There are two versions of the origin of the word Jeep and both are possibly true. It seems that “jeep” is the result of the derivation of the GP abbreviation of “General Purpose”, which was the military vehicle specification. GP, phonetically «yipi», derived into «Jeep», which makes sense.
The second version is more fun and full of anecdotes and it has to do with the character “Eugene the Jeep» of the Popeye cartoons. Eugene’s Jeep, who was Olivia’s pet (Popeye’s girlfriend), was an animal original from Africa who had fantastic powers. When the newly developed GP car was presented to the President in Washington, the exhibition wowed the audience and spontaneously it was called “Jeep”, as the popular mascot in Popeye’s cartoon.
A car that matters
The Jeep was an off-road vehicle with all-wheel-drive, adopted by the United States Army in 1941. Its development started in 1940 based on the military requirements specifying the following: a multifunctional tractor with a weight less than 1,000 kilos and capable of a speed of more than 80 km/h. The vehicle was intended for transport, liaison and exploration work for road and off-road.
Bantam, Ford and Willys Overland
The first prototype was developed by Bantam, a small company in Pennsylvania, but the Army wasn’t fully convinced with Bantam’s car, therefore they summoned a tender and encouraged Ford and Willys Overland to submit designs based of Bantam’s prototype. It was a very controversial tender with commercial interests. Bantam’s vehicle was the most inexpensive, Willys’ one was the most powerful and Ford’s offered the best driving comfort (gear shift, seats etc.). The final result was a new vehicle that brought together the best of each prototype. The production of the vehicle was commissioned to Willys and Ford, claiming a greater production capacity. Despite each prototype differed in minor details, Willys is the best known thanks to its characteristic grid with integrated headlights and flat hood.
World War II Jeep
The final model had hinged windshield, five people capacity, no doors and no cover (it had a hood. It was suited for multiple uses thanks to its agility, versatility, traction in muddy, boggy or frozen terrain, robustness and resistance to the worst climatic conditions. It was used as an ambulance, as remote control and exploration car, as support of rocket launchers and mortars, as fire truck on aircraft carriers, as pieces of artillery, air traffic control vehicle at aerodromes, tow base vehicle for paratrooper, telephone cable carrier, with six wheels to patrol guard coastal etc. In Burma it was adapted as locomotive and, in North Africa and later in France, the British SAS used it as an assault vehicle instead of trucks. In 1942 there an amphibious version was introduced.
In accordance with the law of loan and lease, it was supplied in large quantities to Britain (debuting in the campaign of North Africa with excellent results) and the Soviet Union, contributing greatly to the motorization of the Red Army, where the GAZ also made their own version. Their advantages were higher than the German counterpart the Kubelwagen (based on the Volkswagen Beetle ‘kafer’).
Afterwar and Civilian Jeep
After WWII, the demand for jeeps for non-military uses became apparent. Farmers, ranchers, miners, off-roaders or, simply, people who lived in remote or inhospitable places saw in this vehicle a solution to their situation and problems. So, the Civilian Jeep (CJ) became a necessity and a sizeable market.
CJ series began in mid-1944 with the CJ1 jeep, which was an upgraded military MB, followed by the CJ2 (1944-1945). Willys was gradually making them more agreeable for civilian users (CJ2A 1945-1949; CJ3A, 1949-1953; CJ3B, 1953-1968; CJ4, 1950). In the period of the Korea war, a new CJ4 prototype was designed and manufactured in India up to the 90’s. At the same time, new military models (M38, 1950-1952; M-38A1, 1952-1957; M-170, 1953-1957) were developed.
CJ jeep have persisted in the market for 48 years, until the Wrangler was launched in 1987. But that is another story!