It has been 75 years since the first ones rolled off the line

Ottawa, ON – The first Jeep I ever saw was at my uncle Ralph’s ranch in southern Alberta back in the 70s.

The vehicle was already old by then, having been purchased as war surplus (one of those legendary deals year about the aftermath of WWII era, where they were available still in the crate, and reasonably priced) and still going strong after 20 years of hard use as a backcountry patroller.

Being a child at the time, I don’t remember much about it except the tip-down windshield and the impressive climbing ability of the beast when Ralph would take us out into the backcountry foothills near Stavely and Nanton.

It could, for example have been one of the original Willys-Overland built vehicles that originally answered the military’s call for a new service vehicle that would over-deliver in the field. The original Jeep that kicked off the whole phenomenon was on hand for FCA’s recent celebratory Jeep 75th Anniversary event.

Indeed, it has been seventy-five years since the first ones rolled off the line (or lines, as the vehicle was made and sourced from a number of automakers, including Ford and American Bantam.

Matt Zambonin/CNW
Matt Zambonin/CNW
Matt Zambonin/CNW

Now, I won’t hammer you down with too much history of the lineup, but a couple of the more interesting landmarks in the evolution are that the first ‘civilian’ models began manufacture immediately after the war, with the original CJ appearing in 1945.

After a few iterations of the CJ platform, the lineup expanded in the 40s and 50s with two pickup trucks, the Willys Wagon (which debuted in ’47 but didn’t get four-wheel drive until 1949).

It wasn’t until 1967 that the Wagoneer came along, and arguably kicked off the era of the SUV for everyday people. The first to offer an automatic transmission with a 4×4 powertrain, this is the one that began to move away from the army-truck image and rebrand Jeep as a potential family car option.

Of course, now that we are living in the utopian future, pretty much any of the Jeep lineup can be considered as a family vehicle; and the company brought its stable of 2016 vehicles in their Special Edition, 75th Anniversary package.

Everything the company makes, from 2016 Renegade and Compass to the Grand Cherokee and Renegade, can be had with the package, which adds new color choices, wheel options and badging and interior trim commemorating three-quarters of a century of offroad prowess.

I spent most of my event time in a Wrangler (in anniversary ‘Jeep Green’ paint job), on road and off. Far as I’m concerned, it is the best of the bunch for sheer rock-crawling, hill descending, mud throwing fun; which we got to do on a spectacular deep woods course not far from Calabogie Motorsport Park in Ontario.

It handled all manner of climbing and water-fording admirably and not because of my superior offroading skills but because of the presence of a dedicated group of hardcore enthusiasts from the Eastern Ontario 4×4 Club ( who were on hand to coach us on the intricacies of operating the vehicles in the forest country of the Ottawa Valley.

Naturally, the club guys were Jeep fans, and owners, and they brought their own prized possessions along, many of them classics in their own right.

One of my favorites was the 1998 TJ owned by club member Nick Dufresne (he’s a second-generation club member, too, his father is one of the original cast of EOTB), fully tricked out in 30” tires, front end stinger barrier and the latest in offroad extras: LED strip light bars which replace the halogen bulb arrays of yesteryear.

The 2016 lineup upholds the original intent of the Jeep brand, as outlined in the demands provided by the military; the steep angle of approach and departure that allows it to tackle the serious grades, the higher ground clearance and towing and hauling abilities remain – although the dimensions have changed considerably in all directions.

Consider: the original, 1940 requirements for this, the vehicle that helped win the Big War (remember when WWII was to be the one that ended them all?) were: a 600 lb load capacity, a gross vehicle weight of 1.300 lbs (!) and a minimum of three bucket seats.

The current, commemorative lineup meets and exceeds all of that, rest assured, but as you might imagine the army surplus discount that Ralph bought his for is also a thing of the past.
The low twenties (for a relatively base, 4×4 Compass) is where you can begin your shopping; but you can push it way, way up – an SRT Grand Cherokee I took out for some track laps at Calabogie came in at almost 80K.

The 75th Anniversary edition Jeeps are at dealerships right now, but act fast before we distract your attention to the 2017 lineup in September, right here in Driveway.

wade [dot] ozeroff [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

One thought on “Jeep’s storied history began on European battlefields

    Davd Randall says:

    Bantam designed the Jeep, not Willy’s or Ford. The American military gave the original Bantam prototype to Willys and Ford to copy. There is plenty of historical proof.

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