A Look Into the History of the Most Iconic Jeeps Through the Years


a military jeep wrangler in the desert

Jeep—which has been part of Chrysler since 1987, a division of the Dutch auto manufacturer Stellantis—is one of the world’s most iconic auto manufacturers. From their flagship Wrangler, the famous off-roading vehicle, to the Cherokee, a blend of luxury and performance, Jeeps are impossible to ignore on the road.

Thanks to their storied past and colourful present, Jeep has become more than just a car brand. They have developed a legacy.

As such, many models retain a high resale value even years after initial production. And because Jeeps are so desirable, it’s easy to find components from trusted auto parts shops

That said, let’s take a quick look into Jeep’s story and some of their most iconic models over the years.

When It All Began 

Jeep’s story began in July 1940. The U.S. Military was looking for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” and invited more than 100 manufacturers to bid on production. The spec list was long and extremely detailed, and only three companies answered the call: Willys-Overland, American Bantam Car Manufacturing Company, and Ford Motor Company.

The three companies soon received approval for their prototype vehicles—the Willys Quad, the Bantam BRC, and the Ford GP Pygmy—and were ordered to produce 70 samples each. The U.S. Military took possession of the vehicles in November 1940. Then, in March 1941, another round of contracts was issued. This time, after evaluation, the Army decided on Willys-Overland to be the primary manufacturer.

After subsequent modifications, the Willys Quad became the MA and then the MB before it became the iconic Jeep. After the war, Willys-Overland trademarked the name and made efforts to rebrand it as an off-road utility vehicle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Popular Jeep Models

Since then, the Jeep brand has birthed a wide range of models. Some of them include the following:

Jeep CJ-2A

The CJ-2A is the first civilian Jeep. It was produced in 1945 and lasted for four years. Many of its features, such as a tailgate, side-mounted spare tyres, and an external fuel cap were a departure from its military predecessor. Moreover, CJ-2A features like the T-90A transmission and Spicer 18 transfer case continued to make their appearance in later Jeep vehicles.

Willys Wagon

The Willys Wagon debuted in 1946 and was America’s first all-steel wagon. It featured a three-tone paint job, reminiscent of the “woodies” of the era. What made the Willys Wagon truly iconic, however, was its fold-down tailgate hatch. If you’re fond of tailgate parties, you have this vehicle to thank.

The Jeepster

The Jeepster, which was produced from 1948 to 1951, was the last open-bodied vehicle manufactured by a U.S. company. This model used side curtains for weather protection and was initially fitted with the “Go Devil” engine before being equipped with the six-cylinder “Hurricane.” 

Jeep CJ-3B

The Jeep CJ received a major update in 1953, which gave birth to the CJ-3B. It featured a larger front grille, which housed the Hurricane F-Head four-cylinder engine. More than 155,000 of these were made until 1968.

Jeep CJ-6

The Jeep CJ-6 launched in 1956, featuring heavier axles, bigger brakes, and a wider track. It was the first Jeep to be equipped with a V-6 engine. And in 1973, the CJ-6 began the “tradition” of all CJs being kitted with 304- or 360-cubic-inch V-8 engines built by AMC.

Jeep Wagoneer

In 1963, Jeep introduced what is to be the first modern SUV in the form of the Jeep Wagoneer. It was equipped with an automatic transmission, the first 4WD vehicle to do so. It proved to be a successful move, since the Wagoneer lasted 20 years in production. Fast forward to 2022, Jeep has redefined luxury with their latest model, The Grand Wagoneer.

Jeep Cherokee

Introduced in 1974, the Cherokee was a sporty two-door Jeep first targeted towards a younger and more recreational market. It featured the grille from the Gladiator pickup series, boasted brighter colours, and was marketed as an off-road performance vehicle.

Ten years later, the Jeep Cherokee XJ was introduced as the first Jeep wagon since the Wagoneer was discontinued. With its unibody build, the Cherokee XJ was lighter but more powerful than its predecessors.

Jeep Wrangler YJ

The Jeep Wrangler YJ was the marriage of the CJ’s utility and the comforts of passenger cars. Through its entire production run (1987 to 1996), the Wrangler YJ sold more than 630,000 units, a testament to its popularity.

Jeep Wrangler TJ and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ was a retro-looking vehicle that housed that era’s most modern mechanics. From its four-link coil suspension, to its driver and passenger airbags, this Jeep was all about performance.

In 2003, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon was born. It’s a legend in its own right, equipped with a 4:1 low-range transfer case, 32-inch tyres, heavy-duty suspension, and other off-roading features that haven’t been seen in any Jeep before. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee WK

The Grand Cherokee WK was Jeep’s very own luxury, family-oriented SUV. It featured a 5.7-litre HEMI V-8 engine and plush interiors. It was succeeded by the Jeep Grand Cherokee WK2, the 2011 edition of which received more than 30 motoring awards.

Jeep Wrangler JL

The JL is the latest edition of the Jeep Wrangler, chock-full of the latest technologies and safety features. Introduced in 2017, the JL builds on the Wrangler’s iconic design elements while maintaining its own uniquely handsome looks. 

With such an illustrious story, it’s clear that Jeeps will continue to be a force in the automotive industry for many decades to come. 


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