Born for the battlefield, the first jeeps rolled off the assembly line in 1941 and went straight to active duty for the US military. They would be “forever known for helping to win a world war,” according to a history of the brand, which had bold plans early on, according to an Imperial slogan: “The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep.”
After the war, Jeep came home to the farm with an off-roader available to the public. The Willys-Overland “jeep,” which won the government contract for the military vehicles, was converted into a civilian jeep, or CJ, and hit showrooms in 1945. It was the world’s first all-wheel drive light vehicle.
Celebrating its 80th birthday on Thursday, Jeep has enjoyed a steady succession of owners over the years. It is now part of Stellantis and has had a firm grip on the off-road market ever since. It has an avid fan base, and with an electric focus on its future, it plans to maintain its status as king of the off-road.
According to Christian Meunier, the chief executive of the Jeep brand, the goal is ambitious: “to make Jeep the greenest SUV brand in the world.”
“We are taking capacity to the next level by combining sustainability, eco-friendliness and fun,” he added. “For 80 years, the Jeep brand has been indelibly linked to freedom, adventure, authenticity and passion,” he said. And Jeep’s latest release, he added, the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid, “is just the beginning.”
Jeep owners — who have come to regard the slogan “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” as a way of life, not just words on paper — will be watching.
“It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand,” said Rick Péwé, the brand’s unofficial evangelist-critic, using another slogan often used by the faithful. Mr. Péwé, a writer who has spent 25 years in publishing, much of it on Jeep, has retired and is part of Gone-Gpn, an online retailer dedicated to Jeep and its cult following.
He has been loyal to the brand for decades. “My father was a field geologist, so we always had jeeps,” says Mr. Péwé, 64. “I got my first jeep in high school, which I still have.” It sits among two dozen other jeeps at his Arizona home. “Of course, that’s my favorite.”
He has driven many great Jeep excursions himself. Like a month-long journey from Phoenix to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back in his father’s restored 1943 World War II jeep. Equipped with a “soft top, open doors, and lack of power,” he said, it made for a beautiful but wild ride – including a rollover. The Jeep was rebuilt and came home safely. That same Jeep completed the famous Rubicon trail and drove from Los Angeles to Nova Scotia and back.
Jeep’s rugged capabilities attract fans, and the brand has cultivated that mystique over the years. In 1978, what was known as the Expedition of the Americas, “Jeep vehicles traveled through North America, Central America and South America,” Meunier said. “These vehicles crossed the Darién Gap” — on the Panama-Colombia border — “drift rivers and cut through terrain that no vehicle has attempted before or since.”
More than 22 million Jeep vehicles have been produced worldwide since 1941, the company said. The top models are now the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee.
Shannon Ross, 33, grew up in the small town of Dallas, Oregon, where he worked on oil rigs — specifically the 1953-56 Ford pickup trucks that her father and brothers refurbish.
“I learned a lot of skills from my father, who was a mechanic on D7 Caterpillars in Vietnam,” said Ms. Ross. “I built my first car from the ground up with him.” The car? A 1981 Mercury Capri.
She recently joined the Salem, Oregon, Jeepers club and began customizing her 2014 Jeep JKU, which she bought after the deaths of her parents in 2017 and 2018. Ms. Ross, who is going through a difficult divorce after a 14-year marriage. Also, the one-year marriage has “made great friendships and started coming out of a deep depression that I didn’t realize I was in until I found happiness in the off-road world,” she said.
She was drawn to Jeep “because of its simplicity of being fairly easy to customize and the availability of parts.”
for mr. Péwé takes the Jeep Life deeper than a hobby.
He graduated with a degree in geography in 1980 and worked at four-wheel drive stores to support “the habit,” he said. In 1984 he bought a Jeep parts distribution company and turned it into Republic Off-Road, a Jeep-centered four-wheel drive shop in Tempe, Ariz. After 10 years of growth and successful Jeep builds, he worked his way into autowriting, with a particular focus on Jeep.
He has substantial insights into the brand and also opinions. “Jeep has had so many owners,” said Mr. Péwé, “leading to a defiantly bureaucratic kind of mess that none of the engineers want to give in to.”
However, he described a core group of stalwarts of the brand who do understand Jeep. “Without those top-notch ‘crazy frills’ Jeep folks in the trenches, the Wrangler would have failed as an icon years ago,” he said. “It’s the core people, the real Jeepers of the group, who have kept it successful.”
Jeep recently acknowledged the dedication and advocacy of Mr. Péwé over the years by putting an easter egg of sandals on the Jeep Wrangler JL windshield — in honor of his favorite shoes.
For enthusiasts, owning a Jeep gives them freedom, confidence and a sense of adventure. Ms. Ross overcame fear of heights by taking off-road obstacles in Moab, Utah. “I felt confident enough in my jeep to take me where I was going and to take me home.” She says the Jeep community is helping her heal and become more confident.
“My Jeep has helped me reconnect with the girl I am,” said Ms. Ross. “Knowing how my jeep works will help me help others on the trails, especially the ladies of the jeeping world.” She helps empower other women while learning how to tinker their jeeps. “It’s important that we build a strong group of trained female cyclists,” she said.
Jeep has supported events such as Jeep Jamborees, the Jeep Adventure Academy and the women-only Rebelle Rally. “For over 50 years, thousands of passionate Jeep enthusiasts have flocked to the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah,” said Mr. Meunier.
Jeep has an impressive history, beyond its success on the battlefield. The 1963 Wagoneer was the first SUV to combine four-wheel drive with an automatic transmission, and the 1984 Cherokee XJ was the first compact SUV with a car-like unibody construction and fast-shifting Command-Trac four-wheel drive. -drive system.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid is the first production Jeep with EV features available now. It has an all-electric range of 21 miles and has a total of 375 horsepower.
“All Jeep models will have an electric option in the coming years,” Meunier said, “and will take green and 4×4 technology to the next level.”
The hot-ticket item at this year’s Easter Jeep Safari was the 2021 all-electric Magneto BEV concept. The Magneto was tuned to mimic the vehicle’s original 3.6-liter V6, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour. hours in 6.8 seconds.
The Magneto unexpectedly had a gearshift and the electric “yelp” was boisterous, unlike the near-silent sound of other EVs. .
Off-road, the electrified Magneto felt sturdy and capable, much like its combustion-engined predecessors.