The Jeep brand built its reputation by producing vehicles with legendary all-terrain abilities, and the most iconic of all Jeep vehicles is the Wrangler. Redesigned for the first time in 10 years, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is the descendant of the original U.S. military vehicle that spawned the Jeep name and began the legacy of extreme off-road capability. From World War II to the Rubicon Trail, let’s look at the storied history of the Jeep Wrangler and its evolution through the years.
In 1940 the U.S. military was looking for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” to replace motorcycles and modified Model-T Ford vehicles. The list of specifications included 4-wheel drive, a 2-speed transfer case, a short wheelbase and light weight. Willys-Overland, American Bantam Car Manufacturing Company and Ford Motor Company all responded by producing prototype vehicles. The Willys prototype was the Quad, Bantam produced the Blitz Buggy and Ford produced the Model GP, also known as the Pygmy.
Dawn of the Jeep
All three companies were contracted to produce 70 vehicles each, followed by an additional 1,500 that were updated to meet revised specifications. Ultimately Willys was chosen as the primary manufacturer, and the Willys Quad became the MA followed by the MB, incorporating elements from both the Ford and Bantam vehicles. It’s unclear exactly how the vehicle became known as the Jeep, but it may have been either the abbreviated pronunciation of “GP,” the military label for “General Purpose,” or from the character “Eugene the Jeep” in the Popeye cartoon. Either way, the Jeep name stuck.
Willys struggled to meet the Army minimum weight specification of 2,160 pounds, and many items were removed from the Willys MA, which was a minimalist vehicle with the gearshift on the steering column, low side body cutouts, two round instrument clusters and a hand brake on the left side. Additional equipment was added to the second-generation MB, resulting in a weight increase of approximately 400 pounds. Willys-Overland built more than 368,000 vehicles for the U.S. Army, and under license Ford built an additional 277,000 vehicles.
Jeep CJ-2A: 1945–1949
After the war ended, Willys trademarked the name and began selling Jeeps to civilians with the CJ model designation derived from Civilian Jeep. The first model sold in 1945 was the Willys CJ-2A, which was marketed as both a vehicle and as a mobile generator that could power farm implements and industrial tools when equipped with a power take-off unit. The CJ-2A had more equipment than the previous military models, including a tailgate, side-mounted spare tire, larger headlights and an external fuel cap. The CJ-2A is powered by a 134-cubic-inch 4-cylinder engine with a T-90A transmission, Spicer 18 transfer case and Dana full-floating front and rear axles. The CJ-3A sold from 1949-53 is very similar to the CJ-2A, with the addition of a one-piece windshield with a bottom vent, dual bottom-mounted wipers and a few mechanical updates.
Jeep CJ-3B: 1953–1968
The Jeep CJ received extensive updates for 1953 as the CJ-3B, with a taller hood and grille to fit a larger Hurricane engine that produced 25 percent more horsepower than the previous engine. Production of the CJ-3B lasted for 15 years with more than 155,000 sold. In 1953 Henry J. Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland for $60 million, and the Kaiser Company began research and development to expand the Jeep product range.
Jeep CJ-5: 1955–1983
Kaiser introduced the Jeep CJ-5 in 1955, which is slightly larger than the CJ-3B with a longer wheelbase and overall length. Based on the Korean War M-38A-1 military vehicle, the CJ-5 has softer body lines and more rounded fenders. As interest in off-road vehicles grew, the CJ-5 improved in almost every way including engines, transmissions, axles and seating comfort. In 1965 a new V6 engine produced 155 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque — nearly twice the power of the standard 4-cylinder engine. American Motors Corporation purchased Kaiser Jeep in 1970; beginning in 1973 all CJ-5s were powered by a V8 engine. More than 600,000 CJ-5s were produced over nearly 30 years.
Jeep CJ-6: 1956–1975
For owners who wanted additional room, the Jeep CJ-6 arrived for 1956. Virtually identical in mechanicals with the CJ-5, the CJ-6 rides on a 20-inch-longer wheelbase. The CJ-6 received the same engine upgrades in 1965 and 1973 as the CJ-5. The CJ-7 replaced the CJ-6 in 1976.
Jeep CJ-7: 1976–1986
The first major update of the CJ design in 20 years came with the introduction of the CJ-7 for 1976. The CJ-7 has a wheelbase 10 inches longer than the CJ-5, allowing room for an automatic transmission. (Production of the CJ-5 continued until 1983.) The CJ-7 was the first Jeep to offer an optional molded plastic top and steel doors.
Jeep Scrambler: 1981–1985
A pickup alternative to the CJ-7, the Scrambler is built on a longer 103-inch wheelbase with a longer rear overhang to increase cargo capacity. Known internationally as the CJ-8, the Scrambler is mechanically akin to the CJ-7 — although a V8 engine was never available. The open-top pickup was offered with either a soft-top or a hardtop. Only 30,000 Scramblers were built, making it popular among collectors.
Jeep Wrangler (YJ): 1987–1995
The first production Jeep to bear the Wrangler name debuted at the 1986 Chicago Auto Show as a replacement for the long-running Jeep CJ-7 and went on sale later that year as a 1987 model. Although it retained a similar profile to its predecessor, the new Wrangler shares few mechanical components with the CJ-7 and has more in common with the new Cherokee. As Jeep CJ-7 sales had dropped, the new Jeep Wrangler was designed to be less of a rugged, off-road vehicle and more suited for everyday use to appeal to a broader audience, while still retaining a high-level of off-road capability.
Jeep Wrangler (YJ): 1987–1995
The new design features a wider track, an angled grille and for the first time, rectangular headlights which proved to be controversial with Jeep CJ enthusiasts. Sharing many mechanical components with the Jeep Cherokee, the YJ is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or an optional 4.2-liter 6-cylinder producing 112 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. For 1991 the 4.2-liter was replaced with a fuel-injected 4.0-liter inline 6-cylinder producing 180 horsepower. On the inside the Wrangler looks more modern and offers additional creature comforts to appeal to a broader audience. In August 1987 American Motors Corporation was sold to Chrysler Corporation and Jeep became a division of Chrysler. More than 600,000 Wranglers YJ models were sold. Jeep skipped the 1996 model year but continued to sell 1995 models in 1996 until the 1997 model arrived.
Jeep Wrangler Renegade
For 1991 the Jeep offered the Wrangler Renegade Decor Group that included unique 5-hole aluminum alloy wheels, 29-inch all-terrain tires, special fender flares, high-back seats, off-road gas shocks, fog lights and other features.
Jeep Wrangler (TJ): 1997–2006
Redesigned for 1997 with a retro-look closer to the CJ-7 than the previous-generation Wrangler, the new TJ design returned to round headlights and retained a fold-down windshield, removable doors and a choice of a soft-top or a removable hardtop. On-road handling improved via Quadra-Coil suspension, which replaced standard leaf springs. Off-road capability also improved with more ground clearance and more aggressive approach and departure angles.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
The Wrangler Rubicon was added for 2003 — the best equipped production Jeep for off-road capability up to that time. It has push-button locking front and rear axles, 4:1 low-range Rock-Trac transfer case, 32-inch tires and other options not previously offered on a production Jeep.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
For 2004 Jeep added the Wrangler Unlimited, an extended version with a longer wheelbase, 13 inches of additional cargo room and 2 inches of additional rear-seat room.
Jeep Wrangler (JK): 2007–2017
With an all-new frame, exterior design, interior, engine and safety equipment, the 2007 Wrangler is larger and more refined but remains the modern descendant of the original Willy’s Jeep. Signature Jeep elements include round headlights, a 7-slot grille, solid axles, removable doors, exposed hinges, a fold-down windshield and removable tops. For 2007 the Wrangler Unlimited adopted a 4-door design with easier access to a roomier 3-passenger rear seat and the most cargo capacity ever in a Wrangler. For 2011 the Wrangler received an all-new interior.
Jeep Wrangler (JK): 2007–2017
The updated 2007 Wrangler is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 engine producing 205 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, combined with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. For 2012 Wrangler received a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, combined with either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic.
Jeep Wrangler (JL): 2018–present
An all-new Wrangler premiered for the 2018 model year — the first redesign of this iconic off-roader in 10 years. Jeep stayed true to the original, retaining the 7-slot grille and round headlights, although the grille is taller and wider, and the big headlights have a stylish LED halo around the outer bezel. Overall the Wrangler is more aerodynamic, the beltline has been lowered, and the side windows are larger for improved visibility.
Jeep Wrangler (JL): 2018–present
The 2018 Wrangler is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon, with Sahara offered exclusively as a 4-door Unlimited and the other three available in both 2-door and 4-door Unlimited versions. Available powertrains include the Pentastar V6 and a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with eTorque technology, with a new diesel engine option to be added later. This new Jeep is much more comfortable on pavement than its predecessor while retaining legendary off-road capability.
Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition
The first limited edition based on the latest generation Wrangler, the Moab Edition is named for the location of the annual Easter Jeep Safari event. The Wrangler Moab Edition builds on the Wrangler Sahara with the addition of the Rubicon hood, Rubicon steel bumpers with removable end caps, aggressive 32-inch mud-terrain tires, LED headlights, LED taillights, a Moab decal on the hood and 17-inch Rubicon wheels painted in Low-Gloss Black. The headlight surrounds, grille throats and tow hooks are also painted Low-Gloss Black. Wrangler Rubicon rock rails are standard, but Sahara side steps are available at no additional charge. A body-color hardtop is standard, but the Dual Top Group or Sky One-Touch power top are also available.
Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition
The interior of the Wrangler Moab Edition features a leather-wrapped dashboard with contrasting stitching, leather-trimmed seats and a Safety Group that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross path detection and a ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic gridlines. Other standard equipment includes a Selec-Trac full-time 2-speed transfer case, passive keyless entry, a Trac-Lok limited-slip rear differential, an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen with navigation, a nine-speaker premium Alpine sound system and all-weather floor mats.
Jeep Wrangler Pickup
The long-rumored Jeep Wrangler Pickup is expected to debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and go on sale in spring 2019. Based on the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited, the Wrangler pickup is anticipated to be offered in both hardtop and soft-top versions. Heavily-camouflaged spy shots of test vehicles have appeared on the web, but stay tuned. As design studies and teaser photos get released we will report on the latest definitive updates.