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Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

It was never meant to be a brand, yet Jeep is one of most recognized trademarks in the world today.

  • Jeep Anniversary Drive main

CALABOGIE, ON: It was never meant to be a brand, yet Jeep is one of most recognized trademarks in the world today.

The Jeep came about in 1941 after the U.S. Army realized it needed something more modern than modified Model T Fords to face the threat of highly mechanized foes.

Some 135 manufacturers (that’s how many existed back then) were invited in 1940 to produce a vehicle the Army wanted — some of the specifications being:

Four-wheel-drive with two-speed transfer case

Smooth-running engine up to 50 mph (80 km/h)

Fold-down windshield

Rectangular body

Gross weight of 1,300 lb (590 kg)

Three bucket seats

Blackout and driving headlights

Height less than 36 in (91 cm)

Wheelbase less than 75 in (190 cm)

Surprisingly only two companies, Willys Overland and American Bantam Car Manufacturing Company responded, but Ford was soon to follow.

American Bantam built its Field Car in 49 days, while Willys developed the Quad, with Ford calling its model the GP (General Purpose based on a tractor) in time for field testing in 1940, with the Quad eventually being selected.

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The winner officially became the MB model, but people immediately began calling it the Jeep.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

The origin of the name is lost in time.

Some believe it came from “GP” while others think it was named after the pet animal of Popeye in the popular comic book of the era.

By the time the Second World War was over, Willys Overland produced more than 368,000 and Ford built another 277,000 under licence.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

Willys swiftly moved to patent the Jeep name after the war, with plans to keep the MB in production as a farm or utility vehicle for civilians.

The first product was the CJ-2A that was built from 1945-1949 and then the CJ-3B, until Willys was sold to the Kaiser Company that produced another 155,494 up until 1968.

Kaiser also built the CJ-5, based on the 1951 Korean War model, building more than 600,000 until production ceased in 1983.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

Now part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, today Jeep offers several models, from the entry-level Renegade up to the Grand Cherokee with available Hemi V8.

But at the centre of each Jeep, FCA markets its Trail Rated ability, meaning it must be able to match or exceed the off-road capability for which the brand is known.

To celebrate three quarters of a century of production, FCA Canada organized the Jeep 75th Anniversary Drive to the Calabogie, ON, area for some serious off-roading with a variety of Trail Rated models.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

Vehicles on hand ranged from a little Renegade, to a Grand Cherokee and a 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 75th Anniversary 4X4, which I shared with a co-driver.

ALSO READ MY REVIEW: Wrangler Anniversary celebrates 75 years of Jeepness

Also included in the mix were Wrangler Rubicons that are specially factory equipped for serious off-roading and there were even a trio of 475 hp Grand Cherokee SRTs at Calabogie Raceway to thrash out on the track.

Under the guidance of the Eastern Ontario 4X4 Club (www.eotb.ca), we drove in convoy through a very remote hydro corridor where it was almost too steep on foot let alone in a vehicle.

One eye-opener was driving down about a 60 degree rock nose first in a Rubicon where it looked like it was going to hit dead on – but with its generous approach angle, the Rubicon made it every time.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

Over exposed rocks the size of my garage and through the obligatory mud hole, the 75th Anniversary Wrangler got dirty almost immediately, which seemed such a shame because of its optional ($195) Sarge Green paint job.

Jeep marks 75 years by proving its mettle

I guess it’s the challenge that turns people into off-road beleivers – the “can I do it?” question.

If you have never gone off-roading before, it’s worth teaming up with someone who has tried the sport on for size.

One thing for sure – all the people around the world who enjoy off-roading or just appreciate the security of four-wheel-drive – owe it all to the first little Jeep of 75 years ago.

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