The Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Huntsville, Alabama, is home of what is believed to be the oldest prototype jeep in North America. The museum and the Historic Vehicle Association have verified its authenticity. The GP-01 is one of five original test vehicles — two from Ford, two from Willys Overland and one from American Bantam. It was originally called the “Pygmy.” The GP designation is believed by many to have hatched the name “Jeep,” which is among the world’s most iconic automobile brands. The little 4x4 1/4-ton vehicle became the renowned and most universally recognized automotive shape in the world.
The original jeep produced for the U.S. Army early in World War II featured the upright grille with vertical slots that have become the brand’s trademark. Willlys and Ford produced more than 648,000 Jeeps. Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep Wrangler is a direct descendent of the original Army Jeep whose trademark, like Kleenex, has become a universal reference for similar products.
The U.S. phased the Jeep out of the military arsenal starting in 1984 when it adopted the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, popularly known as the Humvee. The Jeep may be headed for a comeback. According to a report in Stars and Stripes, the Army is looking for an inexpensive, lightweight, unarmored, all-terrain vehicle. It would bridge a gap between the Army’s upcoming, heavily armored JLTV and the light MRZRs. A company that customizes Wranglers for special uses thinks that sounds a lot like the original Jeep, and they’re submitting modified Jeep Wranglers for the competition.
As a popular civilian vehicle, the Jeep is quite a success story. “The Wrangler is our number 1 seller. It accounts for about one third of all of our Jeep sales,” says Dan Dederick, general manager of Hendrick Chrysler Jeep in Fayetteville. Soldiers at Fort Bragg are especially fond of the Wrangler for its off-road capabilities. The Wrangler Rubicon has been consistently voted the best 4 X 4 by off-road magazines. It’s unusual and durable because it has a body on steel frame construction. It also has front and rear solid axles. There are no other vehicles quite like the Wrangler. Coil springs were added in 1996 to make a better overall ride quality. The convertible top is standard, just like the military version. Best of all, the doors can be removed. “The last two years have been record years for Jeep. It is selling so well Chrysler is adding a new Wrangler factory for 2017,” adds Dederick.