In 1940, 135 US industrial companies were invited to tender on the design and supply of a quarter tonne general purpose off-road vehicle for the US Army. Only three companies put their hands up; Bantam Car Manufacturing, Willys Overland Motors in Toledo Ohio, and Ford.
Much to the chagrin of Mr Ford, the Willys entry was accepted, mainly it seems because of the biggest engine of the three, a 2.2-litre side valve four cylinder, with 45kw of power and 142Nm of torque, substantially more than the 115Nm specified by the army.
It could do 65mph in top (third) gear, and had two transfer case levers so you could disengage the front axle and just have rear wheel drive.
The vehicle was designated Willys GP (General Purpose), which the GIs predictably shortened to Jeep.
75 years later, the name remains synonymous with US off-road royalty,
and Jeep remains one of the best known US trade brands globally.
The anniversary of Jeep’s creation was recognized in Australia by a somewhat underwhelming special build of 100 Cherokees, 200 Grand Cherokees, 180 Renegades and 90 Wranglers, all available in heavily male oriented survivor-mode colours - Sarge Green, Recon Green, and Jungle Green. Even the special interior trim echoes military blokiness - Ombre Mesh!
There’s lots of bronze trim, badging and wheels etc, all designed to offset the green hues and set that cars apart as limited edition. Inexplicably, Jeep is charging $500 extra for the green colour, instead of including it in the price and allowing a delete option.
However there is one notable aspect of the Grand Cherokee versions, as they include a number of new components from the 2017 model due later this year, namely a marginal boost in power to 213kW, two-step variable valve lift and variable valve timing, cooled EGR for emissions, engine stop-start for economy, and a slight improvement in fuel efficiency, now down to 10l/100kms.
Electric power steering and some aluminium components are also part of the upgrade. Inside, the trim is black leather with embossed 75th Anniversary logos and special stitching. The grille, front headlights and front fascia have all been fiddled with, and 20-inch alloy wheels and suitable badging finishes off the exclusive appearance.
It looks good I must admit, although the value equation isn’t quite as dramatic as some of the features now being tipped into European SUVs.
The Wrangler version gains Overland trim, heavy-duty Dana axles, Rubicon rock rails, 17-inch alloys, and of course the distinctive 75th Anniversary exterior trim.
I drove all the models across some tough terrain on a South Australian cattle station last week. Jeep’s off-road technology is as good as it gets, and all models creamed the course. But the Wrangler deserves special mention. Of all the versions I drove, the Wrangler was the most stable, agile and comfortable in almost any off-road situation.
A final twist to the blokey Jeep mind set is Jeep’s global head of brand - his name’s Mike Manley.