Where the term “Jeep” came from is a debatable topic. However, the story most agreed upon goes back to World War II days. The term “jeep” was used as slang to refer to an airplane, a tractor used for hauling heavy equipment, and an auto gyro (a type of rotorcraft supported in flight by lift provided by a rotor). When the first models of the Jeep came to a US Army Post at Camp Holabird for tests, the vehicle did not have a name yet. Therefore the soldiers on the test project called it a jeep. Civilian engineers and test drivers who were based at the camp during this time were not aware of the military slang term, so other nicknames were used for the vehicle. The most common of these were: Eugene the Jeep, Peep and Pygmy, and Blitz-Buggy. It was, however, Jeep that stuck in people’s minds better than any other name.
The other story circulating about the naming of the Jeep states that the vehicle was known as a General Purpose vehicle. The name “General Purpose” was shortened to GP, which was in turn shortened to Jeep. Take your pick about which story’s true! One thing’s for certain: most people walking into the car dealers ask to look at Jeeps rather than at “Willys”.
The first jeep prototype was built for the Department of the Army by American Bantam in Butler, Pennsylvania, followed by two other competing prototypes produced by Ford and Willys-Overland. The American Bantam Car Company did end up building and designing the vehicle that first met the Army’s criteria, but its engine did not meet the Army’s torque requirements. Also, the Army felt that the company was too small to supply the number needed, so it allowed Willys and Ford to make second attempts on their designs.
From each of the companies, fifteen hundred of each model were extensively field tested. During the bidding process for 16,000 “jeeps”, Willys-Overland offered the cheapest bid and hence won the initial contract. Willys thus built the standardized jeep at their plant in Toledo, Ohio.
The Willys jeep was a vehicle that was extensively copied around the world for various purposes (hence the name General Purpose). There were several versions created, including a railway jeep and an amphibious jeep. As part of the war effort, Jeeps were also supplied to the Soviet Red Army during World War II.
In the United States military, the jeep has been replaced by a number of vehicles of which the latest is the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or “Humvee”). The Jeep marque has gone through many owners since the birth in 1941 of the Willys jeep. Willys was sold to Kaiser in 1953, which became Kaiser-Jeep in 1963. American Motors bought Kaiser’s down-turning Jeep operations in 1970. The utility vehicles complemented the American Motors passenger car business by sharing engineering components. Renault began investing in American Motors in 1979. However, by 1987, the automobile markets had changed and there were financial pressures on a number of the automobile marques, including Renault.
It was in 1987 that the large Chrysler Corporation wanted to have the Jeep brand in its line-up. Chrysler bought out AMC in 1987. Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler, and Jeep was a major product being sold worldwide in the form of the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler, both of which are still formidable off-road performers. It’s a perfect combination for Australia: being stylish enough for the streets of Adelaide or Brisbane but tough enough for the Red Centre.
The next chapter in Jeep’s history is just “hot off the press” with DaimlerChrysler having announced their divorce less than ten years after joining forces (written in July 2013). Under Cerberus, the current plan created by Tom LaSorda remains the basis for the new Chrysler and its Jeep brand has new models confirmed for production in the next eighteen months.
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