For the Love of Automobiles: American Jeep

The Jeep is a vehicle that, I am sure, everyone in America and in other countries are familiar with. It was first produced by the manufacturer by the name of Willys,
designed and produced in 1941 for military use in World War II, and later, in 1945, civilian models were produced making it the oldest off-road vehicle and sport-utility vehicle (SUV) brand in the industry.
Bantam BRC
The original Jeep vehicle, a prototype, was called the Bantam BRC, a light, 4-wheel-drive utility vehicle designed for the United States Army and its allies during World War II. There are Jeep variants that have been produced in other nations that serve dual roles: civilian and military. The prototype was nicknamed the “Blitz Buggy” – named after the London Blitz before entry of the United States in World War II against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan sent to Britain as part of the aid in the ground warfare in the fight
against German occupation
It is not known for sure where the name “Jeep” came from, but the consensus is that the military designationGP (General Purpose) was the original source of the word. However, R. Lee Ermey, who hosted a television series called Mail Call, says that the vehicle was originally named “Eugene the Jeep after a character in the Popeye cartoons created by E.C. Segar. The word was also used in the United States Navy to describe small escort carriers as “Jeep Carrier”.
Simple Interior, WW2 Jeep
The new Jeep got extra publicity when Senator James M. Meade of New York sat at the wheel of a US Army scout-vehicle called “Jeep” or “Quad” (because of 4-wheel-drive capability) with Representative J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey and drove up the steps of the Capitol building to demonstrate its agility. It was good PR as well as the opportunity to get Congressional approval of its purchase and use by US armed forces.
While called the “Willys” Jeep, the actual trademark of the company was Willys-Overland when filed in February of 1943. The idea for such a vehicle for use in the military started when it became obvious that the United States would be forced to be involved in the war in Europe, and so the US Army contacted 135 companies asking for prototypes for a four-wheel-drive “reconnaissance car”. Only two of the 135 companies responded: American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland.
The US Army gave a deadline for a working prototype vehicle within 49 days. Willys-Overland asked for more time, but the request was refused. The Bantam Reconnaissance Car was produced in plans within two days and submitted bid to US Army complete with blueprints. The vehicle had mostly been assembled from existing off-the-shelf automotive parts, and the Bantam Car Company was hoping to win the right to build military vehicles for it was on the brink of bankruptcy. The prototype was hand built and had a custom four-wheel drive-train that were supplied by Spicer.
Vintage Jeeps often used in Parades
The prototype was built in Butler, Pennsylvania and driven to Camp Holabird, Maryland for testing by the Army on September 21st, 1940. The
vehicle met the criteria except for the engine torque requirements. In addition, the Army felt that the Bantam company was too small to supply the number of vehicles required, so it gave the Bantam design to Willys and Ford companies to encourage them to make the necessary modifications. The result was Ford produced the “Pygmy” and Willys-Overland produced the “Quad” – both looking similar to the Bantam BRC prototype. Spicer supplied required components for all three companies, so at that point their business had boomed.Of the three models, 1,500 of each one
was built and field tested. Willys-Overland’s chief engineer, Delmar“Barney” Roos made design alterations to meet a certain weight specification (1,275 lb). He used the heavy Willys-Overland “Go-Devil” engine and won the initial production contract for the
US Army. The Willys-Overland Jeep became the standardized Jeep design and after designating the model as “MB”, it was built at the Toledo, Ohio plant. The Jeep grille, now familiar, was a Ford design incorporated into the final design for the Army.
The War Department required a large number of vehicles to be manufactured in a short time, so Willys-Overland granted the US Government a non-exclusive license to
allow another company to manufacture vehicles according to Willys-Overland specifications. The Army chose the Ford Motor Company as the second supplier, only building Willys-Overland Jeeps according to their design by supplying Ford a complete set of plans and specifications. American Bantam, the original creators of the Jeep, spent the rest of the war building heavy-duty trailers for the Army – so they kept afloat and didn’t go bankrupt.
Jeeps were used by all branches of the US military, mostly in infantry regiments that had, in average, 145 Jeeps assigned to each regiment. Jeeps were used for many purposes that included cable laying, saw milling, firefighting pumpers, field ambulances, tractors, and even modified to operate on railroad tracks. An amphibious Jeep was built, called the GPA model (Sea Jeep) for Ford, but wasn’t very good in the water or land operations.
Nearly 30% of Jeeps produced were sent to supply Great Britain and the Soviet Red Army during World War II. The Jeep was also used extensively in the Korean War and the troops referred to it as “Just Enough Essential Parts” – JEEP because of its basic design.
Ford Version, 1940s
After World War II, the Jeep was imitated around the world, including France who produced the Hotchkiss et Cie, which in 1954 they were manufactured under the license of Willys; as well as in Japan by Mitsubishi Motors and Toyota.
The Museum of Art described the Jeep as a masterpiece of functional design and has, on occasion, used Jeep as part of their exhibits.
Jeeps became more popular when, after the war, it became available on the surplus market – veterans fondly remembering their use in the military bought them for civilian use and for nostalgic reasons – which still holds true today.
Philippines: Jeepney
The “Jeepney” was a familiar sight in the Philippines – a unique taxis or bus created from the original Jeep. In the United States military, the
Jeep was replaced by a number of vehicles, specifically the Ford M151
and the Humvee.
The latter proved to be the best design and less chance of vehicle turnover, as well as more power – so the Humvee replaced the Ford MUTT (called utility truck, but not an M175 true truck) and the Jeep. Believe it or not, Jeep was working on a new design after World War II that was to be a model that could be
driven underwater. It was approved on February 1st, 1950 as a contract for 1,000 units adapted for general reconnaissance or
command communications, “constructed for short period underwater operation such as encountered in beach landing and fording operations”. The engine was modified with a snorkel system for the air intake required for proper carburetor operation as well as keeping water out of the fuel system. The model was dubbed CJ-V35/U, the “U” designating that it was underwater capable.
M715, 1.25-ton truck – not a MUTT
In 1965, the Jeep developed the M715 1.25-ton army truck, a military version of the civilian J-series Jeep truck that served extensively in the Vietnam War – which I personally feel they should have continued manufacturing for the civilian market in competition with Ford, GMC, and Dodge pickup-trucks. I seen one a while back, but the owner didn’t want to sell; and then he called me sometime later, and I didn’t have the money to purchase it because of the impending and eventual economy crunch. To date, it is my favorite of the older Jeeps and still wish that it would be modernized and manufactured again. It was a no-nonsense, kick-butt vehicle that you could haul stuff around just about anywhere – as you can see by the photo at the left.
Josh Miller’s Jeep Scrambler
The Jeep has gone through several owners in its history: Willys, producing Civilian Jeep (CJ) in
1945 and the trademark granted in 1950; who then sold it to Kaiser Motors in 1953, which then became Kaiser-Jeep in 1963; losing money it sold out to American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1970 (American muscle cars were the thing and 4-wheel drive as passe’). In 1979 the French automaker, Renault, began investing in AMC and by 1987, the automobile market has changed and Renault experienced financial troubles. It was during this time that Chrysler was interested in picking up the Jeep brand, as well as other assets of AMC, so it was bought out by Chrysler in 1987 and the Jeep CJ-7 was replaced with Jeep Wrangler or the YJ. Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler and that eventually sold most of its interest in Chrysler to a private equity company in 2007. Chrysler and Jeep division now operate under the name Chrysler Group LLC.
US Post Office Jeep
Jeep has been built under a license to manufacture in places like Mahindra, India, EBRO, Spain, and several nations in South America. Mitsubishi built more than 30 different Jeep models in Japan between 1953 and 1998 – most based upon the CJ-3B model of the original Willys-Kaiser design. In America, Toledo, Ohio has been the headquarters of the Jeep since it was first built and is, like Harley Davidson motorcycles is proud of their heritage.
As a note of interest, the Humvee (HMMWV) has ties with the Jeep because in 1971, the production was turned into AM General, a subsidiary of American Motors Corporation, which also owned Jeep. In 1979, while American Motors still owned AM General, the first steps in designing a replacement for the Jeep were conducted.
The General Motors Hummer and Chrysler Jeep have been waging a battle in the US courts over the right to use, get this: seven slots in their respective grills.
Chrysler claims it has exclusive rights because it is the only remaining assignee of the various companies since Willys gave their
postwar jeeps seven slots instead of Ford’s nine-slot design for the Jeep.
Today, Jeep is one of the few remaining four-wheel-drive vehicles that has solid front and rear axles; known for its durability, strength, and articulation. Another benefit of solid axles is they tend to be easier and cheaper to “lift” with aftermarket suspension systems. The smaller Jeeps with short wheelbases are easier to fit into places a normal sized 4-wheel couldn’t fit. However, the down side is that the newer Jeeps have had narrow widths that makes them overturn easily – one of the advantages that its replacement, Humvee has – wide and harder to flip over.
2006 Wrangler Desert Eagle
The Jeep Wrangler now comes in different models with different features that all have a longer wheelbase that allows four doors, making it less difficult for rear passenger access. The new Jeeps went back to the classic round headlights versus the square headlights of the 1990s, by popular Jeep enthusiast’s demand.
The Wrangler represents the original Jeep design, but now there are several other models to choose from like the Liberty and the Cherokee – the latter a standard favorite for those who want 4-wheel-drive in comfort and more interior space. The Cherokee models are designed to compete with the SUVs of other manufacturers, and the 2012 model finally offers skid plates to protect exhaust and other components when 4-wheeling the Cherokee.
Jeep has become a national trademark like Harley Davidson has done in the motorcycle business – and Jeep enthusiasts are proud of the heritage and its tradition.
1990 Wrangler w/Yellow Flames
I love our Jeep, a Grand Cherokee, that plows through drifting snowstorms during the normal winters here on the Peninsula. The wife’s Wrangler, 1990 vintage, is well-known in the area with its distinctive yellow flames over black painted surface; we call the Grand Cherokee our “comfy” 4-wheeler.
I guess you have to be a Jeep owner and love them like we do to understand the experience.
Until next time …