Jeep is one of the most recognized brands on the planet. Around the globe Jeep has become synonymous with four- wheel drives, and for good reason. Over its 70-year history the parent company of Jeep has changed hands a few times, but the core of the Jeep brand has remained loyal to its go-anywhere military roots. While the new Wrangler JK platform may seem a little ritzy on the inside, the heart of the vehicle (think solid front and rear axles) is still the same.
With so many Jeep vehicles making their way onto the market over the years, a timeline and history of all of the Jeep models and their significance would fill up this entire magazine—for the rest of the year! In order to give you a sound rundown of Jeep’s historical highlights, we’ve chose to concentrate our timeline on the two-door versions that went on to become the Jeep Wrangler we know today.
For more Jeep history be sure to visit us at 4wheeloffroad.com where we have years of Jeep reviews, historical segments, and tech articles on the 4x4s that started it all.
• 1940 September 23 Bantam Prototype is presented to the U.S. Army. Since the Army provided Bantam, along with Ford and Willys, the same detailed parameters, the three had similar prototypes.
• 1941 After competing with Ford and Bantam, Willys gets the military contract. Though the powerful Go-Devil engine was a strong selling point, what won the bid was the fact that Willys could produce the jeep cheaper than Ford and the Bantam.
• 1945 July, 17 First civilian Jeep produced, the Willys CJ-2A.
• 1949 CJ-3A introduced.
• 1950 Willys trademarks Jeep and the M38 version is released. With it came a 24V electrical system. The M38 is thought to be the strongest flatfender made, and its short three-year run makes it highly collectable to Jeep enthusiasts.
• 1953 Introduction of the CJ-3B, which along with the M38A1 marked the end of the true flatfender era. The ’53 model year also marks change of ownership, as Willys sells the brand to Kaiser.
• 1954 CJ-5 comes onto the scene and would go on to stay in production for nearly 30 years. This long run remains the longest Jeep model production to date.
• 1956 CJ-6 makes its way onto the scene with a 101-inch wheelbase.
• 1970 AMC (American Motors Corp.) purchases Kaiser.
• 1976 One of the most popular vehicles of its time, the CJ-7, debuts.
• 1981 Longer CJ-8 Scrambler hits dealer lots. Its short five-year run and long wheelbase make it popular with collectors and wheeling enthusiasts.
• 1987 Chrysler buys out AMC and the Jeep CJ platform becomes the Wrangler. With the new Wrangler YJ platform comes a fresh grille with square headlights. This is the only time the Wrangler platform saw square headlights, and we hope it’s the last!
• 1996 No Wrangler was produced, as Jeep geared up to release the cutting-edge TJ.
• 1997 TJ arrives. The new body style brought back the round headlights and a more traditional front grille. More important, the new Wrangler was equipped with a radically different multilink coil-sprung front and rear suspension that drastically improved the ride and off-road performance. A sport edition would go on to take home the coveted 4WOR 4x4 of the Year trophy.
• 1998 Chrysler merges with Daimler-Benz to become DaimlerChrysler.
• 2003 Jeep introduces the Rubicon Wrangler. This hardcore edition includes front and rear selectable lockers, a 4:1 transfer case, and knobby 31-inch tires.
• 2004 For many, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited was exciting and thought to be a modern rendition of the Scrambler. Though the longer-wheelbase Unlimited was only available in the ’05-’06 Rubicon edition, the short three-year run of what’s commonly referred to as the LJ has kept the value of the Jeep relatively high.
• 2006 Marks the end of TJ and LJ. This also shuts the book on the now legendary 4.0L inline-six engine.
• 2007 Daimler sells off most of its holdings, and Jeep’s parent company becomes Chrysler Holding LLC. This year also marks two significant unveils: the all-new Wrangler four-door Unlimited and the traditional Wrangler two-door. While the 3.8L and barrage of new electronic controls receive mixed reviews and complaints from Jeep purist, the wider and more plush versions of the Jeep are an instant success. Rubicon edition is named 4x4 of the Year.
• 2011 Jeep celebrates the 70th anniversary of the brand. This also ends the short-lived 3.8L minivan engine and replaces it with the Pentastar 3.6L for 2012.
The Complete (Almost) Timeline
1940 Bantam pilot prototype
1940 Bantam BRC-60 prototype
1940 Willys Quad prototype
1940 Ford Pygmy prototype
1940 Budd Ford prototype
1941 Ford GP
1941 Willys MA
1941 Bantam BRC-40
1941 Willys MB (slat grille)
1942-43 Ford GPA
1942-45 Willys MB (stamped grille)
1942-45 Ford GPW
1946-65 Willys Jeep Wagon
1947-65 Willys Jeep Truck
1948-50 VJ Willys Jeepster
1956-65 Forward Control FC-150, FC-170
1959-78 M151 MUTT
1961-63 CJ Tuxedo Park Mark III
1963-86 J-Series Gladiator, Jeep Honcho
1963-83 SJ Wagoneer
1964-67 CJ-5A/CJ-6A Tuxedo Park
1966-69 SJ Super Wagoneer
1966-71 C101-Jeepster Commando
1970 CJ Renegade I
1971 CJ Renegade II
1972-73 C104 Commando
1972-83 CJ Renegade
1973 CJ Super Jeep
1974-83 SJ Cherokee
1977-80 CJ Golden Eagle
1979 CJ-5 Silver Anniversary Limited Edition
1980 CJ Golden Hawk
1981-85 CJ-8 Scrambler
1981-85 CJ-10 Military and export
1984-91 SJ Jeep Grand Wagoneer
1984-01 XJ Cherokee
1984-90 XJ Wagoneer
1986-92 MJ Comanche
1987-95 YJ Wrangler
1993 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
1993-98 ZJ Grand Cherokee
1997-2006 TJ Wrangler
1999-2004 WJ Grand Cherokee
2002-07 KJ Liberty
2003 TJ Rubicon
2004-06 TJ Unlimited
2005-10 WK Grand Cherokee (IFS)
2006-09 XK Commander
2007-present JK Wrangler two- and four-door Unlimited.
2007-present MK Compass
2008-present KK Liberty
2011-12 WK2 Grand Cherokee (fully independent)