A Brief History of the Evolution of Jeep Grilles
When you imagine a Jeep, what do you see? Jeep has managed to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle. Current manufacturing practices stay true to the authentic spirit of rugged exploration that gave Jeep its claim to fame.
And yet, over time, many people have become fans to small changes in Jeep designs. Explore the brief history of the evolution of Jeep grilles to learn more about one of the most influential parts of a Jeep’s appearance.
1. Willys MB, Ford GPW (1941-1945)
Willys-Overland Motors and Ford manufactured the first Jeeps, the Willys MB and the Ford GPW, as wartime vehicles for the United States and Allied forces in World War II. Willys-Overland modeled their prototype vehicle, known as the “Quad” after its 4x4 system, in response to the U.S. military’s request for an all-terrain vehicle.
Jeeps became the primary lightweight vehicle used by the Allies. Jeeps were used as cargo trucks, field beds, personnel carriers, ambulances, and for other purposes. The successful use of Jeeps during the war gave this vehicle an origin story steeped in grit and endurance. The military respected and relied on Jeeps so much that in 1942, a Jeep received a Purple Heart for its service. The Jeep, named Old Faithful, took two shrapnel holes to its windshield during a shelling during the Guadalcanal Campaign.
Though WWII Jeep grilles had slight variations, the battle-worn Jeep Old Faithful had nine grill slots. The grill also curved around the two headlamps which were mounted above two smaller lights. Though the grille design has changed over the years, anyone who knows a Jeep can recognize the influence of this design on current renditions.
2. Jeep CJ (1945-1986)
The next look for the Jeep grille came with the next version of the Jeep vehicle, the Jeep CJ models. Various manufacturers produced this series of vehicles between 1945 and 1986.
Willy-Overland built the first prototypes for the commercial version of the WWII military Jeep and called it the “CJ,” short for “civilian Jeep.” Among other consistencies between CJ versions, these vehicles typically had open bodies with removable tops.
The CJ-1 was made with quick modifications to the MB. Shortly after their creation, Willys created the CJ-2 for agricultural purposes. The next iteration, the Jeep CJ-2A (1945), became the world’s first mass-produced civilian four-wheel drive.
The CJ-2A sports the seven-slot grille that became one of the iconic designs of Jeeps. The CJ-2A’s grille curves around the large, round headlamps placed above two smaller driving lights. The grill narrows toward the bottom, accentuating the curve around the headlamps.
3. Jeep Wrangler YJ (1986-1995) and TJ (1996-2006)
In 1987, the Jeep Wrangler YJ drove onto the scene as the first generation of Jeep Wranglers, succeeding the CJ series. With an updated interior and improved safety and handling, the Wrangler attracted more drivers who wanted to use the vehicle for everyday needs.
One of the biggest visual differences between the CJ series and the Wrangler YJ is the design of the grille. The Jeep Wrangler YJ featured square headlamps. Coupled with a larger windshield, the YJs had a more rectangular appearance than their CJ predecessors. Additionally, the Laredo trim featured a chrome grille.
The second generation of Jeep Wrangler was called the Wrangler TJ. The grille featured seven slots like the YJ, but the TJ headlamps went back to the square shape of the CJ headlamps.
4. Jeep Wrangler JK (2006-2018) and Wrangler JL (2017-present)
The Jeep Wrangler JK, the third generation of the Wrangler, was produced between 2006 and 2018. It was succeeded by the Wrangler JL, first produced in 2017, and is still produced today.
While Jeep JL and JK Wranglers have many similar features, there are notable differences in the exterior and interior designs and under the hood. Whereas the turn signals on the JK were on the grille, the Wrangler JL’s turn signals are located on the fender flares. And the inner edges of the JL headlights push into the nearest grille slots.
Though people drive many models of Jeeps for daily driving and on off-road excursions, the Jeep Wrangler maintains its status as an iconic Jeep model. Whether you see a JK or JL, everything about these rigs, from the grille to the back fender, shows off an unforgettable style.
5. Jeep Gladiator JT (2019-present)
The Jeep Gladiator (JT) is Jeep’s first pickup truck since the Comanche. The exterior and interior styling of the Gladiator are very similar to the JL.
Since the truck is meant for hauling and towing, the Gladiator features enlarged grille slots that increase airflow and enhance engine cooling. Gladiator owners can also opt to mount a front-facing trail cam in one of the grille slots. The camera displays images on the vehicle’s touchscreen, letting the driver see what’s directly in front of the vehicle to assist in off-road driving.
Some special editions of the Gladiator feature unique accents on the grille. The Gladiator Altitude has a body-color grille and fender flares, and the Gladiator Willys has a glossy black grille.
6. Aftermarket Grilles and Inserts
As this brief history of the evolution of Jeep grilles shows, Jeep knows how to use grilles to make an impact. While the seven-slot grille remains the classic style for Jeeps, aftermarket manufacturers make it easier now than ever before for Jeep owners to customize their rigs.
Grille inserts add a protective sheet behind the grille. Choose between matte or glossy inserts and consider whether you want the inserts to create an image across the grille.
For a more dramatic change than what inserts can provide, replace your factory grille with an aftermarket grille. Owners can opt to keep the seven slots and incorporate other features, such as the angry eye design, to make their Jeeps look more aggressive. Or, for a completely different look, replace the slots with another design, such as shark teeth or a different configuration.
You can change your Jeep grille with just a few basic tools. In under 20 minutes, you’ll have a new look. Before you purchase an aftermarket grille, ensure the grille will fit your make and model Jeep. For example, JK and JL grilles aren’t interchangeable.
Whatever change you want to make to your Jeep’s grille, AM Off-Road carries an array of options. Our Jeep Wrangler Gladiator grilles feature durable construction and eye-catching designs. Shop with us today for your grille upgrade or browse the rest of our site and see the rest of our expansive selection of aftermarket car parts.