What Is The History Of The First Jeep?

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I enjoyed your recent articles of the Jeep brand vehicles and informing us that in April of this year, Jeeps accounted for nearly 45-percent of all of Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA) company sales. Now I knew Jeeps were important to Chrysler, but never realized how critical they were.
Also, can you give me the story of the first Jeep? There is much information online that is misleading. Finally, if you could give some info on the new Jeep pickup it would be appreciated as it’s been a while since the last Jeep pickup.
My friends and I all enjoy your columns in the Rockford Register Star. Charlie L., Rockford, IL.
A: Charlie, I’d be happy to answer your questions and thanks for the kind words.
Starting with the Jeep corporate franchise, I gave April of 2019 sales results in a recent column and yes, Jeep is the “big daddy” of the FCA company sales.
To be even more precise, entire 2018 yearly Jeep brand sales rose 17 percent to a record 973,227 vehicles, eclipsing the previous record of 926,376 units sold in 2016. Total FCA United States sales, including RAM pickups, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo rose 9-percent to 2,235,204 units compared with 2,059,376 vehicles for 2017.
So to answer your first question, the Jeep brand accounted for 43.5-percent of all FCA U.S. sales for calendar year 2018, a most impressive number and they are on track to possibly do even better here in ’19.
As for that first ever Jeep, I give thanks to David Eilers, who deciphers vintage Jeep/Willys history on a daily basis and put to rest the many inaccuracies that are online about the first Jeep.
David wrote to me a while back about the “real” first Jeep after I wrote a column on the subject. He explained the history of the Willys/Ford/Bantam (Jeep), and admits it is a very complex subject and gets very confusing. Here’s what Dave gave to us after my column appeared nationwide on the first Jeep and its confusing history:
1. The first jeep sold by Willys-Overland in 1945 to the public was the Willys CJ-2A. Early CJ-2A production units used some left over parts from the military versions, making VEC CJ-2As highly collectible among civilian collectors.
2. The Willys Quad was the first prototype Willys-Overland developed in 1940 (the second Prototype was the Willys MA).
3. The Willys Quad wasn't an exact "copy" of the Bantam BRC, although there were similarities as you noted in your columns since Willys got to look at the Bantam plans before shipping the Quad.
4. Ford indeed had a hand in Jeep history, as Ford's first prototype was the Ford Pygmy. A second prototype was the Ford Budd. Ford's third prototype was the Ford GP (which stands for G=Government and P=80-inch wheelbase and not General Purpose). The WWII production Jeep was the Ford GPW (the W standing for Willys design).
5. As you noted and to explain further about Willys getting to use the name Jeep, Willys and Ford battled over the Jeep name. Willys didn't win the right to use the name until the 1950s, which is the reason the hood and windshields of the CJ-2As and the CJ-3As were stamped Willys. There are a few rare CJ-2s that are stamped "JEEP" (www.willys-overland.com/index.htm).
6. While the original Bantam BRC is considered the first Jeep, a Jeep photo in your Jeep column is a Bantam BRC-40, which was the third prototype (see the three different Bantams on my website).
7. Despite having arguably the worst of the three designs, Ford initially won the Army Quartermaster contract. However, there was enough push-back that the contract was transferred to Willys-Overland and Ford was assigned as a second-source status as you noted.
“I hope this helps, and if you have any future questions about vintage Jeeps I'll be happy to help,” said Dave.
I thanked Dave for his clear history of the Jeep brand and highly recommend readers check Dave's website for more interesting information at www.eWillys.com. You’ll be glad you did as many special Jeep events are listed for the 2019 season.
Last but not least, look for the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup to arrive at dealers soon. It’s Jeep’s first pickup named the Gladiator since the 1962 (see attached 1966 Gladiator ad and photo of the new 2020 Gladiator). I won’t be surprised to see the Jeep’s overall sales rise even further when the Jeep enthusiasts get behind the wheel of this new pickup.
It looks great from the photos and I’m already in line to test drive one later this year. Thanks for your question Charlie, and hope this helps.

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