History of the Jeep Wrangler

History of the Jeep Wrangler

Brought to you by Rochester Hills Dodge Chrysler Jeep

For over 75 years, Jeep has been linked to adventure, authenticity, passion, and freedom. Born in the heat of battle, Jeep stands for more than a brand; it's a badge of honor with a Go Anywhere. Do Anything way of life. The Jeep Wrangler, the iconic rock crawler, returns for the 2020 model year, backed by a long history of rugged capability. We're breaking down the Wrangler's history to find out just what makes this off-road champion so iconic.

The First Jeep Model

The Wrangler began its story at the height of World War II in 1940 when the United States military asked 135 automakers to submit proposals to design and build a vehicle. The goal was to develop a ¼ ton, light reconnaissance vehicle, tailored to the Army's needs and specifications. Only three companies responded, including Willys, and soon the template for the "jeep" became known worldwide. The first model was the Willys MA. It featured a steering column gear shift, two circular instrument clusters, a hand brake on the left side, and low body cutouts. To reach the Army's specification of 2,160 pounds, Willys shortened the nuts and bolts, added lighter panels, and other modifications to produce a lighter version. In only 75 days, Willys developed two prototypes to be presented to the military. By July 1941, the Willys-Overland was awarded the contract, and the production of 16,000 revised MB models began. Modifications included a handbrake, rounded door cutouts, single-piece wheels, a steering column-mounted gear shift, and two circular-mounted instrument clusters. Most of the models were sent to the Allies in Russia and England under a Lend-Lease program.

The original Wrangler became the stuff of legends. It seared its way into the hearts of freedom fighters everywhere and became second only to the rifle in terms of importance. One MB was awarded a Purple Heart during the war while its family started a revolution in the motor vehicle industry. The MB was incredibly versatile and could be fitted with machine guns for combat. No matter the task, the MB was widely modified for snow plowing, cable laying, desert patrol, fire-fighting pumpers, tractors, field ambulances, sawmilling, and could even run on railway tracks. Throughout the war, the MB could be equipped with customized field kits, including deep-water fording and other combat needs. Today, only thirty models of the original model are known to exist.

A Civilized and Versatile Hero

After the war, the Willys MB was ready for continued service. The G.I. workhorse was converted into a CJ civilian model to assist farms and agricultural goals. The rugged CJ-2A model was marketed as the All-Around Farm Work-Horse and able to do the job of two draft horses at a speed of four miles per hour, 10 hours a day, without the engine overheating. At the time, there were 5.5 million farmers in the US, but more than 4 million had neither truck nor tractor. The CJ-2A was expected to serve these farmers and more in a thousand different ways. Willys-Overland added a variety of industrial tools and farm implements for use with a belt-driven governor that was controlled from the instrument panel. Soon, Jeep Brand vehicles were the platform for hundreds of applications. By 1949, the Model A completed a job in 10 minutes that would otherwise take over an hour and a half. Willys even released Jeep Trucks that offered two and four-wheel-drive models and marketed to farmers. These trucks were the brand's first attempt to diversify the Jeep with a 118-inch wheelbase and could be fitted with a chassis, pickup, or stake bed. By the late 40s, trucks were available with four-wheel drive, the only of its kind.

For the post-war family, Jeep released the first all-steel station wagon in 1946. The model 463 Station Wagon featured a woodie look with three-tone paintwork and added a no-maintenance, all-steel utility. It was not prone to peeling or squeaks, and it was not inclined to weathering. The fold-down tailgate hatch was brand-new and ahead of its time, creating the tailgate party! This model was also capable of storing 4x8 feet sheets of plywood vertically as well as horizontally, an incredible feat for the time. By 1949, the Willys Wagon added four-wheel drive and became the forerunner of the Grand Cherokee.

In the 1950s, the recreation vehicle began to rise in popularity, and grass-roots enthusiasts helped to launch Jeep Jamborees. During this time, Jeep became the trademark of Willys-Overland and marketed as the world's largest maker of four-wheel-drive autos. The CJV-35/U model was the first production Jeep 4x4 with deep water fording capability and made primarily for the Marine Corps. Later, blackout lamps, the ability to carry tools on the side, and headlight guards were added. During the Korean War, the M38 model served the military and could be fitted as a light troop carrier or field ambulance. M-38A1 models featured a two-piece windshield, a softer ride, a more powerful engine, a longer wheelbase, and a more rounded body. This model would eventually become the CJ-5 and is known as the last real military Jeep vehicle. The CJ-5 was slightly larger and added comfort, versatility, and off-road capability to the civilian lineup, ideal for the public's growing interest in the Go Anywhere attitude.

Throughout the decades, Jeep continued to refine its iconic vehicles for both civilian and military use, focusing on versatility and capability. From commercial vans, farming vehicles, or joyriding off-road champs, the Jeep brand continued to improve and became the most recognizable vehicle in the world. In the Summer of 1986, Jeep launched the first vehicle with the Wrangler name to replace the CJ models. The Wrangler was more comfortable and added several creature comforts. It had an angled grille, the iconic rectangular headlamps, a wider track, and a modern interior, making it a very civilized Jeep. The Wrangler had two available engines and came with either a manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

The Modern Jeep Wrangler

Since its introduction, the Wrangler kept true to its iconic styling and off-road credibility until the third-generation Wrangler added four doors in 2007. Today, the Wrangler is the most capable, most comfortable, and most diverse SUV available and is equally competent on rugged terrain and paved roads. It continues to be the darling of off-road enthusiasts with off-road-focused models and incredible rock-crawling ability. With its iconic style and open-air freedom, the Jeep Wrangler is an unforgettable vehicle, born from war and thriving in the modern world. Want to learn more about this all-American hero? Stop by Rochester Hills and check out the latest Jeep Wrangler models!

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