The original American brand, which is now mostly in Italian-French hands, has long been synonymous with off-road vehicles. The story goes back to the 1940s. But where does the name Jeep come from? There are two explanations for this.
Two different stories are circulating about the origin of this typically American brand. It is undisputed that the well-known vehicle was the result of a tender from the US military in 1940, which the Willys-Overland company won.
At the end of 1941, production began not only at Willys, but also under license at Ford and American Bantam. All manufacturers initially used alphanumeric designations as “Willys MB” (= Military Series B), at Ford as “GPW” (= Government P Willys), with the “P” being a Ford internal abbreviation for the wheelbase of 80 inches , and at Bantam as BCR (Bantam Reconnaissance Car).
Mythical creature from Popeye comic or pun
The vehicle impressed with its robustness, versatility and ease of use, which is why – according to one story – GIs named the car after “Eugene the Jeep”, a mythical creature with super powers from the popular Popeye comic strip at the time. According to the second version, which was ultimately published by Willys himself, the name comes from the casual pronunciation of the letters “GP” for “General Purpose (Vehicle)” (= multi-purpose vehicle).
In any case, on February 19, 1943, Willys registered the name “Jeep” as a trademark with the US Patent & Trademark Office. Over 600,000 were produced during World War II, far more than any other military vehicle of any warring nation (only 50,788 of the VW Kübelwagen were made).
SUV ends era of “Jeep”
After the war, as is well known, Willys also used the Jeep brand for civilian vehicles, initially based on the military vehicle, then also for further and new developments of four-wheel drive automobiles. The Jeep name has become synonymous with off-road vehicles around the world and has also been popularly used for vehicles from other manufacturers for years. This era only ended with the advent of the abbreviation SUV (“Sports Utility Vehicle”) for comfortable four-wheel drive station wagons and their boom from the 1990s.
The manufacturer and brand changed hands more frequently, including AMC and Chrysler. Today, the original American brand is mostly in the hands of Italian and French Stellantis (formerly Groupe PSA and Fiat Chrysler). However, the “Wrangler” model is still considered the “prototypical Jeep” and thus the successor to the Willys Jeep. Incidentally, a “wrangler” is someone who takes care of horses, whereby the name in American is usually used synonymously with “cowboy”.