Jeep-ers! That’s a great car!


Chris VerHeul

Trevor Buckingham’s Jeep TJ tackles snow piles in PCM parking lot. Jeep life forever!

Chris VerHeul, Editor

Jeeps. Love them or hate them, these vehicles have been around since 1940 when they were built and designed as military vehicles by the American Bantam Car Company. As military production ramped up before WW2, the United States Army did not believe that Bantam would be able to keep up with production deadlines; manufacturers Ford and Willys-Overland were contacted to build military vehicles based on Bantam’s design.
After the war, the rights for the Jeep were acquired by Willys, who continued to build Jeeps for the government and civilians until the company was purchased by Kaiser motors in 1953. The civilian sector was a hard market for Jeep to crack. Although many soldiers praised the versatility and durability of the Jeep, the rough suspension and lack of conveniences left the American public wanting with early CJ, or Civilian Jeep, models. Later models, like the CJ-5 and CJ-7 brought more modern conveniences and a smoother ride to the Jeep brand. Once Jeep cracked the civilian market, there was no looking back.
Jeeps became more and more popular as it entered into the Americana subculture of the 60s and 70s, but the success of early models did not last forever. In 1970, Kaiser, who had been losing money on Jeeps, sold Jeep to the American Motor Company. AMC had a larger international market, as well as a larger selection of stock parts to make and design Jeeps with. They designed Jeeps with focuses on the civilian market and phased out older Jeep models with newer, more comfortable models. The CJ line of Jeeps was replaced with the newer Wrangler line that continues today, and the XJ or Jeep Cherokee models were introduced.
AMC had several problems that ultimately doomed the corporate entity. The first was a lack of sales of the passenger cars they had been producing, and the second was stricter government demands on pollution and gas mileage on four wheel drive vehicles. Trying to save themselves from bankruptcy, AMC partnered with French automaker, Renault, and made many changes to their brand. Still, it would not be enough to bring larger profits to either company, and AMC was bought out by Chrysler in 1987.
Chrysler was not a bad company for Jeep. With several other smaller automakers like Plymouth and Dodge being owned by Chrysler, there was plenty of space for the Jeep brand to continue to grow. The future for Jeep looked great, but bad things were coming. Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz and went through a series of rebrandings… then they were folded into Fiat-Chrysler… then they went through another series of rebrandings. Finally, the company, now called Stellantis, has changed Jeep into something it should never have been. Today’s Jeeps, like the Compass and Grand Cherokee models, are expensive, heavy and overrated piles of horse manure that fall apart in the first 50 thousand miles. Stellantis is not known for making reliable cars, and every car brand they have touched immediately started to lose reliability. Jeep had died, and Stellantis killed it.
Or so it seems. In fact, Jeep still has a bright future ahead of it. The Jeep Wrangler continues to be produced, and other companies have taken notice of its versatility. Ford, one of the Big Three Detroit automakers, has decided to bring back its Bronco nameplate to directly compete with Jeep. The new Ford Bronco looks really impressive from what I have seen of it; I hope that it will force Stellantis and Jeep to take notice. Competition between automakers has led to some of the most impressive vehicles of all time, and maybe it will be the jumpstart Jeep needs to return from the grave. Jeep needs to look back at what it has done well, and it needs to look forward. It needs to be definitive about what it wants to be: a rugged off-road vehicle with a history going back to WW2, or an overpriced luxury junker with a Jeep badge on it. My opinion? Long live Jeep!