- Jeep Badge (credit: cartype.com)

Jeep, an American story

How did the Second World War create this offroad hero?

6w ago
17.2K

If you've ever driven down the streets in a town in America, or seen a World War Two film. Then you are probably familiar with the car company of Jeep. And depending on who you ask, Jeep is either a company now known in the modern era for being a 4x4 icon, or a complete piece of horribly engineered garbage. But regardless on your feelings about Jeep, there is one thing that cannot be denied. And that is the circumstances it was made under were uniquely American, and was a uniting feature of American people.

Jeep has its origins in 1941, when at the onset of the Second World War, the American government asked auto makers to submit a 4x4 vehicle that was rugged and could withstand the harsh requirements of the U.S. Army. Giving them a short amount of time to complete the criteria, what the government got out of it was the Jeep, submitted by the Willys-Overland Motor Company. And because Willys didn't have the resources to make the incredible number of machines the Army was going to need, the government had Ford help produce the military workhorse. The Jeep was so successful as an Army workhorse, that even General, and later President, Dwight Eisenhower complemented it as one of the most important vehicles in the war.

1940s Willys Jeep, aka one of the most important vehicles in WW2 (credit: historics.co.uk)

1940s Willys Jeep, aka one of the most important vehicles in WW2 (credit: historics.co.uk)

During the war, the Jeep became synonymous with victory and liberation throughout Europe. And it brough the American people together as a cultural icon. It also showed the might of the American industry throughout the war, with 637,000 Jeeps being produced by Willys and Ford. Willys didn't have a smooth transition into the civilian market, however. Willys struggled to make other vehicles, other than the Army's workhorse. But since the war was now over the Army had no need for excessive amounts of Jeeps.

As a result, Willys produced the Willys CJ2A, and the Willys Station Wagon. These sold moderately well to a devout fanbase. The Jeep was now an American icon, and it seemed that if you slapped a Jeep badge on something it would sell to a good amount of diehard Jeep fans. Willys relied on this devout following for a while, along with government military contracts, until it was picked up by American Motors in 1969.

1946 Willys Station Wagon (credit: Pinterest)

1946 Willys Station Wagon (credit: Pinterest)

When American Motors, or AMC picked up Jeep in 1969, it was not in the best of conditions. With a 25% stake in AMC being bought out by French company Renault. It was clearly not a good time for Jeep or AMC. During its time under AMC, Jeep seemed to be the saving grace of the company. Jeep produced some of its most popular and innovative designs under AMC, such as the Jeep Cherokee XJ, which came out in 1984.

1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ (credit: blogspot.com)

1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ (credit: blogspot.com)

Unfortunately for AMC, Jeep could not save it. And as a result, Jeep was sold to Chrysler in 1987. Jeep had seemed to have gotten a poor reputation, being called the "Jeep curse," because it had the reputation of joining companies that would later be ruined. Every owner of Jeep had gone out of business up to this point, and many were worried Chrysler would suffer the same fate. This would not be so, as Chrysler seemed to have broken the curse and turned Jeep into a profitable company.

Chrysler loved the Jeep so much, that many of the executives of the company were buying them. Chrysler ultimately became a more profitable company due to Jeep. Because of the success of Jeep, along with the Chrysler company, Daimler began looking into a partnership with the company. This would later come to fruition in 1998.

A Jeep Compass, probably the worst riding car that I have been in (credit: autoevolution.com)

A Jeep Compass, probably the worst riding car that I have been in (credit: autoevolution.com)

This particular era was known for having some the best cars for Jeep. Such as the creation of the Wrangler off-roader. But also, some of the worst Jeeps, such as the Compass and the Patriot, which are just front-wheel drive SUVs with a Jeep badge slapped on. I can personally testify to the horrendous suspension and ride of the Compass, as I recently was in the back seat of one for a 14-hour road trip. Also reviews I have read online are particularly critical of the Compass' CVT transmission.

Jeep Renegade, which I think looks kinda like a box on wheels (credit: Auto Express)

Jeep Renegade, which I think looks kinda like a box on wheels (credit: Auto Express)

But regardless of this, Jeep has still made some great vehicles in their time, and still make some great ones to this day. Although after the Daimler-Chrysler partnership was over, the 2009 recession happened. And Chrysler petitioned the U.S. government for a bailout. Fiat then took over Chrysler, and completely revamped Jeep's lineup by adding the Jeep Cherokee back, and updating the interiors of the Jeep Patriot and the Compass (I wish they would've improved the ride). Jeep has also added a compact car called the Jeep Renegade to their lineup. Which is essentially a box on wheels.

Even with its current cars not being as famous as the one that helped save the world. It is good to know the history of the Jeep, and it is good to know how it got to the cars it makes today, regardless of what you think of them. Thank you for reading, and please let me know what is your experience with Jeeps, as I would love to hear it.

Sources: Jeep® History - The Legacy of Jeep® Models By Year and A brief history of Jeep: 75 years from Willys to Wrangler (autoweek.com)

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Comments (14)

  • JEEP- A Stellantis Company. And the Rampage is a FIAT on wheels. I think this romanticism of a lot of mediocre cars has run its course, unless you want to plunk down 125k for a Grand Wagoneer.

      1 month ago
    • And the people who have a Wrangler with Willys decals on the hood don't know their history me thinks.

        1 month ago
    • Erratum! That should be Renegade, not Rampage. Though I do believe Jeep did cover most of the aggressive “R” words back then…my favorite being the Jeep Regurgitator.

        1 month ago
  • Nice Article. James May's Cars of the people does an awesome job of covering this as well. Also talks about how Jeep paved the way for all other Jeep-style 4x4s like Land Rover and Land Cruiser.

      1 month ago
  • The Jeep brand died in 1968.

    What has parroted the intent is “horribly engineered piece of garbage”, regardless of the hype put forth by the “new” parent company.

    While on that subject, I seem to recall a few fiat in the 60s and 70s, which printed the phrase Fix It Again Tony, then they quietly folded their tent and disappeared. Much like the most recent attempt in the US.

      1 month ago
  • The Daimler-Chrysler partnership was not a partnership. Daimler bought Chrysler but could never make the deal work. Later on it was the US government that gave Chrysler to Fiat.

    Also, you are correct on the Compass. It was a pos. The new one, which I own is much better. They have literally knocked the cheap out of it.

      1 month ago
  • I notice that the 9 slots in the original 1940’s Willys Jeep grille were eventually pared down to 7 slots.

    In the last 25 years, we have been an all Jeep family. In addition to my son’s 1997 Wrangler, I’ve owned all four generations of the Grand Cherokee: a 1993 Limited, a 2000 Limited, a 2006 SRT8 and a 2012 SRT8.

    The 2006 was the first model year for the SRT8. I ordered it in April 2005 when it was first announced, and it was delivered in December 2005. As a result, it is the FIRST SRT8 sold in Pennsylvania, and 13th in the whole world. I have all the papers.

    If interested, you can see these Jeeps on my home page.

      1 month ago
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