What people know today as the fun, off road, versatile vehicle we call the jeep, had its beginnings in far different circumstances. American Bantam built the first Jeeps as Prototypes for the Department of the Army. While the Army was impressed with the overall design of the vehicle, the engine in the first prototype was too small and did not produce the power the Army was looking for in a field vehicle. There was also concern over the fact that Bantam was a very small company with only one manufacturing plant and any attempts at sabotage by the enemy could result in a halt in production. For these reasons the both the Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Companies were allowed to come up with a second design. The Army liked what Willys came up with and granted the contract to both Ford and Willys. The contract was awarded to both companies because again, the military felt that Willys was too small to produce the number of vehicles required.
Many different companies have owned the name Jeep and even the origins of the name itself have been questioned. What is known for certain is that the Jeep was originally designed for the American Armed Forces and is one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world.
In 1941, Willys produced the first Civilian Jeeps. The initials CJ stand for Civilian Jeep and thus the first model name was born. Willsy sold the brand to Kaiser in 1953 and it became Kaiser-Jeep. Kaiser-Jeep began to suffer financial difficulties and was forced to sell the brand to American Motors (AMC) in 1970. AMC capitalized on the Jeep's International and government markets and had quite a lot of success with the brand. When Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987, Chrysler also acquired the Jeep trademark and still holds it until today.
Jeep has always been known for it's off road capabilities. The Jeep Wrangler is the only off road vehicle offered in the United States that has solid rear axles for both the front and back. It is due to the solid axle design that Jeeps are so rugged and dependable in extreme off road situations. With the lack of rubber boots, there is nothing for sticks and rocks to snag on and because solid axles have better articulation, ruts are much easier to clear. Solid axles are less expensive to lift as well so it is easier to increase the distance between the center of the axle hub and the chassis. This allows for extra large tires to be installed giving the vehicle even more ground clearance. Today, all Wrangler models come with four-wheel drive, a Dana 35 rear axle, and a Dana 30 front axle.
Jeeps are unique in several other aspects as well. They come in both hard top and soft-top varieties. The soft top can be removed, transforming the automobile into something like a convertible. The Jeep is also the only vehicle in the United States to have removable doors.
The off road Jeep brand has developed something of a cult following and off road events are held all over the country that are open to Jeep owners only.
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