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The Jeep was born more than 60 years ago, during WW2 when the US military required a small, fast vehicle for delivering messages to the front lines and transporting small groups of soldiers over rough terrain. After significantly contributing to the nation's survival in WWII, the Jeep rolled off the battlefield and onto the highways and back roads of America. With it's do-anything nature it evolved into a superb recreational vehicle. This guide celebrates Jeep models produced between 1946 and 1986, under Willys, Kaiser and AMC ownership.
This was the first of the post-war vehicles to take its place beside the civilian Universal, with production starting in 1946 and running until 1965. Despite being the industry's first station wagon with an all-steel body, the paint scheme was intended to simulate wood panelling, a popular feature on many station wagons of the 1940s. It was offered in standard or deluxe specification. Three chrome bars across the grille and the single chrome strip along the body are identifying points of later models.
The brainchild of Brooks Stevens, the Jeepster was built on a modified Station Wagon chassis. Its six-seat body had just two doors and access to the rear seats was either by folding down part of the front split bench seat or, by climbing on a step on the side of the body. The original VJ-2 Jeepster was fitted with the Go-Devil 4-cylinder engine, although from 1949 the Lightning in-line six raised performance in the Jeepster VJ-3 model.
Dispatcher Jeeps were introduced in 1956 aimed at businesses who had a use for the Jeep's nimble size and open bodywork, but had no need for four-wheel drive hardware. Specifically, the DJ was created with resorts, hotels, police departments and later, the US Postal Service in mind. The DJ series was expanded in 1959 to include the Gala, which along with a striped, fringed top came in a range of gaudy colours including bright pink.
The Wagoneer arrived in Kaiser Jeep showrooms in late 1962 as a 1963 model, in two or four-wheel-drive form. Styling was distinctive, more modern than the original station wagon and the designers clearly hoped that the large slotted grille would remind potential buyers of traditional jeeps. The Super Wagoneer was introduced in December 1965, aimed at the "prestige buyer". Equipment included three-tone body striping, a vinyl roof, a chrome roof rack, whitewalls, full-wheel hubcaps and a 327-ci V-8.
The CJ 5 was introduced in late 1954 as a 1955 model and was closely based on the military MD-M38A1 of the period. By comparison to the Willys' earlier civilian models, the CJ-2A and CJ-3A, the CJ-5 was wider, had a larger windshield are, had 4-inch longer leaf springs for an easier ride, and softer seats. A hardtop was optional. During a long production run lasting until 1983, the CJ5 was fitted with an in-line four-cylinder engine, or an optional V6 unit.
American Motors influence became much more apparent with the introduction of the 1972 Jeepster Commando offering a smoother ride and more legroom than previous models. The revised front end was a clear departure from earlier Jeeps designs, more reminiscent of Chevrolet's Blazer than the traditional Jeep Universal. Under the skin, AMC's straight-six replaced the Dauntless V-6, with the welcome addition of an optional 304-ci, two-barrel V-8, rated at 150 horsepower. These second-generation Jeepster models only ran until 1973, by which time market trends were dictating larger, more luxurious utilities.
The Jeep C7 series arguably reached its peak with the introduction of the CJ-7 in 1976. A well balanced package, the CJ-7 offered all the traditional strengths and advantages of past CJs but in a more liveable and safer package. A longer 93.5-inch wheelbase and larger door openings were features, with greater emphasis now on comfort and convenience items. Automatic transmission and Quadra-Trac full-time four-wheel-drive were options. The Laredo package was introduced in 1980. This top-line option came with chrome grille face, high-backed bucket seats and Laredo strips and decals.
When the Commando was retired after the 1973 model year, AMC quickly introduced a replacement, the two-door Cherokee model in 1974. Basically the new Cherokee was a two-door Wagoneer and was positioned as a less-expensive, sporty alternative to it's plusher, family-oriented sibling. It used the J-series truck grille in place of the Wagoneer's busier grille and the 258-ci six-cylinder engine was standard. Available initially in S or Sport trim, the Cherokee Chief model was added in 1975. Its specification included wider wheel cut-outs to allow larger wheels and tyres. A four-door Cherokee was offered from 1977.
The 1984 XJ Cherokee and Wagoneer went into production in June 1993. The new slimmer unibody Cherokees were available with two-doors or four, and either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Engine choices were initially either AMC 2.5-litre four-cylinder or a GM-supplied 2.8-litre V-6. The Cherokee Chief was the sport model. As the first compact American sport utility vehicle, the 1984 Cherokee proved to be a success from the start, Jeep producing 93,326 Cherokees and nearly 12,000 Wagoneers for the 1984 model year alone.