Rarely when you buy a new vehicle, does it have as much history as a Jeep Wrangler. Everything that makes the current Jeep Wrangler fun to commute in is the result of decades of modifications. Wranglers remain one of Jeep’s most popular models—it is hard to argue why Jeep has stood the test of time when you take the Wrangler’s timeless look, off-road abilities, and customization into consideration.
Jeep’s rich American past dates all the way back to the battlefield of World War II and has been keeping up with the times ever since. Gain more of an appreciation for your vehicle with our telling of Jeep Wrangler’s history.
An American War Vehicle
Willys-Overland Motors created their prototype vehicle, the “Quad,” in response to the U.S. military’s request for an all-terrain car for use in World War II. Willys-Overland manufactured two of these prototypes and named them after the 4x4 system Jeep would become known for.
Improvements made to the vehicle prototype resulted in the Willys MA in 1941. This vehicle was lighter in order to meet the US Army’s specifications. The Willys MA went through extensive testing and, “won a contract with the U.S. military to provide a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the war” (per MotorTrend). This contract serviced 16,000 cars at $738.74 each. They sent the first models to U.S. allies in Russia and England via the Lend-Lease program. Willys-Overland would go on to release another version of the car specifically made for combat, called the Willys MB. It would eventually earn the nickname “Jeep.”
The First Commercial Jeep for Farmers
As World War II came to an end, Jeeps continued to live beyond the battlefield. In 1945, a new model, the CJ-2A, became “The All-Around Farm Work-Horse.” It assisted farmers around the world due to the fact that it had the strength of two heavy draft horses working at four miles per hour without overheating. After the success of the CJ-2A, Willys-Overland released a new Jeep truck in 1947, which served as a pickup car with four-wheel drive. Also sold to modern farmers, this continued Jeep’s reputation as a rugged brand.
The Jeep Name Becomes Registered
The origins of how Willys obtained the nickname “Jeep” remains unknown. There are many different stories behind what the name actually means. The word has earned a spot in the dictionary as, “A small general-purpose motor vehicle with 80-inch wheelbase, ¹/₄-ton capacity, and four-wheel drive used by the U.S. Army in World War II.” History points to the name origin coming from the letters GP (Government Purpose), which caused some to say the word “Jeep.” With the nickname becoming commonplace, Willys-Overland trademarked the word in 1950.
Post-World War II Military Jeeps
World War II may have been over, but that didn’t stop the military from requesting more Jeeps. Various models came to be, including the Jeep M38 (MC) and theM-38A1 (MD). The military commissioned these vehicles for use in the Korean War. The Willys-Overland team also experimented with incorporating the militaristic design in their farming-oriented CJ line; this resulted in the CJ-3B (Universal). This Jeep notably featured a higher hood to make room for the taller F-head engine that would provide farmers with more power.
The Civilian Jeep
In 1953, Willys-Overland sold his production enterprise to Henry J. Kaiser, and the company took on a new name—Willys Motors Inc. This point of time would be known as the Kaiser Jeep era. At this point, the military and farming industries primarily used Jeeps due to the heavy duty work they regularly performed. This started to change in 1954, when a more comfortable vehicle, the CJ-5, hit the market. This is when the Jeep brand started to broaden its appeal. The CJ-5 had the capabilities to suit consumers looking for non-commercial off-roading vehicles. The CJ-5 managed to stay in production for 30 years—the longest period of any Jeep brand—since it acted as the framework for the modern Jeep Wrangler.
The End of The Kaiser Jeep Era
In the 60s and 70s, Jeep experimented even more with their vehicle’s design. At the tail end of the 60s, the company launched the Great Escape campaign, which promoted all the activities that a Jeep can handle. They introduced models such as the Wagoneer, Renegade, and Cherokee; however, Jeep still held onto their military heritage with their CJ-7 and the Golden Eagle model offerings. The Kaiser Jeep era would eventually end when American Motors (AMC) purchased Willys Motor Inc. in 1970.
The First Jeep Wrangler
The CJ series, which catered to farmers in the past, finally came to an end in the 80s—this would be the start of the Jeep Wrangler era. While Wranglers are well-known for their off-roading abilities, this was not the case with the original model, the YJ. This model was a more civilized vehicle made with on-roading in mind. Considered the first Wrangler, the YJ featured square lights and had similar features to the Cherokee. In 1987, Jeep moved once again to another corporation, when Chrysler purchased AMC, where the brand currently remains.
The New and Improved Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler YJ model was in production until 1996. Two years later, Willy’s created a new model called the TJ. This new and improved Wrangler was Jeep’s biggest update since the Quad became the MB due to the brand’s engineers redesigning 80 percent of the parts.
The Modern Wrangler
TJ production ended in the mid-2000s, partially due to the creation of the Rubicon in 2003. The Rubicon model, named after the trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, was Jeep’s most capable off-roading vehicle design yet. As the 2000s continued, consumers saw an explosion of new Jeep models as the company continued to improve the Wrangler. They took the model to new heights with the Wrangler JK and JL. Today, there are multiple different Wrangler types sold, each with their own unique spin on the iconic vehicle.
Born of the battlefield, it’s no surprise why the Jeep Wrangler is still one of the most popular cars on the road today. This tough but equally fun vehicle fought the odds, which is why the Jeep Wrangler has such a vast history.
Today’s modern Jeep Wranglers are more versatile than ever before thanks to customization and upgrade offerings. Consumers can make this vehicle their own by adding on Jeep Wrangler body armor or attaching auxiliary lights to the top. If you own this timeless car and are looking to give it a personalized touch, check out AM Off-Road’s extensive product line of Jeep Wrangler parts and accessories.