By on July 15, 2016

Jeep Wrangler 75th anniversary concept

Jeep turns 75 years old today, and its birthday promises to be a lot more upbeat than, say, Plymouth’s.

The storied brand, which started life producing a hastily built battlefield runabout, is now a sales juggernaut for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which could be its reward for suffering through so many ownership changes over the years. To mark the special occasion, FCA built a one-off Wrangler that takes the brand back to its roots.

You can’t buy it, but you can remove the doors and fold down the windshield on your own Wrangler, head to a nearby field, paint some signs in German and pretend it’s two weeks ’till V-E Day.

Called the Wrangler 75th Salute, the concept was released on the same day the Willys-Overland Motor Company received its military contract for the Model MB back in 1941. The model was soon referred to as a “jeep,” and the company registered the name after the war for use on civilian models.

The concept sheds the Wrangler’s doors and B-pillar and adopts an olive drab paint scheme. A flat front bumper with tow hooks, steel wheels with non-directional rubber, and low-back canvas seats complete the military makeover. You can look, but you can’t own.

Bantam-jeep-1

The original crop of military vehicles were based on a concept created over the course of two days by the American Bantam Car Company, maker of tiny, cheap passenger vehicles. It was obvious the U.S. would soon find itself overseas, fighting various mustachioed dictators, and the U.S. Army needed a jack-of-all-trades, go-anywhere vehicle. A lot of them. (Meaning: cheap and easy to make, with no creature comforts.)

Contracts went to Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Company, with Willys specifically chosen for its 2.2-liter “Go Devil” four-cylinder engine. That mill, seen by the Army as perfect for the vehicle, made 60 horsepower and 105 pounds-feet of torque. Willys models came with the now-famous seven-slot grill, while Ford’s version had nine slots. In total, 640,000 units were produced during the war.

Since then, Jeep has lived under the roof of nine different corporate parents. (Ten, if you count Renault’s short-lived hand in AMC.) It is the ultimate survivor.

Some of FCA’s brands are struggling, but Jeep’s skyrocketing sales numbers and growing global presence are keeping company executives comfortable and well-fed. Is it any wonder they want to tearfully salute this brand?

[Images: FCA US; Wikipedia]

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38 Comments on “Jeep Turns 75 Today: Get Out Your Sunscreen, Fatigues and Small American Flags...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That one-off will surely inspire some Wrangler owner to replicate the pain job on their vehicle. It’s sorta cool, in a car cruise way. I wouldn’t want to live with it, though.

    Of course, it’s ironic that Daimler and Fiat are among the Jeep brand’s nine owners.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Will Jeep ever turn one of its concepts into a production vehicle?

    Betteridge’s law of headlines would say no, but I’d like to pretend it’s possible.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      NoGoYo,
      Jeep seem to be the concept kings.

      Jeep has come out with some great ideas that never seem to come to fruition.

      I do believe this is a FCA trend overall driven by Sergio. Look at his statments and comments, then align them to Jeep.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I literally cannot think of a single Jeep concept vehicle put into production, though some took design influence from concepts (like how the Gladiator concept was effectively a prototype JK pickup).

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      I would imagine that every existing Jeep model started as a “concept” at some point, that’s usually how it is done. Some of the more flamboyant ones just haven’t made it to production.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        It would be nice if they would at least put some of the concept specific accessories into production. This concept has the same beautifully simple wheels as the Wrangler…Africa? concept from earlier this year/last year, or at least very similar ones, but Chrysler doesn’t sell them.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      A) This thing is not intended as a concept.
      B) This thing is not street legal as a production vehicle
      C) Oh, LORD I want one!

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I’ll have the spaghetti and meatballs to go along with my Italian-American CUV on our trip to the mall, thanks.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    No rose colored glasses here ~
    .
    They were crude and rude when new , basic like a hammer .
    .
    Terrific plow rigs , we had a ’52 M38A1 I thought I’d have forever but then reality set in and it’s God knows where now , I’ve had many opportunities to buy old Jeeps dirt cheap over the decades but having driven one , I never pulled the trigger .
    .
    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      It’s a kid thing. You wouldn’t understand.

      I don’t, anymore, either. I had the Jeep bug, for years…in fact I did a guest-writer essay at That Other Site about it. But years bring, if not wisdom, at least aches and pains and appreciation for comfort and quiet.

      They are rude and crude and fun at a point in life; but when that time has passed…it’s like so much else. Just as the thrill of drinking one’s self insensible or chasing young women just for the conquest, or doing risky things for the thrill…just as all that passes, so, too, does the idea of open-air motoring lose its appeal.

      At least in such a rough-riding coal cart, it does.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Just so .
        .
        As it turns , I’m still young at heart (possibly just childish) so I understand quite well .
        .
        Every time I stumble across an old MB , CJ2A , CJ3B , M38A1 or whatever , I get this momentary ” cool ! gotta have this ! ” rush , then reality sets in , I don’t really like four wheeling nor open air motoring .
        .
        Sigh .
        .
        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I have a JKU and to be quite honest the ride isn’t nearly as bad as commentary would have you believe. I’ve ridden in relatively late model cars with a harsher ride. It also comes reasonably well equipped with luxuries and I can still fold the top down when the weather warrants it while carrying an AC strong enough to chill you out of the front seats even in 90° weather.

        My next vehicle will very likely be the Jeep truck.

        Oh, and I ain’t no spring chicken, either.

        • 0 avatar
          SSJeep

          Agreed Vulpine, I certainly wouldn’t call the JK a “rough riding coal cart” anymore. The JK rides better than it ever has at this point, both on and off road. Its not a sports sedan, but that is not what the JK is intended for.

          Im in the same boat – sure, the Wrangler is noisy, but not much more than my last truck. Sure, it doesn’t drive as crisply as my last BMW, nor is it as fast as the SS. But it does everything anyone could ever ask of any vehicle while being fun to drive. I can plow snow, tow a boat, go off-roading, drop the top, commute in traffic, park in any garage, road trip, and weekend warrior with the JK. I will probably always have a Wrangler of some sort in the stable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So what happened to Ford’s contract after the initial run – not renewed?

    Also, they could have released a special edition of this – 75 units or something. Major markup. All would have been pre-sold.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Ford claimed that they had the right to build Jeeps after the war. Their reasoning was that Fomoco was given the rights to the Jeep design by the government. A court ruled against Ford in Willys favor. Willys Overland is long dead, while Ford is the only American car company not to have gone through bankruptcy at least once.

      BTW, I once wrote of the Jeep ‘curse’. Every company that’s owned the Jeep brand has suffered during their Jeep years or come to some very unfortunate end.

      • 0 avatar
        JustPassinThru

        Not totally.

        Kaiser-Frazer actually was saved by buying Willys-Overland…that was a complex financial move for the Kaiser people. Henry Kaiser’s umbrella of companies was solvent, but his bankers didn’t want him bleeding his successful companies white in support of K-F, which the bankers thought was a money pit. But he WAS able to get the financing to buy the floundering Willys-Overland. Willys, of course, had the lion’s share of military contracts for Jeep; and was working with the Army to develop the new M38A1, later to be the CJ-5; but they were losing money quickly.

        But while Kaiser was a neophyte to the auto business, if there was ONE THING he FULLY understood, it was government contracts. He bought W-O, phased out Kaiser and Frazer and Willys cars, and made Jeeps and made them profitably.

        And from 1953, when he bought W-O, to 1970, when the company was merged into American Motors, Willys Motors/Kaiser Jeep was very, very successful. What happened?

        First, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. It mandated basic standards which had to be engineered into vehicles, with the promise of more to come. Those had to be done EVEN THOUGH there was not the promise of recovering costs. And for that reason it hit independent companies harder. Studebaker closed in the end in 1966…about the same time the Act was passed. Coinky-dink?

        Kaiser-Jeep started tightening its association with AMC about that time…starting circa 1964. And IMHO, I think it WOULD have ended with Kaiser-Jeep BUYING AMC. Why? Kaiser Industries had a BIG share of AMC stock. Co-winky-dink? And Henry Kaiser never lost the car-building bug.

        Not until his death in 1967. Estate taxes being what they were in those days, the Kaiser empire had to be sold and broken up to pay the taxes. That’s why there’s no more Kaiser Steel, Kaiser Aluminum, Kaiser Chemical, Kaiser Broadcasting…and why Kaiser Permanente, formerly Kaiser Hospital Foundation, is run as a non-profit organization.

        Kaiser-Jeep had to go; and Kaiser interests voted their AMC stock to have AMC buy the company.

        And that was NOT a bad thing for AMC, either; for AMC lived for ten years on borrowed time, on the Jeep profits. Jeep got Renault interested, and Renault kept them alive until Chrysler could make a move. And Chrysler basically kept the AMC engineering team together and expanded their corporate culture.

        The bad stuff started happening with Chrysler, post-Iacocca. And THAT could not be blamed on Jeep, but on a succession of carpetbaggers.

        • 0 avatar
          1998redwagon

          jpt – i had no idea that kaiser was so big but i recognized each and every kaiser company. just never realized they were all related at one point in time.

          cool corporate history. thanks for the lesson.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      Ford was in and out of the military reconnaissance vehicle business right up until the Humvee became the standard. Ford built the WWII vehicle, the MB; but the M38 was not contracted to them.

      The M38A1 was an Army-funded design done by Willys and the contract let only to them; but meantime Ford was working on the M151 Mutt. Which in later versions became THE military jeep until the Humvee.

      The M151 contract was split between Ford and Kaiser General Products, later AM General, right up to the last. Both used the same Continental engine and outsourced transmission and axles; differences were minor.

  • avatar

    “Since then, Jeep has lived under the roof of nine different corporate parents. (Ten, if you count Renault’s short-lived hand in AMC.) It is the ultimate survivor.”

    I count 7:
    Willys
    Kaiser
    AMC
    Renault
    Chrysler
    Mercedes
    (Chrysler)
    Fiat

    Which ones am I missing?

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I’ve seen some of the original-vintage ones in museums. My first reaction: These are much smaller than I ever imagined. Amazing how much utility can be packed into that size package.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      SunnyvaleCA,
      My friend in Newcastle has a fantastically restored WWII Willys Jeep. He has even painted and found the correct marking for it. It’s an “Australian” WWII Jeep as well.

      He bought it over twenty years ago and spends lots of time scouring the country looking for bits and pieces. Most of the time he has to buy non genuine parts.

      You wouldn’t know it.

      They are very small.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Another great opportunity for the Dutch-British to fleece naive Americans on nostalgia.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      VoGo – everyone does. Harley Davidson, Victory, Triumph, the Japahogs, Mustang, Camaro, Charger, Challenger, Jeep ad nauseum.

      I like the late 60’s Muscle cars but have a hard time garnering any enthusiasm for a new version of one. The bikes of that era? No bloody way. Jeep just rubs me the wrong way. Jeep’s i.e. Wrangler are vastly overpriced for what you get.

  • avatar
    Acd

    As a car company buying Jeep it is kind of like marrying the sexy widow who has already buried 5 husbands but is still fun and looks hot but you can’t stop that nagging feeling in the back of your head that suspects that you might be the next one to go.

  • avatar
    Testacles Megalos

    Almost 30 years ago I had a rusty CJ3 that was a a great car for banging around the farm, going to town for hardware or groceries. But it was slow and not a car to drive somewhere an hour away. It was small, lithe, and very capable off road. When it burned a valve it came down to selling it to a collector or rebuilding the engine. He offered a good price….

    The current jeep is almost a fat parody of the original idea. The new one is probably just as – if not more – capable off-road (I don’t know), and probably a lot more comfy. But it’s only a cartoon of the original, a common theme in today’s faux-nostalgic world…. The “new” Mini is cool, but it will never have the panache of the original item, the “new” Beetle struggles but the original still gets thumbs up…. what is it that the current crop of buyers are attracted to?

    Is the market for a simple and small CJ3-type vehicle limited to me and half-dozen others? Is the idea of a CJ3 completely antithetical to modern “safety” standards?

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      It’s the safety standards. It’s simply not possible to make a CJ-style road-legal vehicle anymore.

      Remember the last Army jeep? The M151, the Mutt. It was never surped to the public – it was not in compliance with Federal safety or emissions standards. A very few wound up in city or village DPWs and a few of those were later sold to the public. And only a few states will title and license them; most insist it’s not road-legal.

      No, it can no longer be. Yes, the Wrangler is NEARLY as capable off-road; but it was the inexpensive simplicity of the CJ/M-series jeeps which made them attractive to abusive off-road use.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        When I was a kid, it was common to see ads for ‘surplus’ jeeps in the backs of magazines. Even then it was illegal to put one on the streets. Those surplus Jeeps were sold as a crate full of parts. Soon after the gov got wise and required all Jeeps to be demilitarized by cutting or crushing.

        • 0 avatar
          JustPassinThru

          There were two different reasons.

          With the M38 and M38A1 models, when you bought from operators who were selling “surplus jeeps” frequently what he had was a winning bid on wrecked or disassembled units. Or just as you said, boxes of parts.

          No title would come with those; and how states issued titles on old vehicles varied wildly – still does.

          Some states do not require a title on a vehicle older than X years. Anything from ten to thirty years old. Other states require titles on all vehicles. Some others have transitioned, but vehicles older than XXXX model year need no title.

          So…you could wind up with an unassemblable, unregisterable pile of junk.

          The destroyed models were the M151s. They were ordered NOT to be surplused in one piece, except to foreign buyers. They were to be quartered – they were unibody rigs, so the scrapping team could just strip the engine out, take a torch and draw and quarter it – and then throw the engine back on top of the pile. There’s your Mutt, buyer.

          A few entrepreneurs did piece together those units and then sell them. And in a few states they were registerable.

          And it’s a loss for Jeep fans. I drove one, in the Navy – NAS Alameda had one around as a gofer unit. It was a fer-real riot to drive.

          But Daddy Goobermint said, NO – so we couldn’t have them.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I know I’ve seen a M151 for sale in the classifieds, and one in person, because they’re the only Jeeps with horizontal bars instead of vertical ones.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      You can blame Daimler for the size and style of the JK series. That said, it is a remarkably capable monster as far as it goes; able to do things factory-stock that TJ and earlier models required lifts to manage. It also has a lot more ‘luxury’ appurtenances that you wouldn’t equate to a CJ-type of vehicle in showroom form. What some few may not realize is that the basic design on an extended frame and leaf springs serves as a utility truck for Saudi and other military forces. Honestly? That’s the one we should be seeing here in the States. But it doesn’t meet the heavy safety requirements of Europe or US regulations.

  • avatar
    mtmmo

    That black and white picture beautifully captures America’s ruggedness and supremacy.


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