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History Of The Jeep - Trail Head

I Can't Stop Talking About Jeeps

Pete TrasborgPhotographer, Writer

So, it turns out my friends hate me. They just walk away from me at random times without even saying goodbye or anything. Maybe it’s because I can’t stop giving history lessons about Jeeps to anyone who seems even half interested, but I’m not sure.

Let’s set the scene. I stopped by a house because our 3K, 3Day ZJ was there, and I was driving Jr. (that’s Junior (our ’01 Wrangler), not JR (our old ’99 XJ)). Of course, Jr. attracts a lot of attention from non-Jeep folk because of its looks (carbon fiber hood, aluminum armor, and so forth). So, the neighbors came out to check the Jeep out while I was doing things with the 3K, 3Day ZJ. One older gentleman asked me if I knew where Jeep came from. After asking for clarification, it turns out he wanted to know if I knew the origin of the vehicle, not the marque. So, as anyone would, I said, “Yes, Karl Probst.”

Now, somewhere in that brief exchange, all my friends just simply walked away. They knew what was coming next, I guess, and they were tired of hearing it. Remember the slat grille I found a couple of months ago? Yeah, they just got the whole soliloquy recently, so I can’t blame them. Apparently not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the subject.

Anyway, I said, “Karl Probst,” and confused the guy who asked the question. He said, “No, it was Willys-Overland who designed the Jeep.” Of course, he pronounced “Willys” wrong, and of course I had to correct that, but then I just couldn’t help myself. I went back into how American Bantam Car Company hired Karl Probst to design the 1⁄4-ton vehicle the Department of the Army wanted back in 1939. How Willys and Ford were eventually both given access to those plans to make their own versions of it, and how Bantam was eventually relegated to simply making trailers. I even went off on a little tangent about Ford stamping the MB and GPW grilles.

I was proud of myself in that I managed to not get into how Probst drove the prototype from Butler, Pennsylvania, to Camp Holabird, Maryland, almost before the paint was dry. That’s a 270-mile trip in an unproven, unknown vehicle, with a probable top speed of about 45 mph. Talk about dedication. I’d have loved to been on that trip. Yep, that prototype was driven to Holabird for its testing, just like a real Jeep should be. While I was able to restrain myself from going into that story with this older gent; however, I admit I did get into the “jeep” versus “Jeep” discussion.

Like most people I get into that discussion with, he’d never heard of that either. For those of you that don’t know, I’ll keep it short: The name isn’t supposed to be written with a capital “J” unless the vehicle was produced after Willys-Overland got its trademark on the name officially approved. The company filed for the trademark in 1943 but wasn’t granted it until June of 1950.

In this issue, I have brought together a bunch of suspension tech and installs. I set out with the intention of covering both leaf springs and those funky roundy-round springs in this issue. However, it turned out most of us were playing with the round springs. So, it looks like now I need to bring together a leaf spring tech section too. That shouldn’t be too hard, as most of my Jeeps still run leaf springs.

But, to counter that, we’ve got a cool story by Jim Allen about half-century-old Jeeps with cool tool attachments from a show out in Ohio. Cappa comes back with his flatty and some Land Rover radius arms, Simons chips away at his iceberg-like Willys truck project, and Mansour gets one step closer to (not) rolling his totaled and brought back-to-life XJ. ’Til next time—I hope you enjoy it.