By: Sam Bisby
It has become quite customary for car manufacturers to look back on its own history when looking for inspiration for a new car. Fiat did it with the 500, Citroen has done it with the DS brand and now Jeep has followed suit with the new Renegade.
Jeep’s heritage is a rather unique one compared to most other firms’ beginnings, with the American manufacturer born out of the US Army’s need to a robust but simple vehicle for World War II.
It is those early models that have inspired the new Renegade, a rugged crossover that takes cues from its predecessors but is built for the modern day needs of family use, efficiency and security. Such influences are well noted on the Renegade, with that dominating front grille harking back to the Willy MB and those rear lights styled referencing the vintage Jerry can found on the original Willys Jeep.
So how did it all start for Jeep, exactly? Well, as we’ve already touched upon, the US Army had a lot to do with the birth of one of the most recognisable brands on the planet, but let’s explore that a little deeper.
Answering the call
Deep into World War II, it was becoming more and more apparent that the US was going to get involved and enter Europe to aid its allies. To help this somewhat unwanted but necessary venture, the US Army reached out to over 100 companies in the hope that at least one would be able produce a prototype four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car.
Just the two firms responded: the American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. The former looked as though it might be the one to appease the military’s requirements, but in the end the Army felt that the Bantam company was too small to meet the demand in numbers they required and the design of its BRC concept was passed onto Willys and Ford.
The Ford Pygmy and Willys Quad were the resulting prototype vehicles and were developed into the Ford GP and Willys MA. It was the latter that eventually won the contract thanks to meeting very specific weight specifications that allowed the vehicle to utilise the heavy but powerful Willys ‘Go Devil’ engine. This design was then referred to as the Willys MB, but was the basis of the car that would become the iconic Wrangler that still exists in Jeep’s line-up today.
The origins of the word Jeep itself is very much up for debate and it is not 100 per cent known how the manufacturer found its name.
Most believe that word Jeep is actually the result of a slur used in the early days of the company’s birth. The designation GP, meaning Government Purpose or General Purpose, was apparently slurred into the word Jeep in the same manner in which the designation HMMWV (High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle) became Humvee.
Another view comes from the R. Lee Ermey programme Mail Call that looked back at the past and present of the US Army. According to the show, soldiers who made use of the early Jeep vehicles were so impressed that they awarded them the nickname Eugene the Jeep after the character that features in the Popeye comic strip.
Following many imitations of the original Willys MB design from the likes of Delahaye in France and Toyota in Japan, Jeep began developing new vehicles that met the US Army’s many needs in the field.
In 1950, Jeep created the CJ-V35/U that could effectively drive under water thanks to a modified snorkel system so that the engine could breathe when submerged. Developed for use in the Vietnam War, the M715 was fully-fledged truck and was far more robust than the vehicle that kicked the whole brand off in 1940.
With the end of World War II in 1945, the Civilian Jeep made it into production in the form of the CJ-2A and was effectively identical to the military equivalent, apart from the odd modification, and began what was to be the start of expansion into a commercial brand that would offer motorists a truly unique driving experience.
The manufacturer offers an expansive range of utility vehicles, with the Renegade the latest of these, but each represents the original mantra of that Willys MB to be robust and perform to the highest standards in any driving condition.
However, over the years, Jeep has been able to create a range of vehicles that attend to different needs. The Renegade is perhaps the Jeep for the urban domain, the Wrangler for those with off-roading tendencies and the Grand Cherokee appeasing the needs of having a practical, safe and incredibly useable machine.
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