The buzzing excitement leading up to the first-ever Toledo Jeep Fest could be felt far and wide long before the Saturday August 13, 2016, event. The 2015 Bantam Heritage Festival celebrated the 75th birthday of the first jeep pilot vehicle, but the Toledo Jeep Fest was dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the signing of the military contract that put the first jeep vehicle into full production. The United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 12, Lucas County, and the city of Toledo spent nearly a year planning this one-day celebration that was complete with a parade through downtown Toledo, three stages of live music, an "all Jeep" car show at the SeaGate Centre, and of course, military and Jeep history.
Nearly 40,000 attendees flocked to northwest Ohio in support of this historic celebration, and about 1,000 Jeeps registered to participate in the parade. If you’ve ever visited Toledo, you know that Jeep is more than a word or a brand in the Midwest. Jeep is an icon and a lifeline. We asked a few folks who came out what this whole celebration signifies in their own words.
Dan Tyburski, UAW/WCM communications lead and FI Joint Pillar lead at the Toledo Assembly Complex (TAC), said "There’s pride here at the plant … from when I was first hired in 1983 and listening to the stories of the old timers to the pride of today and the new hires continuing this tradition and heritage. This vehicle isn’t just any car or truck— it’s a Jeep!" Dan’s two older brothers and sister-in-law are TAC retirees, and his great nephew is a new hire. Jim Repp, Vehicle Development Manager at FCA North America, and a Jeep owner and off-road enthusiast, summarized the day, "[I’m] with my people! Jeep People! I [saw] lots of cool old-school Jeeps, and we talked ‘Jeep’ all day." Though it rained on an off, someone in passing yelled into the street, "We were blessed! It was the holy water!" Needless to say, Toledo welcomed this first-of-its-kind event and is more than happy that Jeeps are still made right here.
Toledo means a great deal to the history of Jeep. In 1941, the U.S. Army called for proposals from Willys-Overland, Ford, and American Bantam for a war-ready and highly maneuverable vehicle. Willys-Overland produced about 368,000 at the Willys-Overland factory in Toledo, and a portion of the circa-1915 original factory smoke stacks still stand strong today. TAC is where the current Jeep Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited, and Cherokee are produced. Approximately 4,200 employees work in the assembly plant, and all were given the opportunity to take off and head to the streets of downtown Toledo for the celebratory event.
Like the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler, Pennsylvania, the Toledo Jeep Fest showcased an impressive display of vehicles ranging from day one to present. Check out the gallery of photos below to see some of our favorites from 75 years of Jeep production.