What Replaced the Willys?
There once was a time when a new Jeep was a tool. As many of you know, the jeep (lowercase) originated as a quarter-ton general-purpose vehicle during World War II. Bantam, Willys, and Ford collaborated to build as many as needed for the war effort. This was a time when manufacturers worked together to help topple the enemies of our country. The jeep made a name for itself during the war and was vital to helping the U.S. win.
In the years following WWII, Willy’s took There once was a time when a new Jeep was a tool. As many of you know, the jeep (lowercase) originated as a quarter-ton general-purpose vehicle during World War II. Bantam, Willys, and Ford collaborated to build as many as needed for the war effort. This was a time when manufacturers worked together to help topple the enemies of our country. The jeep made a name for itself during the war and was vital to helping the U.S. win.
In the years following WWII, Willy’s took control of the Jeep name but had to find a place outside of military duty for the little 4x4. Like many veterans, Jeeps went to work, but instead of picking up briefcases and wearing fedoras to the office, the Jeep headed to the country, where it became a new farm implement. With the development of the first civilian CJ-2A in 1945, Willys recognized the market and advertised the Jeep for farming, plowing, working in orchards, fighting fires, and anything else a small 4x4 could accomplish. Of course, eventually we four-wheelers scooped them up for our off-roading recreation as well.
In the past 70 years Jeeps have changed a lot. There are multiple models, various options, and far more luxury to the brand. Yet much has stayed the same, at least if you compare Wranglers to early CJs, with body-on-frame construction, solid beam axles, and lever-actuated four-wheel drive. But one question we have is whether the Jeep Wrangler is as capable as the old flatfender. Or has it become too soft in its latest iteration to do work? And with Jeep moving out of the fields, what has replaced the Willys Jeep as the small go-to work vehicle? We headed to the country to find out.
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So what does all this tell you? Back in the day there was one small Jeep capable of farming, four-wheeling, and still going to town to haul supplies or attend church on Sunday. Nowadays we have two vehicles: a big street-legal Jeep and a small and nimble Gator that is not street legal. You could say we have two tools more finely tuned to their jobs, or you could say we have a lot more money invested in a lot more stuff. If you bought a Jeep Wrangler and a Gator, it would set you back at least $28,000 for a base model Wrangler two-door and $13,000 for the Gator. But if you go for the more high-zoot versions of each, you’re looking at just shy of $60,000 for both! If you search the classifieds you can often find stock Willys Jeeps for $2,000-$10,000 depending on restoration and condition, and for some additional aftermarket component investment you could build it into a Jeep that would run with the Gator no problem and still drive to work like the Wrangler.
We know that most farmers would rather invest in John Deere’s other vehicles to do field work, namely tractors. And Jeep is probably happy selling every single Wrangler it builds due to its unstoppable market demand. However, we think it is time for a new smaller street-legal 4x4 vehicle. City folks get those little Smart cars, Mini Coopers, Fiat 500s, and Scions. Why not a capable 80-inch-wheelbase 4x4 just like back in the 1940s for the country folks? Give it a healthy four-cylinder, and don’t be surprised if it gets good mileage. Add the required airbags and such, but keep the interior amenities to a minimum (they’re too distracting anyway), and market them to farmers and ranchers and hunters as a useful vehicle. Don’t be surprised when all us four-wheeler’s buy them to play with and modify and those city folks buy them because they look rugged and adventurous.
We hope the Jeep product planners are reading this. If not we hope someone from Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan, Land Rover, or John Deere steals the idea and runs with it.