TOLEDO, Ohio – It has been said that the sport utility vehicles of today can trace their roots to the Jeep military vehicle that was first made for use during World War II. Here are some facts about the Jeep and its storied history:
WAR YEARS: The Army needed an all-terrain vehicle for reconnaissance and command duties to take the place of motorcycles and sidecars that had been used in battle. American Bantam Car Co. actually made the first version, but it couldn’t meet the military’s mass-production needs. Both Ford Motor Co. and Willys-Overland Motors, based in Toledo, Ohio, took over, first making the vehicles in 1941. They churned out a combined 650,000 during the war years.
JEEP NAME: Where the Jeep name comes from is the source of endless debate and speculation. Some think it’s from a term soldiers used to describe new vehicles, or from the military abbreviation “GP,” for General Purpose. Others speculate it came from the character “Eugene the Jeep” in the Popeye comic strip.
CIVILIAN JEEPS: Willys-Overland began making a version of Jeep for the public near the end of World War II. Named the CJ (for Civilian Jeep), the early models retained the look of what soldiers drove on the battlefields. But it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that Willys-Overland won the trademark for the name. The CJ stayed in production until the late 1980s, when it was replaced by the Wrangler.
OWNERSHIP CHANGES: Willys-Overland, Kaiser Motors and American Motors Corp. all owned the Jeep brand until Chrysler took control in 1987. Now Jeep is under the control of the newly combined Chrysler and Fiat Automobiles. CEO Sergio Marchionne said earlier this year that one of his goals is to quickly turn Jeep into an international brand.