The Jeep experienced a rare evolution from a tactical military vehicle to a famous civilian utility ride. As a primary partner in military operations, the Jeep performed exceptional feats and contributed to many wartime successes. There’s certain anonymity surrounding the history and the namesake, but the outstanding features and functions are prevalent.
The variety of machinery used in World War II was hard to keep up with. The pilots were daredevils, amphibious landing pads, and mammoth battleships, but the Jeep made a name for itself on jagged terrains and delivered exactly what it promised and much more.
After the war, this war innovation continued to provide exceptional functionality and modernization. Let’s look at the history of Jeep and a few post-WWII operations of the military Jeep.
Before diving into the post-war innovations, let’s go over history with pre-war recollection. There was minimal movement in supplies, service members, and on the battlefields in World War I. Due to a lack of defensive capabilities, a nearly four-year siege was presented on the Western border.
When the rise in conflict foreshadowed the potential threat of another global war, all parties began the search for a means of transportation in somewhat of a panic. The specifications and timeframe in which participants were seeking their vehicles was a feat in itself for whoever could present the perfect match.
However, there were technological advancements since the conclusion of the first global conflict, which meant more vital and much larger aircraft carriers and more advanced tanks for battle. But the demand in ground transportation methods for things like on-site supply, medical, and soldier transport needed addressing.
The US was not in the conflict at the time it signaled this request, but it knew its phone would ring pending several factors. It was clear to the military that should it face Axis powers, it would need to use its technological advances to its benefit and enter the conflict fully prepared. All participants, in essence, competed with one another for the best way of speed on the battlefield, and the US, in particular, set its demands on a small reconnaissance vehicle that could travel across varying terrain.
Only two American automakers jumped on the request to deliver for the military, with time and budget constraints in the forefront. Willys-Overland and the American Bantam Company were small companies at the time but eager to submit their proposals. In hindsight, the groundbreaking vehicle was a team effort.
Bantam delivered the initial prototype, and it exceeded the military’s expectations tenfold and passed all necessary testing in September 1940. Unfortunately, the Defense Department did not trust that Bantam was a large enough company to keep supply and demand. The military asked Ford and Willys-Overland to submit a design concept based on the prototype from American Bantam. Their contributions to the prototype ended up being added to the final design. Willys-Overland beat out all companies to win over the initial contract, but it was a team effort to create the original design. There was a total of 637,000 Willys-Overland/Ford-produced Jeeps throughout the war.
The post-WWII operations of the military Jeep shape the world we have now, where the civilian Jeep is in abundance and the market is ever-growing. These operations are a testament to the overall success, functionality, and production of the SUV. Willys-Overland maintained its production despite being on the small side and continued to recreate and deliver innovation to the original prototype.
A prime example of continued creation is the M-38 model, which became the primary utility vehicle during the Korean War. In the original design, the vehicle’s body contained hard edges, so when they reworked the engine, they created softer edges on the body’s exterior. The vehicle had a waterproof ignition function. Willys-Overland made the decision to upgrade the wheelbase and improve the engine’s total power output.
Additionally, the reliability and resilience of the Korean War Jeeps paved the way for the newest model, the M-170. These new models served as ambulatory troop vehicles from the battlefield and had various attachable body kits.
Jeep sat comfortably in a demanding position as soldiers began buying their versions after having military experience, and civilians increased their requests for a market. By the time World War II ended and the Korean War began, the Jeep brand and usability became an international name. Due to this widespread popularity, Willys-Overland realized that the market potential was there.
There were two significant advantages to a post-war market. The overseas market for Willys-Overland created a lucrative business for civilian vehicles. And the second was the leftover Jeeps serving as free advertising for the vehicle and company. A number of Jeeps got left behind, scattered throughout the UK, USSR, or Europe, which contributed to the jump in overseas civilian demand.
The CJ-2A served as the very first civilian Jeep on the market. Another name for the CJ was the “Universal.” It contained a tailgate, side-mount spare tire, larger headlights, and a lifted windshield. Between the years 1945 and 1949, the vehicle retailed for $1,090.
The CJ broke ground for many variations to roll out, with each straying further and further from the military original. The station wagon came in 1946 and a pickup in 1947. The Jeep station wagon was the first-ever station wagon in the US built from steel. This showed consumers the brand’s commitment to durability and robust design concepts.
The market grew larger and deeper, with a full arsenal of civilian Jeep brand vehicles in no time at all. Each new variation pulled away from the military functionality and offered something to the market no other automaker was presenting. Some of the other civilian vehicles to hit the market included:
- FC-170 in 1957
- Wagoneer SUV in 1963
- Gladiator Pickup in 1963
- Cherokee in 1984
- Wrangler in 1990
Though Jeep expanded and saw success in the post-war civilian market, they relied financially on the military contract. They were only selling civilian vehicles to a small group of consumers, and the immediate post-war period was challenging on many, including corporations. This onslaught of post-war battles stirred up a purchase deal for Willys-Overland, and in 1953, Kaiser Manufacturing Company bought the entire operation. With success for the next decade, the company rebranded as the Kaiser Jeep Co.
To get your hands on original Kaiser Jeep parts and learn more about the famous Jeep, reach out to Army Jeep Parts today! We offer hobbyists, enthusiasts, and restorers a wide variety of authentic elements for their project needs.