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The Jeep brand from its origins to FCA: the off-road vehicle becomes an icon

While the world is shocked by the Second World War, in 1941 the US military is looking for a light reconnaissance vehicle capable of replacing the motorcycle; it is from this concrete need that the legend of the Jeep is born.
In 1908 John North Willys bought the Overland Automotivea company that, after four years, is renamed to Willys Overland Motor Company and then it will be the needs of the source rather than the civil ones that will guide the destiny of the brand in the first instance. The United States Army needs a light four-wheel drive vehicle suitable for all types of terrain. Although the contract is aimed at over 130 manufacturers, only three companies have potentially valid projects: American Bantam, Ford and Willys.

The chosen one seems to be the Bantam model but the latter does not appear to be able to satisfy the needs of the American War Department alone and, for this reason, its projects are revealed to the two rival companies, who immediately set up similar models.
Between Ford GP and Willys MB the winner of the contest is the latter thanks to a more powerful engine (60 HP, or almost two and a half times the power of the German Kubelwagen) combined with a light body and its lower production costs. As proof of its dazzling success, around 650,000 units will be produced, a figure that allowed Willys to become the most vehicle built during the Second World Waralso used by the allies, especially the Soviets.

The origin of the name Jeep

Many legends hover over the origin of the name Jeep, iconic label with which everyone knows the vehicle and which nowadays is also often used as a synonym for “off-road”, a genre of which the Willys is undoubtedly the progenitor. From the fact that the name was already in use in military jargon at the time of the First World War, to define recruits or mechanical prototypes, to the link with the character (conceived in 1936) of the famous cartoon Popeye Eugene the Jeep – a magical animal capable, like the vehicle, to reach any place and solve problems – the most probable option falls on the abbreviation “GP” (General Purposeused to identify vehicles intended for multiple uses), simply “Jeep” in the slang of American soldiers.

Used in the most disparate theaters of war, from European forests to North African dunes to the atolls of the Pacific or the Korean peninsula (1950-53), the Willys, from now on “Jeep”, starting from 1946 decided to expand its borders with the CJ model, landing in civil society with the effective slogan “Born for war, ready for peace”.

The CJ – “Civilian Jeep” is indeed a civilian vehicle, as the name suggests, but at this stage it renounces almost any form of comfort, still showing itself intrinsically linked to its military background but with a strong agricultural vocation. It was a short step from cultivated fields to the home garden and in the 1950s the company purchased by Kaiser in 1953 began to produce increasingly “civilized” vehicles such as the Jeep DJ Dispatcher del 1950. However, it will be in the Sixties, under the heading (starting from 1963) Kaiser-Jeep, that the leading brand in the off-road sector will write a new and great page in its history.

The Sixties – for the world a decade of revolution and free spirits – are the ideal time for Jeep to show the world its new concept of car, forerunner of what today we usually define SUV, an acronym that stands for Sport Utility Vehicle. and which identifies machines that have the merit of combining in a single solution the pragmatism of a car with the robustness and audacity typical of an off-road vehicle.

The production of the Jeep Wagoneer

The turning point is 1963, the one, for the story, of the tragic assassination in Dallas of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy while for the automobile of the start of production of the Jeep Wagoneer; one of the first SUVs in history and the progenitor of luxury off-road vehicles, the triumph of the perfect meeting between technical and aesthetic excellence, characterized – the latter – by design elements that will make the history of the brand such as the front grille with slits and the square cut of the wheel arch.

The intent is to meet the needs of the average American family, ready to travel the immense roads that cross the continent without giving up the need for space and comfort. It is no coincidence that the car offered rather rare solutions for the time, such as the height-adjustable steering columnair conditioning, radio and interior lighting.

Produced in the Toledo, Ohio plant, equipped with both rear-wheel drive (eliminated from the offer in 1973) and 4×4, the Wagoneer was born on the SJ platform of Jeep, which remained unchanged even during subsequent changes of hands, until 1991, the year in which it ceased its production, thus becoming one of the cars produced for the longest without changing platform in the history of the automobile.

The car 4.7 meters long and 1.9 wide for 2,048 kilograms of weight, equipped with 6-cylinder inline 3.8-liter or V8 engines stood out for innovative technical solutions such as front suspension with independent wheels and automatic transmission; the first 4×4 vehicle to have it supplied.
From the point of view of style, Wagoneer underwent several restylings with the addition – in 1971 – of wooden details that became its distinctive feature.
In those months of ’63 the Gladiator pickup also sees the light – still today the most famous of the pickups baked by the Jeep family since 1947 – and the vehicle with which the Wagoneer shared its basic architecture, the front and the cockpit.

Jeep nelle mani AMC

The Kaiser-Jeep, in economic crisis, was then bought by AMC (American Motors Corporation) in 1970. The new owners improve the range by reducing production costs, increasing the comfort on asphalt of the 4 × 4 “yankee” and making the debut of the first automatic permanent all-wheel drive system, the Quadra-Trac. In 1974 it was time to churn out another iconic vehicle: the Jeep Cherokee SJ, a sporty and powerful vehicle characterized by all-wheel drive and wild beauty. A model with almost fifty years of history and over four million units sold all over the world.

Its name derives from the Native Indian people of the Great Smoky Mountains. The indigenous word “Cia-la-ki” literally means “those who live in the mountains” and the Jeep Cherokeebefore being an SUV, it is to all intents and purposes an off-road vehicle capable of navigating rough terrain, such as mountainous ones, thanks to its compact size and low gears.

The first generation of the Jeep Cherokee dates back to 1974 and was born as a model aimed at young people, based on the chassis of the more luxurious Wagoneer but equipped with a body with only two side doors (the first with four doors arrives in 1977), a rather original solution. considering the generous length of 4.74 meters.

Inside, however, there is room for six passengers, given that instead of the front seats there is a large sofa. The look is massive and muscular, thanks to the flat roof and bonnet, the large front grille with many vertical slits and the smooth sides, there are a 4.2 6-cylinder petrol and a 5.9-liter V8.

La Jeep Cherokee in Italia

The Jeep Cherokee arrives in Italy only with the second generation, when the 80s are now struck (it’s 1983). More compact external dimensions (and more suitable for the European market) than the ancestor and an iconic design characterized by angular and elegant lines make it very likely the most aesthetically successful version of the 4 × 4 “yankee”.

The XJ version is very different from the first, shorter than half a meter and subjected to a robust slimming cure and a substantial restyling. For what experts consider it the first example of a midsize SUV (here you will find one brief history of SUVs), Jeep invested something like 250 million dollars. The result was a small masterpiece that consistently remained at the top of the compact SUV sales charts for 17 years, carving out a space in the history of four wheels. In Europe the Cherokee landed with a Renault engine (an 88 HP 2.1-liter turbo diesel) since in the meantime – in 1979 – the French company had taken over the American AMC which owned the Jeep brand.

In the following years, between the Grand Wagoneer (1984) – the highest standard of luxury SUVs with its wooden side panels, leather interior and climate control – and the Grand Cherokee (1993), there is still room for another iconic creation: the Jeep Wrangler. Introduced in 1986 to replace the Civilian Jeep, its first version remained on the market from 1986 to 1997.

Its strong point remains off-road, even if the general quality and attention to comfort grow dramatically, placing it on the market as the perfect response to the growing demand for compact four-wheel drive vehicles by those customers who on the one hand he was still looking for the practicality of the CJ series, on the other hand he also wanted all the “comfort” of sedans.
Despite having an open body similar to that of the CJ, the new Wrangler has few components in common with the famous predecessor and many more parts in cohabitation instead with the Cherokee. The greatest peculiarity, however, is given by its square-shaped headlights, used for the first time on this model and also last, given the numerous criticisms.

The arrival of Chrysler Corporation

On August 5, 1987, about a year after the introduction of the Wrangler, American Motors Corporation is sold to Chrysler Corporation and the famous Jeep brand becomes part of Chrysler – Chrysler’s Jeep / Eagle division which will eventually end up in the FCA group.
The story finally comes to our days with the Jeep which effectively becomes a global brand in 2014 when for the first time one of its models is built outside the US borders and more precisely in Italy, in Melfi.

These are the years of Renegade, another successful vehicle from the stars and stripes house, which has been in the Fiat orbit since 2009. An iconic brand that has achieved such popularity as to indicate with its own name not only its own cars but an entire off-road sector of the automotive industry, all thanks to its extraordinary “heritage” that has its roots in the drama of war. but which was then able to flourish in the years of “Peace & Love”.

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I started to play with tech since middle school. Smart phones, laptops and gadgets are all about my life. Besides, I am also a big fan of Star War. May the force be with you!

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