A History of the Jeep Brand
Picture in your mind a Jeep—what do you envision? Do you see an army green vehicle used in war time, a rugged vehicle with flaps for doors or a sleek, versatile family vehicle? Whichever one you happen to conceptualize, you would be right! The Jeep has seen many incarnations over its long history and continues to captivate adventurers to present day.
Initially developed as a general purpose vehicle for the military, the “GP” morphed into the name Jeep. The Jeep was commissioned to transport troops and their gear over the rough terrain of Europe during World War II. It is easily identifiable even to this day by its sunk in headlights without headlight trim rings, blackout lights on the grille and fenders and the uniquely placed spare tire, attached to the very back of the vehicle. The contoured hood, two-piece windshield and top mounted windshield wipers also added to the Jeep’s unusual looks. This Jeep was the first 4 by 4 introduced and it proved itself so reliable and versatile that it was soon used for other purposes and shipped to other Allied countries for use in their militaries.
By the time the war ended, the Jeep manufacturer had to decide how to transition the vehicle from its military uses to a more mainstream market. In an effort to reach the retail market, the first Jeep Station Wagon was released in 1946. Soon, the Jeep pick-up truck and a sporty version named “The Jeepster” were all produced. The “CJ “, short for Civilian Jeep, was marketed and one of its first uses was by American farmers. The CJ proved to be a durable and helpful addition to the farmers’ daily routines. The CJ was used for many years until it was replaced by the Jeep Wrangler, introduced in 1987. While not universally accepted at the time by Jeep loyalists who preferred its military look and not the modernized version. Regardless, the Wrangler is still in production today. The DJ series, or Dispatch Jeep, was produced first from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1980’s. Since the technology and the body style of this Jeep were simple, they were inexpensive to produce. This series was used by the U.S. Postal department for their mail trucks. This model also came with the option of soft top, hard top or a van body style.
The next few decades were ones of growth and challenge for the Jeep name. While the 1960’s were a boon decade for Jeep and its models—the Jeep Company was bought and sold by larger car manufacturers. By this time, Jeep had fourteen different models, including the popular Jeep Wagoneer, a refined version of the CJ that resembled a station wagon. By the end of the decade, Jeep cashed in on its rugged reputation and stated showing its vehicles in an array of outdoor activities, heightening its slogan, “Jeep, Great Escape”. In the 1970’s the first full time 4 by 4 system was introduced and the Jeep Cherokee, the new sporty 2 door Jeep, won the 4 by 4 of the Year Award. By 1978, 4-wheel drive vehicles were very popular and Jeep was producing almost 600 vehicles each day. This decade also brought the Golden Eagle optional package; a whole $200.00 above base price. The Golden Eagle featured none other than a Golden Eagle painted across the front hood, as well as larger tires, a rear-mounted spare tire with a lock and a Levi’s soft top to round out the look. A version nicknamed “Daisy” after Daisy Duke on “The Dukes of Hazard”, was an available option of this package into the early 1980’s.
The next decade brought changes for the Jeep brand, as it was purchased by the Chrysler Corporation from the American Motor Company. Chrysler was responsible for introducing the Jeep Liberty and the XJ Cherokee and the updated CJ, the Wrangler. The XJ Cherokee was the first UniFrame construction vehicle and the first compact, 4-door vehicle of its type; the predecessor of today’s Sport Utility Vehicle or SUV. In an effort to push the Jeep brand further, the Chrysler Corporation gave each corporate executive their own Jeep to drive and it quickly showed it durability to the masses. Many Jeep fans clamored for a vehicle with more room, so Jeep gave them the “Scrambler”, a truck with an extended bed and the famous Jeep grill and headlights. Even President Ronald Reagan owned a Scrambler and was often seen driving it at his ranch.
The 90’s introduced a new incarnation of the Jeep Cherokee, the Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ, which melded on- and off-road options and the Wrangler introduced a new coil suspension in the later part of the decade. The Grand Cherokee, the first SUV with a driver side airbag, won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award, 4wheel and Off Road magazine’s 4by4 of the Year and Four Wheeler Magazine’s Four Wheeler of the Year; an excellent beginning to the new century! The onset of the new millennium also brought the innovative Wrangler Rubicon and the Rubicon Unlimited with a longer wheel base and outstanding handling. Also introduced in the new decade were the still popular Jeep Patriot, the Jeep Compass, Jeep’s answer to the crossover SUV, and the seven passengers Jeep Commander. While the Jeep brand continued to introduce new vehicles, Jeep’s owner, Chrysler was suffering from financial setbacks until it was acquired by Fiat in 2009. As a result, Fiat instituted the new Grand Cherokee as well as introducing the Renegade and revamping both the Wagoneer and the Wrangler. The Wrangler still has the feel and appeal of its ancestor, the military Jeep, which is way it is still a sought after vehicle today. The Jeep brand is known for its rugged, dependable reputation and continues to win new legions of fans as the decades go by. The brand is clearly recognizable and Jeep owners liken themselves to adventure seekers. For instance, each April, Jeep lovers gather in Moab, Utah to enjoy the off-road adventures and to meet with Jeep engineers about their likes and dislikes with the brand. It’s an event that celebrates over seventy-five years of the Jeep Brand and its future. There are also off-road Jeep rental companies in places like Sedona, Arizona that offer high performance jeep rentals for off road excursions.