Origin of the name
There are many explanations of the origin of the word jeep, all of which have proven difficult to verify. The most widely held theory is that the military designation of GP begat the term Jeep and holds that the vehicle bore the designation GP (for Government Purposes or General Purpose), which was phonetically slurred into the word jeep. However, an alternate view launched by R. Lee Ermey, on his television series Mail Call, disputes this, saying that the vehicle was designed for specific duties, and was never referred to as "General Purpose" and it is highly unlikely that the average jeep-driving GI would have been familiar with this designation. The Ford GPW abbreviation actually meant (G for government use, P to designate its 80-inch (2,000 mm) wheelbase and W to indicate its Willys-Overland designed engine).
Many, including Ermey, suggest that soldiers at the time were so impressed with the new vehicles that they informally named it after Eugene the Jeep, a character in the Popeye cartoons created by E. C. Segar. Eugene the Jeep was Popeye's "jungle pet" and was "small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.
Words of the Fighting Forces by Clinton A. Sanders, a dictionary of military slang, published in 1942, in the library at The Pentagon gives this definition:
Jeep: A four-wheel drive vehicle of one-half- to one-and-one-half-ton capacity for reconnaissance or other army duty. A term applied to the bantam-cars, and occasionally to other motor vehicles (U.S.A.) in the Air Corps, the Link Trainer; in the armored forces, the ½-ton command vehicle. Also referred to as "any small plane, helicopter, or gadget."
This definition is supported by the use of the term "jeep carrier" to refer to the Navy's small escort carriers.
Early in 1941, Willys-Overland demonstrated the vehicle's off-road capability by having it drive up the steps of the United States Capitol, driven by Willys test driver Irving "Red" Haussman, who had recently heard soldiers at Fort Holabird calling it a "jeep." When asked by syndicated columnist Katherine Hillyer for the Washington Daily News (or by a bystander, according to another account) what it was called, Irving answered, "It's a jeep."
Katherine Hillyer's article was published nationally on February 20, 1941, and included a picture of the vehicle with the caption:
LAWMAKERS TAKE A RIDE- With Senator Meade, of New York, at the wheel, and Representative Thomas, of New Jersey, sitting beside him, one of the Army's new scout cars, known as "jeeps" or "quads", climbs up the Capitol steps in a demonstration yesterday. Soldiers in the rear seat for gunners were unperturbed.
Although the term was also military slang for vehicles that were untried or untested, this exposure caused all other jeep references to fade, leaving the 4x4 with the name.
The original trademark brand-name application was filed in February 1943 by Willys-Overland. It is also used as a generic term with a lowercase (jeep) for vehicles inspired by the Jeep that are suitable for use on rough terrain.
As the only company that continually produced Jeep vehicles after the war, in June 1950 Willys-Overland was granted the privilege of owning the name "Jeep" as a registered trademark.
The name "Jeep" was also for many years used in Popeye as the odd critter Eugene from the King Features Syndicate television show of the 1960s, and for a 1960s group Jeep, in the same mold as The Merry-Go Round ("Live"), The Strawberry Alarm Clock ("Incense and Peppermint"), who had a flop single that got some airplay on the radio in the US, "Feep Feep".
The origins of the vehicle: the first jeeps
When it became obvious that the United States was eventually going to become involved in the war raging in Europe, the U.S. Army contacted 135 companies asking for working prototypes of a four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car. Only two companies responded to the request, The American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. The Army had set what seemed like an impossible deadline of 49 days to supply a working prototype. Willys asked for more time but were refused. The bankrupt American Bantam Car Company had no engineering staff left on the payroll and brought in Karl Probst, a talented freelance designer from Detroit. After turning down an initial request from Bantam, Probst accepted the job after being asked again by the Army, and initially working without salary, went to work July 17, 1940.
Probst completely laid out plans for the Bantam prototype in two days, and the next day estimated the total cost of the vehicle. On July 22, Bantam's bid was submitted, complete with blueprints. Much of the vehicle had to be assembled from existing off-the-shelf automotive parts, and the custom four-wheel drivetrain components were supplied by Spicer. The hand-built prototype was completed in Butler, Pennsylvania, and driven to Camp Holabird, Maryland, for testing by the Army on 21 September 1940. The vehicle met the Army's criteria, but its engine did not meet the Army's torque requirements.
The Army felt that the Bantam company was too small to supply the number of vehicles it needed, so it supplied the Bantam design to Willys and Ford who were encouraged to make their own changes and modifications. The resulting Ford "Pygmy" and Willys "Quad" prototypes looked very similar to the Bantam BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) prototype and Spicer supplied very similar four-wheel drivetrain components to all three manufacturers.
Fifteen hundred of each of the three models were built and extensively field-tested. Willys-Overland's chief engineer Delmar "Barney" Roos made design changes to meet a revised weight specification (a maximum of 1,275 lb (578 kg) including oil and water). He was thus able to use the powerful but comparatively heavy Willys "Go Devil" engine, and win the initial production contract. The Willys version of the car would become the standardized jeep design, designated the model MB and was built at their plant in Toledo, Ohio. The familiar pressed metal Jeep grille was actually a Ford design feature and incorporated into the final design by the Army.
Since the War Department required a large number of vehicles to be manufactured in a relatively short time, Willys-Overland granted the United States Government a non-exclusive license to allow another company to manufacture vehicles using Willys' specifications. The Army chose Ford as the second supplier, but building Jeeps to the Willys' design. Willys supplied Ford with a complete set of plans and specifications. American Bantam, the creators of the first Jeep, spent the rest of the war building heavy-duty trailers for the Army.
Final production version Jeeps built by Willys-Overland were the Model MB, while those built by Ford were the Model GPW (G = government vehicle, P designated the 80" wheelbase, and W = the Willys engine design). There were subtle differences between the two. The versions produced by Ford had every component (including bolt heads) marked with an "F". Willys also followed the Ford pattern by stamping its name into some body parts, but stopped this in 1942. The cost per vehicle trended upwards as the war continued from the price under the first contract from Willys at US$648.74 (Ford's was $782.59 per unit). Willys-Overland and Ford, under the direction of Charles E. Sorensen (Vice-President of Ford during World War II), produced about 640,000 Jeeps between them, which was about 18% of all the wheeled military vehicles built in the U.S. during the war.
Jeeps were used by every division of the U.S. military and an average of 145 were supplied to every infantry regiment. Jeeps were used for many other purposes including cable laying, saw milling, as firefighting pumpers, field ambulances, tractors and, with suitable wheels, would even run on railway tracks. An amphibious jeep, the model GPA, or "seep" (Sea Jeep) was built for Ford in modest numbers but it could not be considered a huge success—it was neither a good off-road vehicle nor a good boat. As part of the war effort, nearly 30% of all Jeep production was supplied to Great Britain and to the Soviet Red Army during World War II. During the jeep's service in Korea, the name was referred to as "Just Enough Essential Parts" by the troops due to the very basic design.
The Jeep has been widely imitated around the world, including in France by Delahaye and by Hotchkiss et Cie (after 1954, Hotchkiss manufactured Jeeps under license from Willys), and in Japan by Mitsubishi Motors and Toyota. The utilitarian good looks of the original Jeep have been hailed by industrial designers and museum curators alike. The Museum of Modern Art described the Jeep as a masterpiece of functionalist design, and has periodically exhibited the Jeep as part of its collection. Ernie Pyle called the Jeep, along with the Coleman G.I. Pocket Stove, "the two most important pieces of noncombat equipment ever developed." Jeeps became even more famous following the war, as they became available on the surplus market. Some ads claimed to offer "Jeeps still in the factory crate." This legend persisted for decades, despite the fact that Jeeps were never shipped from the factory in crates.
Another legend—true, in this case—rising around the Jeep comes from the Jeepney, a unique type of taxi or bus created in the Philippines. The first Jeepneys were military-surplus MB and GPWs, left behind in the war-ravaged country following World War II and Filipino independence. Jeepneys were built from Jeeps by lengthening and widening the rear "tub" of the vehicle, allowing more passengers to ride. Over the years, Jeepneys have become the most ubiquitous symbol of the modern Philippines, even as they have been decorated in more elaborate and flamboyant styles by their owners.
In the United States military, the jeep has been supplanted by a number of vehicles (e.g. Ford's M151 MUTT) of which the latest is the Humvee.
In 1965, Jeep developed the M715 1.25-ton army truck, a militarized version of the civilian J-series Jeep truck, which served extensively in the Vietnam War. It had heavier full-floating axles and a foldable vertical flat windshield. Today, it serves other countries, and is still being produced by Kia under license.
The CJ ("Civilian Jeep") series began in 1945 with the CJ-2A followed by the CJ-3B in 1953. These early Jeeps are commonly referred to as "flatfenders" because their front fenders were flat across the front, the same as their military precedents, the Willys MB and identical Ford GPW models. The CJ-4 exists only as a 1951 prototype, and is the "missing" link between the flat-fendered CJ-2A and CJ-3B and the round-fendered CJ-5 first introduced in 1955.
The Jeep marque
The marque has gone through many owners, starting with Willys, which produced the first Civilian Jeep (CJ) in 1945 and who were the first granted the trademark in 1950. Willys was sold to Kaiser Motors in 1953, which became Kaiser-Jeep in 1963. American Motors Corporation (AMC) purchased Kaiser's money-losing Jeep operations in 1970. The utility vehicles complemented AMC's passenger car business by sharing components, achieving volume efficiencies, as well as capitalizing on Jeep's international and government markets.
The French automaker Renault began investing in AMC in 1979. However, by 1987, the automobile markets had changed and even Renault itself was experiencing financial troubles. At the same time, Chrysler Corporation wanted to capture the Jeep brand, as well as other assets of AMC. Chrysler bought out AMC in 1987, shortly after the Jeep CJ-7 was replaced with the AMC-designed Jeep Wrangler or YJ. Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler. DaimlerChrysler eventually sold most of their interest in Chrysler to a private equity company in 2007. Chrysler and the Jeep division now operate under the name Chrysler Group LLC.
Jeeps have been built under licence by various manufacturers around the world including Mahindra in India, EBRO in Spain, and several in South America. Mitsubishi built more than 30 different Jeep models in Japan between 1953 and 1998. Most of them were based on the CJ-3B model of the original Willys-Kaiser design.
Toledo, Ohio has been the headquarters of the Jeep marque since its inception, and the city has always been proud of this heritage. Although no longer produced in the same Toledo Complex as the World War II originals, two streets in the vicinity of the old plant are named Willys Parkway and Jeep Parkway.
American Motors set up the first automobile-manufacturing joint venture in the People's Republic of China on January 15, 1984. The result was Beijing Jeep Corporation, Ltd., in partnership with Beijing Automobile Industry Corporation, to produce the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) in Beijing. Manufacture continued after Chrysler's buyout of AMC. This joint venture is now part of DaimlerChrysler and DaimlerChrysler China Invest Corporation. The original 1984 XJ model was updated and called the "Jeep 2500" toward the end of its production that ended after 2005.
A division of Chrysler Group LLC, the most recent successor company to the Jeep brand, now holds trademark status on the name "Jeep" and the distinctive 7-slot front grille design. The original 9-slot grille associated with all World War II jeeps was designed by Ford for their GPW, and because it weighed less than the original "Slat Grille" of Willys (an arrangement of flat bars), was incorporated into the "standardized jeep" design.
The history of the HMMWV (Humvee) has ties with Jeep. In 1971, Jeep's Defense and Government Products Division was turned into AM General, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Motors Corporation, which also owned Jeep. In 1979, while still owned by American Motors, AM General began the first steps toward designing the Humvee. AM General also continued manufacturing the two-wheel-drive DJ, which Jeep created in 1953.
The General Motors Hummer and Chrysler Jeep have been waging battle in U.S. courts over the right to use seven slots in their respective radiator grills. Chrysler Jeep claims it has the exclusive rights to use the seven vertical slits since it is the sole remaining assignee of the various companies since Willys gave their postwar jeeps seven slots instead of Ford's nine-slot design for the Jeep.
Jeep advertising has always emphasized the vehicle's off-road capabilities. Today, the Wrangler is one of the few remaining four-wheel-drive vehicles with solid front and rear axles. These axles are known for their durability and strength. Most Wranglers come with a Dana 35 rear differential and a Dana 30 front differential (a dana 44 front and rear geared to 4:10 in the case of the Rubicon, also with lockers). The upgraded Rubicon model of the JK Wrangler is equipped with electronically activated locking differentials, Dana 44 axles front and rear with 4.10 gears, a 4:1 transfer case, electronic sway bar disconnect and heavy duty suspension.
Another benefit of solid axle vehicles is they tend to be easier and cheaper to "lift" with aftermarket suspension systems. This increases the distance between the axle and chassis of the vehicle. By increasing this distance, larger tires can be installed, which will increase the ground clearance, allowing it to traverse even larger and more difficult obstacles. In addition to higher ground clearance, many owners aim to increase suspension articulation or "flex" to give their Jeeps greatly improved off-road capabilities. Good suspension articulation keeps all four wheels in contact with the ground and maintains traction.
Jeep Wrangler off-roading
Useful features of the smaller Jeeps are their short wheelbases, narrow frames, and ample approach, breakover, and departure angles, allowing them to fit into places where full-size four-wheel drives have difficulty.