It’s true: The Wrangler JK rules the roost. Coming from a die-hard Jeep guy, that statement may seem far-fetched and downright looney-tooney. In fact, there are many Jeep enthusiasts or “purists” who think that the JK has ruined the Jeep and the Jeeping world in general. I’m here to state that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the JK may have saved the Jeep Brand as well as Jeeping and four-wheeling in general. As bold a statement as that is, it’s simply the way it is.
Of course a little background may be in order, especially if you aren’t familiar with how Jeep codenames their vehicles internally with the Alpha naming conventions. Originally the civilian Jeep came about out of the military jeep of WWII. These first civilian Jeeps in 1945 were designated and known as CJs, as in a CJ-2A, which meant of course Civilian Jeep model 2A. Eventually these were superseded all the way up to the CJ-7, which ceased production in 1987. The Jeep Wrangler was born in 1987 as a replacement for the CJ, and the general public was unaware of the internal YJ designation—and the Y stood for nothing other than a letter. The same goes for the next generation’s Wrangler, the TJ produced from 1997¬–2006, and the current iteration of JK Wrangler from 2007 to the present. This all means that when someone says they have a Wrangler, they could mean any one of 3 different generations of vehicles. That’s why it’s important to know what a JK is vs. a generic Wrangler. And that’s also why the JK is the most important vehicle Jeep has ever produced.
Here’s why: Right out of the box, the JK is the most capable 4x4 made in America. Add the Rubicon package, and the beast is darn near unstoppable. Four Wheeler touted it as the “4x4 of the Decade” and it handily won many other prestigious awards in a short time. The engineers at Jeep had nearly perfected the coil spring suspension and solid axle combination with locking differentials and a low-geared transfer case. You could drive it off the dealer lot, cruise through many a tough trail, and then with the flip of a lever settle back in for a comfortable cruise back home. And when the JKU, the four-door model, was introduced sales soared even more. Now everyone who shied away from a Wrangler because there wasn’t enough room or doors for a family could get the same (or better) legendary off-road prowess and on-street manners as the regular two-door JK.
The best or worst part of this story is that the downturn in the nation’s economy came at the same time—2007. Good or bad, German-controlled Daimler/Chrysler sold out to Cerebus investment, who eventually went bankrupt as Italian automaker Fiat scooped up the prize of the Chrysler line—the Jeep Brand. After the record breaking sales of the first JK, 2008 and 2009 models dipped below 100,000 due to the economy. But as the world turned, sales came back. And it wasn’t just due to the Jeep JK, it was due to the robust aftermarket support for the new Wrangler, and that’s where this becomes so important. All of the 4x4 shops and companies that jumped on the new JK aftermarket accessory boom saved their businesses, while those that stuck to the older varieties suffered, and some went quietly away. That’s one reason sales of JKs have skyrocketed as well as the incredible amount of companies that cater only to the JK line. In fact, just about anyone can buy a Wrangler JK and bolt on every aftermarket accessory to make some of the most badass jeeps around. Of course there will always be the tacky builds, and that is true with any genre. But the JK is here for the long run—a 10-year production with the most robust aftermarket support of any factory 4x4.