Early Army Jeeps and the M151
Jeep: Funny name serious vehicle.
The origins and rise of the Jeep from its early days as a military vehicle to today’s use as a major brand of SUV follow a path through history making events in the twentieth century. Today, Jeeps have a wide fan base with people from a variety of backgrounds. What is the appeal of the Jeep? How did it become a car of choice for soccer moms in 2000 from its beginnings as an Army transport vehicle in World War II?
Birth of the Jeep: World War II
The United States Army needed a vehicle for transporting their personnel. Certain parameters in durability in a variety of climates and terrains had to be followed. In order to fill the contract for the lowest cost, the military sought bids from three major automotive companies: American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company, and Willys-Overland.
The first design accepted by the Army was the “Old Number One” 1940 pilot model designed by the American Bantam Car Company. Sixty-nine more vehicles were built by American Bantam and were named the Mark II’s. The Mark II’s did not quite fit into the torque requirements for the engine, and the Army was loathe to offer the contract to such a small company as American Bantam. This decision to turn down the Mark II’s resulted in the two other competitors for the Army contract to have second tries.
The lowest bidding Willys-Overland won the contract, but like many vehicle makers at the time, it was a small company with a single plant. Fearing sabotage and plant shutdowns, the Army asked the much larger Ford Motor Company to build the Jeeps. These were designated by Ford as GPW: G for government, P in reference to the 80 inch wheelbase, and W for using the Willys-Overland car design.
After the War: Rise of the Civilian Jeeps
During World War II, both Ford and Willys continued to build the Jeeps each producing over 300,000 units for the Army, but toward the end of the war, Willys began to manufacture a civilian model, the CJ-2 also known as the Agrijeep. While there were just over two dozen Agrijeeps made, it marked the beginning of a new era for the vehicle. Following on the heels of Willys’ Agrijeep were the CJ-2A’s. A production number of more than 200,000 was turned out and released to the public in the late 1940s following the war. Willys-Overland’s CJ civilian series would remain in production through the 1980s. When a major competitor arose in the marketplace.
American Motor Company introduced the Jeep Wrangler YJ in 1986. Over its ten year production run, over 600,000 Jeep Wranglers were built. These vehicles changed the design of the CJs by being lower to the ground and having a wider frame. Initial reaction from Jeep fans was luke-warm at best, but soon, the Jeep Wrangler won over a large following which continues to this day.
In 1987, American Motor Company was bought out by Chrysler and with it took over the construction of the Jeep Wrangler. DaimerChrysler continued for twenty years to build the Jeeps until it sold its Jeep division in 2007 to a private owner which runs the Chrysler-Holdings LLC.
Jeeps in the Future
With its wide popularity, it is unlikely that the production of the all Jeeps and the most popular model, Jeep Wrangler, will completely disappear. Fans all over the world join with others in clubs to express their love for these unique and versatile vehicles, leading to the phrase, “It’s a Jeep thing; you wouldn’t understand.”
R. Harris has owned a Jeep since he was 16 and loves writing about his passion at Army Jeeps for Sale.