jeep Willys 1940s Jeep first came about as a U.S. military light reconnaissance vehicle during the advent of WWII in the 1940s. The first Jeeps were the Willys MA/MB versions, and the Jeep name itself possible arose from the slurring of the letters “GP”, the military abbreviation for a “General Purpose” vehicle.

The first decade of Jeep existence between 1945 till 1954 had yielded four variants: the Jeep CJ-2A, Jeepster, CJ-3A and CJ-3B. The first civilian Jeep vehicle, the CJ-2A, was produced in 1945. It came with a tailgate, side-mounted spare tyre, larger headlights, an external fuel cap and many more items that its military counterparts. Several CJ-2A features, such as a 134-cubic-inch I-4 engine, a T-90A transmission, Spicer 18 transfer case and a full-floating Dana 25 front and Dana 23-2 rear axle,were found on numerous Jeep vehicles in the years to follow. The CJ-2A had a lifespan of about four years.

Next in line, the Jeepster, 1948-1951, was the last phaeton-styled, open-bodied vehicle made by a U.S. automaker, using side curtains for weather protection instead of roll-down windows. Originally offered with the “Go-Devil” engine, it was eventually fitted with the 161 cubic-inch six-cylinder “Hurricane” engine, but never offered in a four-wheel drive version.

Introduced in 1948, the CJ-3A was very similar to the previous edition, but featured a one-piece windscreen and a more robust rear axle, and retained the original L-head four-cylinder engine. Then came the Jeep CJ-3B, 1953-1968, which had a taller front grille and hood than its military predecessors in order to accommodate the new Hurricane F-Head four-cylinder engine. The CJ-3B remained in production until 1968 and a total of 155,494 were manufactured in the U.S. In 1953, Willys-Overland was sold to Henry J. Kaiser for $60 million, which brought about several significant changes.

Under the new ownership of Kaiser, there were two significant variants produced: the Jeep CJ-5 and C3-6. The C3-5, based on the Korean war M-38A1, came about in 1955 and had a rounded front-fender design. It was slightly larger than the CJ-3B, as it featured an increased wheelbase and overall length. Improvements in engines, axles, transmissions and seating comfort made the CJ-5 an ideal vehicle for the public’s growing interest in off-road vehicles. The CJ-5 featured softer styling lines, rounded body contours and an 81-inch wheelbase. In total, more than 600,000 CJ-5s were produced over 30 years.

The Jeep CJ-6, circa between 1956-1975, took up a long-wheelbase, which was 20 inches longer than the CJ-5. Apart from a longer wheelbase, the CJ-6 was almost identical to the CJ-5, but with more cargo space. Jeep also introduced a forward-control cab-over-engine variation to the CJ line in 1956. AMC (American Motors Corporation) equipped both the CJ-5 and CJ-6 with heavier axles, bigger brakes and a wider track. In 1965, a new “Dauntless” V-6 engine was introduced as an option on both the 81-inch wheelbase CJ-5 and 101-inch wheelbase CJ-6. The 155-horsepower engine almost doubled the horsepower of the standard four-cylinder engine. It was the first time a Jeep CJ could be equipped with a V-6. Beginning in 1973, all Jeep CJs came equipped with AMC-built 304- or 360-cubic-inch V-8 engines.

Other significant Jeep variants from the ’40 – ’80 eras included the Jeep Pickup (1947-1965), Willys Wagon (1946-1965), FC 150/170 Pickup (1957-1965), Wagoneer (1963-1983), Gladiator/J-Series Pickup (1963-1987) and Commando (1967-1973).

Things began to consolidate at Jeep when the Cherokee rolled around in 1974. The two-door Cherokee was aimed at a younger demographic than the Wagoneer and was built for the growing recreational vehicle market. It featured a Gladiator grill and had several tape stripe and bright color combinations. It was marketed as an off-road vehicle. The Jeep CJ-7, which had a major revision after nearly 20 years, promptly followed in 1976.

In the 80s, Jeep came up with the CJ-8 Scrambler, which closely resembled the CJ-7, but had a longer wheelbase. Known internationally as the CJ-8, it was available in either hard- or soft-top versions. Less than 30,000 Scramblers were built, though they are extremely popular among collectors today. The Grand Wagoneer, which arrived in 1984 and lasted until 1991, was the beginning of Jeep’s entry into the luxury SUV segment. The large Jeep SUV came with modern amenities and much improved engine capacity. Another Jeep variant that had a rather short lifespan was the Comanche, which ran from 1986 till 1992.

The next few variants are probably the most recognized variants in Jeep’s huge repertoire: the Jeep Cherokee, Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. The Jeep Cherokee had a lifespan between 1984 – 2001 and since expanded to its current Trailhawk and Longitude versions for modern times.

The iconic Jeep Wrangler first came out in 1987 and immediately gained a huge cult following in the United States and the world. Spawned from the CJ-7, the first-edition Wrangler had few common parts with its famous predecessor. Mechanically, the Wrangler had more in common with the Cherokee than the CJ-7. The Wrangler YJ had square headlights, which was a first (and last) for this type of Jeep. The same year the Wrangler rolled out, AMC was sold to the Chrysler Corporation and the popular Jeep brand became a part of Chrysler’s Jeep/Eagle Division. In its second-generation between 1997 – 2006, the Wrangler took up nearly 80 percent of newly designed parts, as well as new interior and safety features. The look, however, retained the familiar round headlights, a fold-down windshield, removable doors, soft top or removable hard top and a sport bar. In 2003, the Wrangler Rubicon, hailed as the best-equipped Jeep ever, came with push-button-actuated locking front and rear Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 low-range transfer case, 32-inch tyres and many more options not available on any production Jeep.

By 2004, the Wrangler had an Unlimited version which featured a longer wheelbase, 13 inches more cargo room and 2 inches more legroom on the second row. The Wrangler and the Unlimited version had a comprehensive make over, from 2007. Featuring a one-of-a-kind, four-door open-air design, the Wrangler expanded the Jeep experience to new dimensions. With room for five adult passengers, a Wrangler first, and the most cargo space ever offered in a Wrangler, the Unlimited version combines class-leading off-road capability with everyday practicality. Today’s Wrangler versions are lean, rugged and simple, achieving exemplary off-road capability while delivering a true open-air driving experience.

Completing the Jeep saga in modern times is none other than the Grand Cherokee. First introduced in 1993 at the NAIAS (North American International Auto Show), the Grand Cherokee became the first SUV equipped with a driver’s side air bags and set new standards for on-road ride, handling and comfort. Between 2005 until 2010, the Grand Cherokee received a make over, improved ride and handling capabilities, up-scaled interior amenities and a powerful 5.7-liter HEMI V8 powerplant. By 2011, the Grand Cherokee had amassed more than 4 million units the world over, thanks to the luxury SUV’s premium on-road performance, undeniable craftsmanship, improved fuel economy, a world-class interior, a sleek new exterior design and a host of safety and technology features. The Jeep Grand Cherokee also garnered quite a number of awards in its present lifespan.

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