Hats off to the Jeep

Willys Jeep
Jeep Renegade, in mud
Jeep in Rome

ONE of the world's most capable 4x4s, the Jeep celebrated its 75 anniversary this month as the Champagne corks were popping at the Geneva Motor Show.

The event brought back memories of the original which was brought about via a US Army requirement for a lightweight rugged transport.

There was no one manufacturer at the time that could tick all the boxes, which was hardly surprising because the military wanted a prototype within 49 days.

The Bantam company, which made the little car that inspired Disney's Donald Duck's set of wheels was the only company that could get a vehicle ready in such a short space of time.

The problem was that Bantam had very limited production capability and in addition, the Army favoured the rugged Willys Go-Devil engine.

The result was the US authorities allowing Willys-Overland and Ford to access the Bantam's construction data.

The military opted for the vehicle from Willys-Overland design which was based on the Bantam.

The resulting vehicle known as the Willys MB became the definitive Jeep which was a familiar sight on battlefronts throughout the world.

After the war the success story unfolded with the first non-military Jeep named CJ-2A ( CJ stands for Civilian Jeep), which became the first modern off-road vehicle.

The legendary US brand also pioneered the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) segment, one which is particularly appreciated by the public. It was 1946 when the Willys Wagon, a station wagon with a closed body entirely made of steel, rolled off the line.

Since then, Jeep has led the evolution of this category by continuously introducing innovations, like the Jeep Wagoneer, the forerunner of today's Grand Cherokee, which created the "Premium Large SUV" segment in 1963.

Two decades later, in 1984, the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) was launched. With this model, that was the first SUV with a unibody, Jeep introduced a further innovation and created a new category of SUVs. The new chassis allowed for increased rigidity, considerably decreased weight and improved fuel efficiency.

A similar leap forward was made by Jeep in mid-1992 with the first generation of the top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee, which over the years would define the new reference standard in terms of style, quality and performance in the Premium SUV segment. The flagship would be enhanced over the next three generations with new technological features to perfect the car's on- and off-road handling capacities and achieve unprecedented levels of excellence.

A further Jeep milestone was in 2007 with the launch of the Wrangler Unlimited, then the only open air four-door 4x4. The Wrangler - first launched in 1987 and currently in its third generation - is the direct descendant of the original 1941 Willys-Overland MB and the expression of the most authentic Jeep values.

A new chapter in the brand's legendary history was opened in 2014 with the launch of Renegade, the first Jeep to enter the increasingly relevant "small SUV" market.

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