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THE JEEP is 75 years old; its conception, traceable to freelance designer Karl Probst, is a year older. The editors of Automotive News assembled a celebration of these events in their July 11, 2016, issue with the help of Jeep authority Patrick R. Foster.
Here, I offer several tidbits with images from Automotive News and other sources, along with Jeep recollections that come to mind.
JULY 18, 1940. Freelance engineer Karl Probst designs a small four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car to be American Bantam’s entry in a U.S. Army competition. The only other company to deliver a bid is Willys-Overland. American Bantam wins the contract to build a prototype.
September 23, 1940. Probst drives the 300 miles from American Bantam’s Butler, Pennsylvania, headquarters to Camp Holabird, Maryland. He arrives 30 minutes before the contract deadline.
July 16, 1941. Willys-Overland is awarded a contract to build 16,000 copies of a modified Probst design; soon, Ford is contracted to build another 15,000. American Bantam, a much smaller company, is given the contract to build trailers to accompany these vehicles.
August 15, 1945. By war’s end, Willys has built 368,000 Jeeps; Ford, another 277,000.
1946. Willys introduces the 1946 Jeep Station Wagon. Appliance manufacturers are the only suppliers available for body stamping, hence the design’s flat-sided body panels. The Jeep is the first of its type with all-steel construction. Hitherto, station wagons had wood structural members (not just faux trim as with later variants).
1951. Willys builds the M-38-A1, its last high-volume military Jeep. The CJ-5 civilian version follows three years later.
1962. Willys introduces the 1962 Jeep Wagoneer, a Sport Utility Vehicle predating the term.
R&T Editor James T. Crow and photographer Cameron Warren have regular Baja adventures with their personal Wagoneers before such things become chic.
1978. The Wagoneer spiffs up as the first domestic SUV with leather interior.
1983. The Cherokee and XJ Wagoneer are introduced, both innovative with unibody construction. Jeep, part of American Motors since 1969, sets up a joint venture in China, the first American automaker there since before World War II.
R&T gets stern letters from Jeep legal department, reminding that Jeep is a registered trademark of American Motors Corporation. R&T compromises: The magazine refuses to break precedence on its avoidance of “®,” but stops criticizing sports cars for “Jeep-like handling.”
1987. Chrysler buys AMC from Renault. Jeep’s inclusion in the deal is the prime part. Remember the Renault Alliance?
January 7, 1992. The ZJ Grand Cherokee makes its debut at the Detroit auto show. Gaining great publicity at the intro, Chrysler executive Bob Lutz purposely drives one through a Cobo Hall plate glass window.
This is the same era when another car’s press kit is fashioned as a faux cereal box. (The kit is still around here somewhere.)
1998. Chrysler and Daimler AG join to form DaimlerChrysler. “A merger of equals.” Now you tell one.
2007. Daimler sells Chrysler, Jeep included, to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm devoid of automotive knowledge.
2009. Chrysler Group seeks bankruptcy protection. Fiat S.p.A. and the UAW Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association health care fund get U.S. government financing to buy the Group. The good news: Jeep is included. The bad: Goodbye, 789 dealers
2010 – 2014. Don’t ask. Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne calls the Jeep Commander “unfit for human consumption.” Introduction of a new Cherokee is delayed for months because of concerns with quality.
2015. Fiat Chrysler has a real star in Jeep with its more than 1.2 million sales around the world. Production expands in Brazil and appears in China once more.
2016. Jeep is much admired in China, where knockoffs of it are popular. This reminds me of a Russian knockoff of the World War II Jeep I saw at the Sinsheim Auto & Tecknik, in Sinsheim, Germany. In truth, the Jeep is a lot better looking than a GAZ-67B. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016