiator, Wagoneer, and Grand Wagoneer address some of the challenges of this brand. We love the Jeep models because they are customizable, can go anywhere, keep you safe, and handle the weather when it turns foul.

The poster child of this brand has been the Wrangler. This vehicle came straight from the original Willys GP and became the off-road master that we love and admire to this day. The Wrangler is the most customized and customizable vehicle in the automotive market right now.

Why Are There More Jeeps than Ever?

Look at the lineup offered by this amazing brand, and you see SUVs that span the entire range. The Renegade is the subcompact cartoon-like crossover that gets things started. Moving to the Cherokee and Compass, you find a bit more size and practicality to any drive.

The Grand Cherokee has been around for nearly thirty years now, and the Wrangler continues as the cornerstone model of this brand. Recently, Jeep dealers have the Gladiator midsize pickup truck added, and now the luxury Jeep models called the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

You’ll find an SUV from this brand for every driving need. This brand means freedom for many owners and is the focus of many social clubs that meet weekly to explore the trails. From the Willys GP to today, Jeep has a strong and lasting history because it is a brand that gives us what we truly want when we drive.