Who doesn’t love popping the top off their Jeep Wrangler on a nice day and heading out to nature and getting off the beaten path? The modern day Wrangler is a brilliant blend of rugged off-roading capabilities and smooth city use, with customization options that don’t come on your standard sedan or SUV. After all, how many other vehicles allow you to remove the roof and the doors (intentionally)? Easy Jeep hardtop removal and all those other well loved Jeep Wrangler features didn’t just rise up out of nowhere. Those features come part and parcel with the Jeep’s rich history, starting with the support it provided to our troops during World War II.
During The War
The name Jeep actually started as a slang term for both the Willys, the light military 4X4 vehicle used during World War II, and for new recruits; the name itself originated with Eugene the Jeep, a magical, dog-like character from the Popeye comic strips. The Jeep, as it was affectionately nicknamed, was a hardy vehicle that was developed specifically for the war efforts. There was a need for a vehicle that could handle a wide range of different terrain since there was no guarantee that roads would be in good condition, if there were roads at all. To remedy the need, the U.S. Army challenged automotive manufacturers to produce a working prototype within 49 days.
The American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland developed the first prototype, which they named the Bantam Reconnaissance Car. It was later modified and manufactured by both Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Company. Characteristics like a high clearance and tires with large, knobby tread would be vital in allowing the vehicle to maneuver over rough terrain, and a powerful enough engine paired with four-wheel drive capabilities would give the Willys the torque it needed to actually get over most obstacles. In those four characteristics alone, it’s pretty easy to see where the modern day Wrangler gets a lot of its best features.
Transitioning To Civilian Life
During the course of American involvement in the war, around 640,000 Jeeps were manufactured between the Willys-Overland Company and Ford Motor Company production lines. Once the war was over, and personnel and equipment headed for home, the Jeep didn’t just dwindle out of production. Willys-Overland shifted their focus toward making their design applicable for civilian uses like farming, and the CJ-series (Civilian Jeep) was born. While they made vehicles for commercial use, Willys-Overland also worked to create a non-commercial version of their popular vehicles for anyone who wanted to bring a Jeep home.
Like the military version, the CJ series were primarily two-door vehicles with larger tires and a higher undercarriage. The CJ-2A is also where the iconic seven slot grille first showed up. The CJ series was, by and large, a doorless and roofless vehicle that corresponded to the military version. As their popularity grew, other models were developed, but the iconic CJ line continued production in some iteration until the late 1980s.
Ultimately, the CJ series went out of production because of fuel economy. By the 80s, consumers were becoming more fuel conscious, and the CJs were not what would be considered fuel-efficient then, let alone by today’s standards. However, just because they went out of production, that did not diminish the popularity; the design just needed some tweaking to make them more consumer-friendly. The Wrangler carried over a lot of the best features of the CJ series, especially those related to the four-wheel drive and off-roading capabilities. At the same time, changes were made to make the vehicle more friendly for city-driving.
Since the inception of the Wrangler, a few traits have remained as close as possible to the original WWII-era Jeeps. While the Wrangler comes with doors and a roof, they are removable and the resulting silhouette is impressively reminiscent of the original iteration. That convertibility is one of the big reasons the Wrangler has remained just as well loved as previous versions.
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