Jeep is now one of the most well known brands in North America. They’re instantly recognizable style and rugged personality keep them apart from the rest of the market. But where did these Iconic machines come from? As it turns out, the history of Jeep is as fascinating as the cars themselves.
The Prototype War
You probably know that Jeeps came around during WW2 as the iconic transport of the Allied forces, particularly the US. However, Jeep’s story starts a little bit before the battlefield.
The Year is 1940, and it’s clear that sooner or later The US will have to enter the war. The US army puts out a call to all manufacturing companies to design and produce a new military vehicle prototype. Something fast, light and all terrain. And they only had 49 days. Two companies responded to the call: The American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. It was Bantam that managed to build their prototype on time, the BRC 40 (Bantam Reconnaissance Car). However, despite meeting the brief and finishing on time, the army decided that Bantam was too small to produce the vehicle and so they took the plans and gave them over to Willys-Overland and another little company you might’ve heard of called Ford. After losing Production rights to the BRC, American Bantam quickly fell under and the company was acquired by Rolling Mills. The BRC lived on however. Both Willys-Overland and Ford made their own variations on the Bantam Design: Ford produced the Ford Pygmy and Willys produced the Willys Quad. The army decided on a hybrid of both, definitively creating the iconic Model MB, what became known as the Jeep, to be produced by both companies for the war effort.
Where does "Jeep" come from?
So why are they now called Jeeps? None of the original models used the word and the official designation “U.S. Army Truck, 1⁄4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance” doesn’t really help us either. The origin of the Name Jeep is a matter of hot debate as it turns out.
Officially, Joe Frazer, president of Willys-Overland at the time, claims to have created the name as a slur of the military designation G.P. (General Purpose), however many have disputed his claim, stating that G.P. wouldn’t have been used to refer to the vehicles out in the field.
Others claim that “jeep” is old military slang meaning “new and untested” and was commonly used for both fresh recruits, and new equipment and vehicles, and that’s how the Jeep got its name.
Regardless of how, the name became official in 1943 when Willys-Overland filed a trademark for “Jeep” in 1943 (which they got in some trouble for by claiming to have invented the car, even though they were based on the plans by American Bantam)
Given that we’re not driving the “Willys-Overland Jeep” these days, you can guess that Willys-Overland didn’t make it for the long haul. They attempted to create a civilian version of the Jeep post war, however they had trouble marketing it. In 1953 the company merged with Kaiser Motors creating the Kaiser-Jeep company which lasted until 1970 when AMC bought the company and renamed it simply “Jeep”.
And then once more for good measure Chrysler got the rights to the Jeep Brand in 1987 where the Brand lives to this day!