Without World War II the Jeep Might Have Never Existed

In 1940 the War Department realized that if the U.S. entered World War II, the motorcycles and Ford Model Ts used in World War I would be vastly inadequate. They would need a modest-sized, all-terrain exploration vehicle on their side, so they sent out proposal requests to automotive companies across the country.

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None of the major American automotive companies sent back proposals. Only two small and struggling automakers answered the call: Willys-Overland and American Bantam Car Co. Bantam was struggling so badly that they didn’t even have the engineers to design a build for the proposal. In a move of desperation, the company reached out to Karl Probst, a freelance car engineer, who agreed to design the prototype for free because of his loyalty to the U.S. Probst finished the design in only 18 hours. The army loved the vehicle; however, the War Department had concerns, so they requested Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Co. to create proposals using Probst’s original design as a template. Of the three final prototypes, the War Department gave the first contract to Willys-Overland and the second contract to Ford Motor Co.—using the same design—in order to meet the demand of the Allied Powers. Thus, the Willys-Overland MB was born. Both companies built over 637,000 of these automobiles to aid in the Allied Power’s World War II victory.

 

Transitioning to Civilian Life

 

Many MB’s were left behind in the Philippines after the war. In Pilipino, “Jeepney” is a word used to describe public utility vehicles. Back in the States, Willys-Overland was working hard to translate their military success over to the civilian market. They trademarked the name Jeep and in 1948 they introduced the CJ-3A (Civilian Jeep), known as the country’s first recreational off-road vehicle. In 1955, the company introduced the CJ-5, which remains the most popular model ever and was in production for 28 years. The Civilian Jeep line was eventually replaced by the Jeep Wrangler. Even today, the basic body style is based off of Karl Probst’s original 18-hour design from 1940.

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So How Is Jeep Chrysler?

 

In 1953, independent car manufacturer Kaiser-Fraizer purchased Willys-Overland and changed the name to Willys Motor Company. By 1970, Kaiser-Jeep (they changed their name again in 1963) was in deep financial turmoil and sold their Jeep division to American Motors Corporation (AMC). Chrysler Corporation then acquired AMC in 1987. Jeep changed hands again when Daimler-Benz AG acquired Chrysler, forming DaimlerChrysler. Terms became contentious and Chrysler was again bought out in 2007 by Cerberus Capital Management and renamed Chrysler LLC. Tough times ravaged the company through the recession, and finally in 2014 the company we know today FCA US LLC, Fiat Chrysler Motors came to be. Luckily for us Jeep is still alive and well. With new models like the Wrangler JL and the 2019 Cherokee—there is something for nearly every civilian. Stop by the dealership to talk shop about Jeep, or just to take a test-drive next time you have some free time!

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