During World War I, the U.S. Army needed a fast, lightweight all-terrain vehicle for reconnaissance missions. By 1940, the Army requested a prototype from automobile manufactures with a deadline of only 49 days. The vehicle needed to be 2160 pounds, 4WD, have 85 lb-ft of torque and a wheelbase of not more than 80 inches. It also needed to have a ground clearance of at least 6.25 inches with a payload of 600 lbs and a cooling system that would keep the engine from overheating.
The First Jeeps
Only two companies, the Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland, answered the Army’s call, despite the fact that over 130 automobile manufacturers were invited to come up with a solution. The Bantam Car Company was the only company to meet the deadline. This prototype was the precursor for the Jeep vehicle. The Willys-Overland company submitted two prototypes after the deadline based on the Bantam design. However, Bantam was on shaky financial and manufacturing ground and because of this the Army contract was awarded to the Willys.
Where Did the Jeep Name Come From
By World War II there were over 330,000 Jeep units operating. While no one knows for sure, there are a few theories about where the Jeep name came from. It is possible it was a bastardization of the acronym for General Purpose vehicle or GP which is what the Army called the vehicles. It is also possible that the name was given by workers in Oklahoma who referred to trucks with oil drilling equipment as Jeeps. Another theory is that the name Jeep came from a 1936 Popeye comic strip character known as Eugene the Jeep.
The Evolution of Jeep
Regardless of the origin of the name Jeep, this vehicle has become one of the most recognized in the world. In 1950, Willys obtained a United States Trademark Registration for Jeep. Ownership also passed from Willys-Overland to Kaiser to American Motors to Chrysler Corporation. Chrysler now owns over 1100 trademark registrations for the Jeep brand. Jeep began providing vehicles to the civilian market in 1945, starting with the CJ-2A. It was advertised as “A Powerhouse on Wheels” and was marketed to farmers and construction workers.
Jeep Vehicles on the Market
The Jeep CJ-5 was the longest running Jeep product in production and was made from 1954 to 1984. Its slightly longer body style and wider wheelbase than previous models made it a popular choice for many people and it soon became an international symbol. In 1963, Jeep also introduced the J series with the Wagoneer. The Wagoneer was the beginning of the sport-utility vehicle market and the precursor for the modern day Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. When the CJ-5 was discontinued, Jeep introduced the Wrangler.
From the original military styled Jeep Willys to the modern Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, Jeep’s place in history is firmly cemented. Jeep is the oldest off-road vehicle, however it is still versatile enough it can be used for a daily commute. The Jeep brand has received numerous awards for value and design and it has been honored as one of the most access friendly SUVs available.