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Selected Jeep history

"The Jeep brand continues to be the only American brand dedicated solely to the sport-utility market. Customers expect every Jeep to set the standard for off-road capability." - Jeff Bell, VP - Jeep, 2005

Motor vehicle Wheel Mode of transport Vehicle Land vehicle

History of the military Jeep
The first Army Jeeps: MA and MB
Jeeps at War (children's book)

The original military Jeep was the result of the combined efforts of Bantam and Willys, based largely on original work by Austin in the UK.

The first civilian Jeep, CJ2A, was introduced in 1945 by Willys. Over the years, they would be known for their toughness in difficult situations, and for their utility in their primary use: as work vehicles. It would take decades for the Jeep to be known largely as a recreational vehicle, during which time Jeep would pass from Willys to AMC; and AMC would be owned first by Renault, then by Chrysler, which itself would be swallowed up by Daimler-Benz for nine long, hard years.

Jeep has always been successful; its corporate owners usually have not stayed successful, though, which is "the Jeep curse."

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The CJ2A is still remembered by Chrysler. John Sgalia, Director of Jeep Design (that's styling and "human factors" engineering) praised the CJ2a: "There's no BS to it - it's all functional. This is what we want to keep." Sgalia said the Jeep image is "all kind of based on the CJ-2a." Styling is not only the seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel openings, but must remain approachable, functional, and friendly - more the World War II liberator image (to borrow Sgalia's analogy) than the conquering imperial look of the Hummers and intimidation of the Expedition.

The 1950 Willys-Overland Jeepster was an attempt to broaden Jeep's appeal; it failed in sales but Jeepsters are still highly regarded and sought after. Jeepsters were only sold through 1952; the name was revived in 1966 but it was merely a CJ model.

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The CJ-2a was succeeded by the CJ-3A, CJ5, and CJ6. Sgalia described the CJ5, which replaced the CJ2a, as "truly the most capable in the world at its time." The CJ5 lasted from 1953 to 1987, a 24-year run matched or beaten by very few autos.

1959-61 Jeep lineup in detail, with photos | 1965 Jeeps in detail, with photos and review

In 1963, Jeeps were the first automobiles to offer four-wheel drive with an automatic transmission; the Wagoneer also offered an independent front suspension with four wheel drive, and the first four-door with integrated (not tacked-on) four wheel drive. Two years later, Jeep became the first sport-utility brand to offer a V-8 engine. The 1973 Grand Wagoneer, arguably the first luxury SUV, would later offer the first completely automatic full-time four-wheel drive system with a controlled-slip differential.

1975-76 Jeep lineup in detail, with photos

In 1984, Jeep created a new segment with the introduction of the Jeep Cherokee, the first Unibody four-door compact SUV and a true car-like alternative. [Story of the Cherokee | Car review of the Cherokee]

John Sgalia said that the Cherokee was the first American unit-body with integrated four wheel drive, and, as Sgalia put it, "agile, durable, athletic - the very first of the sport-utility craze." The Cherokee lasted 18 years, and could have remained in production longer; demand did not slacken much when either the Grand Cherokee or the Liberty was added. Sgalia confirmed that the Grand Cherokee was originally designed as a second-generation Cherokee, but the continued popularity of the Cherokee led them to add more luxury - demanded by some users - and move the now-Grand Cherokee upscale, leaving the original Cherokee to feel more nimble and close to the road. (Baxter wrote: "The Lada Niva (aka VAZ 2121) unibody SUV with full-time 4x4 was first built in 1977. The Subaru BRAT was also unibody from 1978.")
During the mid 1980s, the JJ concept came close to production, and would have been the only Jeep to be based on a front wheel drive car design - the K-car! It reportedly had good off-road capability.

In addition to a number of new technologies, the 1992 Jeep Grand Cherokee was the first sport-utility vehicle to be equipped with a driver's side-air bag. One obstacle to the Grand Cherokee's sales to luxury-car buyers was its relatively low price! It lost some sales to the lower-quality and less-pleasant Land Rover and Hummer because of this.

As for the Wrangler, in mid-1993, an optional Add-A-Trunk was made available; this was a steel storage container that mounted behind the rear seat, bolted to the rear wheel houses. It had a hinged lid which was flush with the tops of the rear wheelhouses and had a carpeted cover; with the gate open, the trunk lid could be held open with a prop rod.

An easy-operating soft top was made optional on Wrangler during the 1994 model year; it came with the hardtop's full doors rather than the standard soft top's half doors. The top included over-center tension bars to make folding and raising one person operation. A boot system covered the folded top sides when not in use; rear side curtains and the rear window were attached in the same manner as the standard soft top. Regardless of top, Wranglers in 1994 got a tail-mounted extra brake light, posted to the right height by a gooseneck bracket.

For 1994, Grand Cherokee got an Up-Country suspension option, including new Goodyear Wrangler GS-A tires with asymmetrical tread to improve on-road steering and handling without sacrificing off-road traction. On the road they had better on-center steering response, improved handling control and less tread noise than the previous off-road tires. A lock was added to the glove compartment; removable head restraints became standard (so the seats could fold); an integrated child seat became optional for children 20-60 pounds, dramatically increasing safety of children of this age; and a new Infinity Gold system with eight speakers was added to the options list.

Also for 1994, Cherokee rear speakers were moved from the liftgate to the roof for better sound quality (midyear). A rear dual speaker option was added for the standard radio.

Selected Grand Cherokee Engines

4.0 I-6 (1998)1521185220
4.0 I-6 (2004)1621195230
3.7 V-6 (2005)1621210235
5.2 (1998)1418220300
4.7 (2004)1520235295
4.7 (2008) 290 (?) 305 (?)
5.9 (1998)1316*245335
4.7 H.O. (2004)1520*265330
5.7 (2005)1421*325370
* Midgrade or premium recommended or required

The 1998 Grand Cherokee's high-output 5.9-liter V-8-equipped Limited model boasted 245 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds, giving it the distinction as the industry's fastest production sport-utility vehicle - with four wheel drive. The 5.9 remained in production for one year, presumably to draw attention to the aging Jeep's oncoming replacement.

The redesigned 1999 Grand Cherokee also featured a new concept in four-wheel-drive systems: a new Quadra-Drive II® transfer case that incorporated a progressive, speed-sensing torque transfer coupling. The system marked the first industry use of Vari-Lok axles that have progressive, speed-sensing torque transfer differentials, in both front and rear axles. Combining Quadra-Trac II and Vari-Lok yielded the revolutionary Quadra-Drive system which, without any driver involvement, keeps the vehicle moving even if only one wheel has minimal traction. Once the Grand Cherokee had ramped up production and had time for sales to start slowing, Chrysler's corporate 4.7 liter engine was given some new technologies to boost its power. The 4.7 High Output engine would have 20 more horsepower than the 5.9, at the cost of 5 pound-feet of torque. Underneath the numbers was an advanced air intake system which would have benefitted the 5.9 as well, but the 4.7 was lighter and cheaper to make. The High Output version was sold from 2002 through 2004.

History of the military Jeep
The first Army Jeeps: MA and MB
Jeeps at War (children's book)

The 2005 Grand Cherokee brought newer, electronically controlled differentials for better off-road capabilities, as well as more powerful base and optional engines. The AMC-era 4.0 straight-six was replaced by the slightly more powerful corporate 3.7, with no change in economy; the 4.7 V8 saw lower numbers but a more comfortable power curve, with slightly lower mileage; and the high-output 4.7 was replaced by the 5.7 "Hemi" engine, with the same gas mileage but a substantial increase in horsepower and torque. More exciting for Jeep enthusiasts was no doubt the more advanced off-road infrastructure; while the results aren't in yet, Chrysler reps seemed certain that the 2005 model will perform better off-road. Jeep fans, though, are waiting for an unheard-of move: the Jeep Rescue, a Ram-based Jeep that pulls out all the stops for ultimate off-roadability, promising to beat the $100,000 Hummer H1 on the trails and simply demolish it in quality and value.

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