Jeep was developed for use during World War II. Due to the speciality of its design, the jeep became the primary light-wheeled transport vehicle of the public after the war.
The World War II was on and the US knew that it was time to intervene. Around 135 establishments in the country got a message - submit the design of a small four-wheel drive vehicle for reconnaissance purpose. However, only two companies responded - Bantam and Willys. Willys' request for additional time was however rejected. Though almost broke, Bantam, with the help of talented freelance Detroit designer Karl Probst, submitted the prototype within five days.
The army had tough specifications for the vehicle. Bantam's design for BRC 40 had complied with all the requirements. But the Army needed a large number of vehicles that too within a short time span. Since Bantam was almost broke, the design work was handed over to Willys and the then top vehicle manufacturer Ford too. This gave birth to two more jeeps - Willys MA and Ford GP.
The army put the vehicles from the three manufacturers into intensive tests and suggested some modifications. Besides, it was agreed that the Go Devil petrol engine from Willys will be used in the jeep by all the three car makers. Since Bantam did not had enough production capacity, the Army mostly got Willys MB and Ford GPW models. All wings of the American defence forces started using the jeeps. By the time the WWII ended, it was estimated that about 6,40,000 jeeps were built.
The jeeps proved their mettle at warfronts across the world. The vehicle with its tough build and less-complex mechanical components soon became the favourite of soldiers. It also won the nick-name go-anywhere vehicle due to its spring-leaf suspension in front and rear, shorter wheelbase, a simple and effective four-wheel drive and a strong engine. After the war, car makers in France and Japan built imitations of the jeep. The Philippines decked up the jeeps left by the army and turned them into Jeepneys to run them as taxis.
Willys had registered 'jeep' as a brand name in 1943 itself. After the war, lots of jeeps entered the market as military surplus. When the demand started picking up, Willys rolled out the CJ (civilian jeep) model in 1954. After the CJ-2A jeep, the CJ-3 came out in 1953, the model that Mahindra first built in India.
Powered by Willys' Hurricane petrol engine, it had both two-wheel and four-wheel variants. The CJ-5 that was launched in early 1960s had several variants. This model was built in Australia, Brazil and several other countries. The CJ-7 was the last jeep to be built with the original jeep DNA.
The Wagon with a longer wheelbase and steel body and forward control small truck FC were offshoots of the jeep. Though belonging to the SUV segment started off by the jeep, the vehicles that carry the brand name today are luxury vehicles high on premium features and an expensive price tag.
The ownership of jeep and the brand name had exchanged several hands. Parent company Willys was bought by Kaiser Motors in 1953. After a decade, the company took the name of Kaiser Jeep. American Motor Company (AMC) bought Kaiser's factory and the jeep brand name in 1970. Since 1979, French car maker Renault had partnership with AMC. But by 1987, financial crisis hit this partnership too, and Chrysler Corporation, which had an eye on jeep for long, took over AMC. In 1998, Daimler-Benz AG of Germany and Chrysler Corporation merged to form DaimlerChrysler. Daimler then called it quits when Chrysler and Fiat came to the scene. In 2014, Chrysler folded into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the jeep brand name became its property. The company is looking at strengthening its presence in India with its jeep vehicles.
Willys MB/Ford GPW
Made exclusively for the US Army, the vehicle was officially known as 1/4 tonne, 4x4 truck.
The Ford GPA was an amphibious version of the World War II Ford GPW jeep. It was called Seep, a shorter version of Sea Jeep.
The steel-body Station Wagon had independent spring-lead front suspension, a first for a Willys product. The two-wheel drive model of the Station Wagon can be considered as the first predecessor of modern-day SUVs.
Also known as the FC (forward control), the mini truck used to be made in India too.
It was natural that when Willys, which is used to making multipurpose vehicles, produced a car it had a crossover design. Built on the platform of the Wagon, the soft-top car had several luxury features.
The first models in the civilian segment. Several variants of these models were made in India and many other countries.
Based on the M38 A1 jeep made by Willys for the US Army. It had the all-new curved body style as against the straightforward raised hood of the CJ-3. It also grew longer and wider a bit. The CJ-5 and its several variants were in production for about three decades. In India, the MM 540 and the Mahindra Thar follow the CJ-5 design. The first Jeep Renegade is a variant of the CJ-5.
The last jeep with the original jeep DNA. The Laredo SUV belongs to the CJ-7 family.
The successor of the Wagon. In production for about 28 years, the SUV had features similar to that of a car. Besides four-wheel drive and a strong engine, it had an automatic transmission, power steering, and an independent front suspension.
The Cherokee XJ was the first Jeep with a ladder-boxed chassis integrated into a single monocoque unit rather than the traditional separate body-on-frame construction. It is known among the top 20 all-time best cars and as the best SUV. All modern vehicles of Jeep are based on the XJ.
Jeep's modern off-road vehicle Wrangler has no relation to early jeeps in neither design nor build. The company, however, claims that the Wrangler reflects core values that are embodied in every jeep's DNA. The Unlimited is one of the variants of the SUV that the company has introduced in India recently.
At present the company produces vehicles such as Renegade, Wrangler Grand Cherokee and Compass Patriot under the Jeep brand. The Jeep was defined as a car that is narrow and low on convenience but high on efficiency. They used to be synonymous with the determination and ingenuity of the Americans. Though modern jeeps are excellent vehicles, they have steered away from this definition.