AR 142 JEEP ALBUM: The story from Bantam to Fiat-Chrysler By Rod Ward
The name of ‘Jeep’ is synonymous with a willing go-anywhere vehicle used by the armed forces of the world, and popular with thousands of civilian buyers. The concept originated in a 1940 US Army requirement, for which a number of companies submitted designs. The best design was by the gifted Karl Probst for a tiny car maker called American Bantam, which was judged to be too small to produce the vehicles in quantity. Willys-Overland, which had been successfully making small cars for some time and had the best engine, its ‘Go-Devil’ unit, was awarded the main contract. Ford’s front end design was adopted, and the firm produced Jeeps in quantity under licence from Willys, which registered the ‘Jeep’ nickname, and went on to build large quantities of Jeep-badged vehicles for the world market. Kaiser Corporation took over Jeep in 1953, only ceasing production in 1970 after the death of Henry J Kaiser. The Jeep brand was sold to American Motors (AMC), which was then controlled by Renault for a short period. Chrysler acquired AMC, including Jeep, in 1987. Chrysler merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998 as DaimlerChrysler, but the German partner realised their mistake, and in 2007 they parted company with Chrysler, which was floated as a separate company.
The new entity was unprofitable, in spite of earnings from the Jeep part of the business, and Chrysler LLC was declared bankrupt.
As part of a rescue plan, the US government invited Fiat to take control of Chrysler, with Jeep as the most valuable part of the package. In 2013 Fiat-Chrysler was created, with Jeep as one of its flagship brands. In spite of this chequered history, as described in this publication, Jeep has retained its popularity among owners and operators, and the brand is stronger than ever in the 21st century.