The iconic Jeep Wrangler.
Off-road vehicles are phenomenal, in that they give us access to areas we were previously unable to explore. But have you ever paused and wondered where and how they originated? Well, the answer to that is encapsulated in one word. Jeep. The Jeep brand was officially founded in 1941 and began building vehicles specifically equipped for the military.
The Willys Jeep.
Prior to the USA entering the war, the army needed a four-wheel-drive, light reconnaissance vehicle; one that was reliable, simple to maintain, and easy to transport into battle zones. In 1940, the army approached 135 US companies for a working prototype that would meet their stringent requirements. The American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland were the only two manufacturers to respond. A near-impossible deadline of 49 days was set, together with a weight specification of a maximum of 578 kg – including oil and water. The saga is a long and interesting one, but ultimately the Willys version became the standardized Jeep design – designated the model MB which was built at their plant in Toledo, Ohio. The powerful but comparatively heavy Willys “Go Devil” engine was the engine of choice. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
A seven-slot grille is etched into the headlights of many Jeep models, whilst some Grand Cherokee models had the Willys MB etched into them.
First produced in 1945, the Willys CJ (later Jeep CJ for “Civilian Jeep”) is the version of the famous Willys Military Jeep that was created after World War II for use by civilians. They were granted the Jeep trademark in 1950. Part of Jeep’s identity is the seven-slot grille. How did that come about? Well, there are MANY versions of that story! One “fan theory” that Jeep lovers have is that the Jeep was the first vehicle to drive on all seven continents before any other, which is plausible given its war history. Since then, few other motor vehicles have ever inspired the respect and affection accorded to the Jeep, and the Jeep name has become synonymous with most off-road capable vehicles.
Found under the fuel flap, the Jeep Renegade’s spider with a speech balloon saying “Caio, baby” is a reference to the model’s Italian origin.
Jeep vehicles are today known as being adaptable, hardy vehicles, more than capable of surviving in the roughest off-road environments. But during the WWII-era, the Jeeps were even capable of being converted into Jeep locomotives! Known as “Jeep Trains”, these Jeeps fitted with railway wagon wheels (instead of normal road wheels) were capable of pulling up to 10 tons!
There’s a Jeep morse code Easter egg – on the left footrest down by the pedals. It stands for Sand, Snow, Rivers and Rocks (read left to right, top to bottom).
“Old Faithful” was a Jeep used in the pacific campaign, serving as the transportation for high-ranking officers. It’s 18 months of service starting on 7th August 1942. It took part in the Gaudalcanal Campaign as the first American vehicle to touch down on the shore. This campaign cemented its reputation for its reliability – and the soldiers named the Jeep “Old Faithful”. On 13th October 1942, during a Japanese shelling of the island, Old Faithful was ‘wounded’ with two shrapnel holes in its windshield. The occupants of the car were so impressed with its service that they felt it deserved an honour. It became the first vehicle in the US Military to receive a medal – the Purple Heart! After the shelling and it’s medal, the Jeep stayed in active service, all the way through to serve in the Bougainville Campaign, before eventually retiring on 22nd December 1943 – with over 11,000 war-miles on the clock. Apparently “Old Faithful” still runs to this day – living up to its name even now.
A gecko can be found underneath the windscreen wipers (Jeep Compass).
The Jeep became as familiar to the rich and famous as it was to the soldier and the ordinary man on the street. US Army General George Patton used a Jeep as his staff car in Morocco. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (Soong Mei-ling) toured Cairo in a Jeep with General Claire Chennault as her chauffeur. Famous heads-of-state also chose the Jeep as their preferred method of transport. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt rode in a Jeep as he reviewed the troops in Morocco and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was regularly photographed in a Jeep.
Flip-flops on the passenger-side windshield cowl of the Jeep Gladiator – allegedly a nod to a longtime Jeep fan and veteran car journalist, Rick Péwé – known for his love of open-toed footwear. Over the years, the enthusiast and expert has consulted with Jeep, providing them with insight and ‘lots of design input’.
Jeep has even influenced the English language. Considered a ‘valid’ scrabble word, “Jeeping” is a verb which refers to the act of going “four wheeling” in any vehicle. A rough, two-spoor track is often referred to as a “Jeep Track” (noun), even when being traversed by other brands. From unlimited merchandise (encompassing their own clothing line and even strollers) and a special wave used to greet other owners (known as the “Jeep Wave”), all the way through to MOPAR, which is a mashup of two words – ‘MOtor’ and ‘PARts’. MOPAR was created by the Chrysler Corporation to launch its line of parts and accessories in 1937. It began with a single, paradigm-changing product – “MoPar antifreeze”. Today, MOPAR is one of the automotive industry’s most recognized brands, which recently celebrated its 85th birthday. Beyond parts, accessories, and customer service, the brand is most associated with performance, from its long history with NASCAR to legendary dragsters and sponsorships that continue today.
Seven-slot grille designs abound in every Jeep SUV’s interior, and Renegade Trailhawk models have a topographic map of Moab, Utah (an off-road playground) etched into the rubber lining of the storage cubby in front of the gear lever, which is repeated inside the under-armrest storage bin.
“Camp Jeep” is a regular event across the world, where people get to spend a weekend together, ‘Jeeping’ and enjoying the lifestyle. And what’s with Jeep International Go Topless Day?? In America, mid-May is the start of summer. Jeepers there have celebrated by keeping their shirts on (mostly) and taking their tops off (the Jeep Wranglers) and driving around in large convoys. The world followed, and since 2008 Go Topless Day has been a ‘Jeep thang’ every 21st May!
The Jeep Renegade rev counter uses a paintball splatter design to indicate the redline, apparently a nod to one of the Italian design team’s favourite pastimes.
The Jeep Trail-Rated badge is a symbol of safety and adventure. It’s awarded to Jeep models that pass a series of rigorous tests to ensure rugged, off-road capability. Trail-Rated Jeeps are guaranteed to withstand the toughest terrains and harshest weather conditions, making sure that you really can “Go anywhere. Do Anything.” in a Jeep. The Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains is the most popular testing location. Jeep also runs its vehicles through the icy, treacherous trails of Northern Michigan and the famous red rocks of Moab, Utah, among other locations.
The Jeep Trail-Rated badge.
Always evolving, there’s now a new standard… As an extension to the Trail Rated designation, Desert Rated vehicles are judged against five categories that focus on high-speed stability and performance in sandy conditions. Three are familiar (traction, manoeuvrability, and ground clearance) and some are new: Ride Control and Stability, and Desert Prowess.
The Jeep Desert Rated Badge.
The owners of these vehicles, or the ‘Jeep Tribe’ if you prefer, have an essence, a “Spirit of Jeep”, that seems to flow through their veins. The Jeep brand engenders passion. It is seldom just a means of getting from A to B. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Jeep is, quite literally, a legend in this sphere. Let’s take it a step further. The Jeep brand, and its associated lifestyle, has a cult-like following as a direct result of Jeep owners who have incredible brand loyalty.
The Renegade’s tail-light design mimics the X-pattern found on WWII gas cans. However, look a little closer and there’s another grille emblem stamped into the lens.
In 2018, at the annual “The Gathering” (Society of Cult Brands), Jeep was awarded the status of a “Cult Brand” Honoree – the first and only automotive brand to be recognized by the association. To give you some background, The Gathering (founded in 2013) is an exclusive summit which focuses on exposing the principles and practices employed by the world’s most successful brands.
Vintage military Willys Jeep vehicles can be found on Jeep windows, floor mats and on some Jeep model tyres.
Another surprising honour bestowed upon Jeep was the inclusion in a display by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1951. The curator at the time described it as a “sturdy sardine can on wheels”! MoMA is a place that fuels creativity, ignites minds, and provides inspiration. It is full of extraordinary exhibitions, as well as collections of modern and contemporary art. There was a 1953 Willys Jeep (acquired 2002) on display – which was the only American car in the collection. Paul Galloway, the collection specialist at MoMA who oversees architecture and design, says that “The visual model for this vehicle still dictates the look of Jeeps made to this very day. As a symbol for American machine art and machine aesthetics, there’s nothing better.”
Many speaker surrounds each have the seven-slot grille emblem embossed on them.
So – let’s discuss symbols…The Jeep brand started including “Easter eggs” on their vehicles back in 1997. They are hidden fun references, designs, and interesting secrets throughout every Jeep vehicle, the search for which compares to, well, an Easter egg hunt! They vary across different countries and models but are all hidden in plain sight. So, the Easter eggs described in this article won’t all necessarily be on all the Jeep vehicles in South Africa, but many are….
A little Willys Jeep is almost always found on the front windscreen.
The Wrangler was the first model to include Jeep Easter eggs, and this first Easter egg was a tribute to the seven-slot grille on the 1997 Wrangler SUV’s hood cowling (the plastic or rubber piece fits snugly in place beneath your windscreen wipers). Today, that seven-slot Easter egg remains, and the entire Jeep lineup includes Easter eggs in their interior and exterior. The Jeep Renegade can have up to 30 Easter eggs!
Around the ignition button in the Jeep Renegade, there’s an enticing message: “To new adventures!”
A sasquatch can be found in the rear windshield of the Jeep Renegade and the Loch Ness monster can be found on the back window of a Compass.
At the left rear of the Jeep Gladiator, you can find the number “419” (with a heart) engraved. This is the area code of Toledo, Ohio. It pays homage to the Toledo facility and the people that work there.
Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators are unlike any other vehicle in production as they are made to have the doors and roof panels taken off in various combinations. A convertible SUV! But, what of all the dirt and all the mud, I hear you asking…. No problem. Just use a garden hose on low pressure and keep away from the dash. Say what? Yes – absolutely. This ruggedly capable off-road machine is designed for that – it even has floor plugs to let the water drain.
Topless, doorless, windscreen down… by design!
Jeep is often compared to the general offering supplied by other manufacturers. In truth, it is a very unique vehicle with a stellar heritage, equipped with features that simply aren’t offered by its competitors. In my humble opinion, that makes if truly one of the legendary brands of the motor industry.
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team