Not many automotive manufacturers have a history as long or as notable as Jeep’s. The first Willys-Overland rolled off the production line in the beginning of 1941 after the U.S. military turned to the auto industry for a light, tough, off-road capable vehicle to aid the Allies in World War II. Since that first offering, Jeep has endeavored to keep that trait of “go anywhere” inherent in every SUV the company builds. As the company prepares for the all-new Wrangler, which is rumored to include one of the largest departures in design in the model’s history, Jeep put together a list, which we’ve put our own twist to, of the most fundamental vehicles to the brand’s success.
The Willys-Overland MA/MB is Jeep’s genesis, but thankfully without an eight-minute-long keyboard solo. At the U.S.’s entrance into World War II, the federal government tapped the automotive sector to build a vehicle that would be light enough to be dropped out of airplanes, but capable and rugged enough to tackle the toughest of terrain in the European theater. In the span of just a single year the Willys-Overland was ready for combat. A few years later, the Jeep returned to the U.S. and the civilian market with the CJ-2A.
The CJ designation stands for “Civilian Jeep,” and represents a milestone that’s still felt to this day in the entirety of the Wrangler lineup. The CJ-2A took the rough military-spec Willys-Overland and it introduced the sport utility vehicle to consumers. Before this, trucks were for work alone, the CJ-2A allowed consumers to venture further and use their rugged vehicles not only for work, but for pleasure as well. It used a 2.2-liter inline-four-cylinder engine and 214,760 units were produced from 1945 up until 1949. Without the CJ-2A, much of what we consider Jeep heritage wouldn’t have been possible. Things like the Easter Jeep Safari wouldn’t be around.
Seeing demand rise for a larger and enclosed SUV, Jeep built the Willys Wagon, a seven-seat fully-enclosed SUV that would become the blueprint for every other large SUV for the next eight decades. The Willys wagon was powered by the same 2.2-liter inline-four cylinder engine that came in the CJ-2A and was penned by Brooks Stevens, a leading designer who also worked for Harley-Davidson and was the man behind the design of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Even more impressive, the Willys Wagon was built for a staggering 35 years as it continued to be built in Brazil until 1981, thus making it one of the most successful designs ever conceived. That is, until the Cherokee.
1974 saw the first Cherokee branded Jeep SUV, and since then has seen five successive and successful generations of one of America’s most beloved automotive platforms. The Cherokee’s introduction solidified the SUV market in this country, even though it started as just a two-door SUV, much like Ford’s Bronco. Soon demand for a four-door saw the Cherokee’s size increase and with that, what we know as our modern Cherokee was born. Recently, the Cherokee saw a complete redesign that left many aghast by the styled exterior. However, since its introduction, Jeep has seen the Cherokee’s sales increase year over year, proving that the Cherokee is a much-beloved part of the brand’s success.
“For 75 years, Jeep brand vehicles have inspired man to dream and to dare. To go farther, live larger and explore every corner of this amazing world,” stated Mike Manley, Jeep’s CEO when describing the history and what the future holds for the brand when Jeep celebrated its 75th anniversary.
“Our vehicles have been, and always will be, vehicles for dreamers and doers-they forge an extraordinary, uncommon bond with the drivers who choose to get behind the wheel.”