When you think about Jeep, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a 4×4 convertible with big tires and plenty of power? If so, you’re not alone. But did you know that before Jeep dealers were selling the Wrangler and sporty SUVs, the company behind the first Jeep was making a quarter-ton general-purpose vehicle called the Quad for the military?
There’s more to the Jeep brand – and its name – than many know. From the Quad to the Grand Wagoneer: who made Jeeps, how they were made, and how they got their name are all part of its long but interesting history!
How the Jeep Was Made
The humble beginning of the Jeep began with a request from the U.S. Army during WWII – they needed a vehicle that could transport troops across Europe to battle at Normandy. So they put out a call for a reconnaissance vehicle that could fit in a glider plane and weighed roughly 2,200 pounds.
Ford and a company called Willys collaborated and created the Quad – a 4×4 4WD vehicle without a roof that unfortunately weighed a bit more than originally asked for. This was the first vehicle that we now recognize as a “Jeep.”
Luckily for Willys, the army was impressed enough by the Quad that they bought it despite the weight difference!
The First GP
While it was officially named the Quad while being produced, the military had another name for the new 4×4: the General Purpose vehicle, or GP for short. As more GPs were made and used by the army in WWII, they became a well-loved staple for the everyday soldier. So much so that they started calling the “GP” a “Jeep.”
This was the first use of Jeep to describe a vehicle, and it became synonymous with Willys models going forward – making this the historical origin of the Jeep name. But there’s still more to this story.
For example, how did Jeep go from a military nickname to the name of an actual vehicle, and how did it become the brand name used by Jeep dealers and manufacturers?
Introducing CJ (The Civilian Jeep Model)!
With the war coming to an end and the name “Jeep” becoming popularized outside of the military, Willys decided to create a version of the GP that could be marketed to veterans and enthusiasts.
The company created the Civilian Jeep, marketed as CJ, and it became wildly popular outside the niche it was designed for! This was the first ever Jeep vehicle, and it continued to be made for decades after its introduction – if anyone remembers CJ-5, that was the last model specifically under the Civilian Jeep name produced by Willys.
Even as the CJ evolved with the times – and other Jeep models were created and sold – it kept some important key features: solid front and rear axles, a manual transmission option, and full frame construction.
And over time, what made a Civilian Jeep recognizable became what made the Jeep brand recognizable – even when the brand started to encompass new models, new designs, and new companies.
Today’s Jeep Wrangler and Other Jeep Vehicles
New models began experimenting with what the CJ was offering – the Jeepster and Gladiator were some of the earliest new models. Jeep became a division of companies that provided SUVs and trucks alongside 4×4 vehicles.
The CJ-7 was made, and eventually, the newest redesigns of the Civilian Jeep were renamed Jeep Wranglers – that’s right, the Wrangler that we know and love as part of the regular selection of today’s Jeep dealer lineup is an evolved form of the original Jeep from the end of WWII!
Jeep even became a brand in today’s market instead of the name of a specific vehicle. That just leaves one important part of Jeep’s history left to discuss: if Willys made the first Jeep, where is that vehicle manufacturer now?
The answer to that lies in Jeep’s current and past parent companies.
Jeep’s Many Parent Companies
The military’s GP was made by a collaboration between the two biggest car manufacturers in America at the time – Ford Motor Company and Willys-Overland Motor Company. The Civilian Jeep, however, was made only by Willys.
For a while, Willys-Overland Motor Company was the only manufacturer involved in Jeep production. But then company takeovers and buyouts began.
The Merger of Kaiser and Willys-Overland
First, Willys-Overland and Kaiser merged and became Kaiser Willys. Little changed for Jeep manufacturing during this time, except that the name Jeep took the place of Willys over time.
This was when most of the CJ models were made.
American Motors Corporation and the Jeep Brand
Only when AMC purchased Kaiser’s Jeep division in 1970 did Jeep dealers and the brand as a whole begin to emerge. The CJ-7, Cherokee SUVs, trucks, and brand standards were formed during this time.
Unfortunately, AMC had financial troubles that resulted in the company selling the Jeep brand they cultivated in 1988.
The Chrysler Corporation, Fiat, Peugeot, and Stellantis
From 1988 to today, Jeep has gone through multiple mergers but has still maintained itself as a brand and household name.
After the Chrysler Corporation bought the rights to the Jeep brand from AMC, they merged with Fiat to become FCA. In 2021, FCA and Peugeot S.A. joined to create Stellantis, the current parent company of Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat, Peugeot, Dodge, Ram, and more.
Through all these changes, Jeep dealers were still getting new and improved models, and the brand was still growing and changing positively. From humble beginnings as a single military vehicle to a famous brand under one of the world’s top manufacturers, Jeep has done it all!
So don’t be afraid to check out some of Jeep’s greatest vehicles at a Jeep dealer near you—they’re being made as we speak!
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