The Jeep Wrangler has a decades-long reputation that preceded even more decades of other Jeep models, from the Willys MA to the CJ-2. That’s right—before the jeep was the Jeep, it had a long and famous career on the battlefield throughout World War II. If you’re interested in a bit of history on one of the most iconic cars around, take a look at how the military jeep become today’s Jeep Wrangler.
In 1940, at the dawn of World War II, the U.S. Army was in need of a quarter-ton light reconnaissance vehicle. The three companies who took a shot at it were Ford, Bantam, and Willys. In November 1940, Willys-Overland delivered a prototype: the “Quad.” From this prototype, Willys-Overland was able to produce the 1941 Willys MA, which was the original jeep. This was better than the Quad prototype because it was more lightweight and built with a handbrake, rounded door cutouts, and a steering column-mounted gear shift.
Between 1941 and 1945, the Willys MA served the military well. However, it had yet to become the pedestrian vehicle we all know and love today. In late 1945, after they were no longer producing military vehicles, Willys-Overland brought the jeep to domestic streets in the form of the CJ-2A (“CJ” stands for “Civilian Jeep”). This was an improvement from the previous model because it had new attributes such as the ability to reach speeds of 60 mph, seven-inch headlights, a tailgate, and a more powerful frame and clutch.
Fast-forward to 1987—the arrival of the Jeep Wrangler (YJ). After nearly five decades, the CJ series came to a close to make way for this new and improved Jeep. It came with square headlights and strong front and rear axles, and it could swap between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. Although we’re finally at the Wrangler, this isn’t quite how the military jeep became today’s Jeep Wrangler.
In 1997, the Jeep Wrangler went through a redesign. Gone were the square headlights, but that wasn’t the only upgrade. In fact, the 1997 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) replaced nearly 80 percent of the previous parts. It was perfectly optimized for both off- and on-road driving, and it now had driver and passenger airbags, removable doors, coil springs, a fold-down windshield, and improved ground clearance and axle articulation. The 1997 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) was a big step up from the previous model, especially thanks to its Quadra-Coil suspension, which is what made it so great for on-road capabilities. The new axle articulation, ground clearance, and better approach and depart angles are what made it so adaptable to off-road driving. As you can see, this was an improvement in nearly every way.
Today, the Jeep’s technology and dimensions have altered, but the basic ideals laid out in the 1997 Wrangler have remained intact through all modern versions. Although it wasn’t the first model, the 1997 Jeep Wrangler is arguably the most iconic and influential jeep since the Willys MA.
Planning on restoring one for yourself? At Army Jeep Parts, we have a wide selection of quarter-ton Jeep parts to aid you in your restoration project.