A Brief History of the Jeep and the Culture Around It

The Jeep is probably one of the most rugged and manly vehicles in the market today. It has been the vehicle of choice for adventure-seekers and knights-in-camouflage for more than fifty years. Fans of the vehicle have formed clubs across the world to share their common bond over this amazing vehicle.

The first Jeep was developed and manufactured out of necessity – the US Army needed a vehicle that was fast, light-weight and could function in almost any terrain required ASAP since their butts were getting whooped by the Axis powers.

The Army’s call to action

They sent out their requirements to automobile manufacturers and gave them forty-nine days or seven weeks to come up with a working prototype. The original Jeep requirements included the following specifications:

Vehicle weight: approximately 1,300 pounds
Four-wheel drive
Engine (power): 85 pound-feet of torque
Wheelbase: Not more than 80 inches
Tread: Not more than 47 inches
Ground Clearance: Minimum ground clearance of 6.25 inches
Payload: 600 pounds
Cooling System: Good enough to allow a sustained low speed without overheating the engine

Designing any vehicle can take weeks, months – even years of careful planning. Especially during wartime when manpower was in short supply, it isn’t all that surprising that only two vehicle manufacturers responded to an invitation that was sent out to more than a hundred companies around the country.

The three manufacturers who responded to the Army’s invitation were the American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. Willys-Overland requested more time to complete their vehicle (a request that was denied) while the Bantam Car Company had to accept the help of Detroit engineer, Karl Probst who was enlisted by the National Defense Advisory committee and accepted the job without pay. He was able to come up with the basic blueprint in two days and the Bantam prototype was presented to the US Army on July 22.

The Bantam Car Company lost out

Over a hundred companies were invited to bid on the US Army’s reconnaissance vehicle but only three responded to the call – out of those three companies, Bantam was the only one that was able to come up with the required plans and prototype Jeep within the deadline.

The US Army, in those days, was an old boy’s club. For some reason, they made the plans submitted by Bantam available to the other companies bidding for it (Ford and Willys) and also gave these two companies the opportunity to study the prototype (going so far as to take photos of it) and submit their own prototypes based on the original Bantam Reconnaissance Car.

Willys eventually won the contract based on their “superior” version and Bantam’s supposed inability to produce the required amount of vehicles to supply the Army’s needs.

Where did the name Jeep come from?

There are a lot of theories about where the name “Jeep” originated. Some people say it’s a faster way of saying “G.P.” or general purpose vehicle. Others say it was named after a character that appeared in the Popeye comics.

The first time the media acknowledged the term Jeep was in an article written by Katherine Hillyer whose article for the Washington Daily News was entitled “Jeep Creeps Up Capitol Steps” which was accompanied by a photo.

Jeep fans around the world

The Jeep is a vehicle that has enthusiasts from every corner of the globe. Its versatility has made it incredibly popular not only in the United States but in nearly anywhere off road travel is enjoyed or a necessity. Fans of the vehicle group to form clubs to share their common love for it. These clubs often distinguish themselves by wearing custom Jeep club shirts representing their local organization. These clubs are especially popular in areas like the Pacific Northwest where the mountains provide a perfect backdrop for weekend runs and meet ups. Clubs are not exclusive to just America, however. Fans have grouped together in Europe, Australia, and South America over their Jeep love.