Jeep founded way back in 1941 is one of the oldest off-road vehicles. John Willys started Willys-Overland Motors, which was later acquired by Chrysler Group, which in turn is owned today by Fiat group. It has its head quarters in Toledo, Ohio, USA. At first it was only manufactured as military off-road vehicle during World War II for the American soldiers. It was very light and nimble so it can easily move off-road and can transfer or transport soldiers and arms very quickly to remote places. Jeep got its name from abbreviation ‘GP’ for General Purpose or Government Purpose, which sounded like Jeep.
In 1940 the first prototype was built and was named Bantam Pilot and the first Willys prototype was Willys Quad in 1940 as well. In June 1940, with World War II on the horizon, the U.S. Army solicited bids from 135 automakers for a 1/4-ton “light reconnaissance vehicle” tailored to Army specifications. Only three companies responded – Bantam, Willys, and Ford but within a year’s time they collectively produced the template for the vehicle known worldwide as the “Jeep”. Willys-Overland delivered the prototype “Quad” (named for the 4×4 system it featured), to the U.S. Army on Armistice Day (Veteran’s Day), November of 1940. The design was completed in a remarkable 75 days. Only 2 prototypes were made.
First production model was Willys MA. The Willys MA featured a gearshift on the steering column, low side body cutouts, two circular instrument clusters on the dashboard, and a hand brake on the left side. Willys struggled to reduce the weight to the new Army specification of 2,160 lbs. Items removed in order for the MA to reach that goal were reinstalled on the next-generation MB resulting in a final weight of approximately just 400 lbs. above the specifications. After arduous testing, Willys-Overland was awarded the contract in July of 1941 calling for the production of 16,000 revised MB models at a unit price of $738.74. Most of the MA’s were sent to the United States Allies in Russia and England under the Lend-Lease program. Today, the MA is the rarest of all pre-production Willys, with only about thirty models known to exist. Its successor was Willys MB, which was under production from 1942 to 1945.
Then came the first civilian model of Jeep, which was named (Civilian Jeep) CJ-2A in 1945. Willys Wagon and Willys Truck followed it in the year 1946 and 1947 respectively. In the year 1949 the successor of CJ-2A was announced which was named CJ-3A. During this period Jeep was simultaneously producing military vehicles for the U.S. army.
As the only company that continually produced Jeep vehicles after the war, in June 1950 Willys-Overland was granted the privilege of owning the name “Jeep” as a registered trademark. Willys was sold to Kaiser Motors in 1953, which became Kaiser-Jeep in 1963. Then came the CJ-5 which highest selling Jeep model till date. Jeep produced over a million CJ models over the 30-year period of 1953-83.
The Willys MB rail fitting below (called a “Short Cut”) was created because although many 3rd world countries had established rail systems, working roads were in short supply. This innovation was a success.
Jeep also manufactured FC trucks along with CJ Jeeps for commercial use. First of the FC trucks was FC-150 and FC-170 which came in the year 1957 and were sold through the year 1965. Both the FC models were made on top of the existing CJ-5 chassis. FC-150 was an 81-inch wheelbase with a four-cylinder F-head engine, and the 103.5-inch wheelbase for the FC-170 with a six-cylinder L-head engine.
Jeep also manufactured many pick-up trucks as well in the name of J-series models. SJ-series models were wagons. In the year 1963 Wagoneer model was introduced and in the year 1966 Super Wagoneer was subsequently introduced and manufactured. Jeepster commando was introduced in the year 1967 and many models were made like station wagon, pick-up, and convertible, roadster.
This part covers first 3 decades of Jeep history (1940-1970).
History will be continued in second part.