Classic Cars

Jeep CJ (1945-86)

May 24, 2012

Jeep CJ-2A 1945Willys-Overland built the Willys MA/MB vehicle for the U.S. Army during the Second World War. After the war Willys trademarked the “Jeep” name and planned to turn the Willys MA/MB into an off-road utility vehicle for formars. One of Willys’ slogans at the time was “The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep,” and the company set about making sure the world recognized Willys as the creator of the vehicle. The first civilian Jeep vehicle, the CJ-2A, was produced in 1945. Willys advertisements marketed the Jeep as a work vehicle for farmers and construction workers. It came with a tailgate, side-mounted spare tire, larger headlights, an external fuel cap and many more items that its military predecessors did not include.

The CJ-2A was produced for four years, and in 1948 the CJ-3A was introduced. It was very similar to the previous model but featured a one-piece windscreen, and retained the original L-head four-cylinder engine. The CJ Model was updated in 1953, becoming the CJ-3B. It had a taller front grille and hood than its military predecessor in order to accommodate the new Hurricane F-Head four-cylinder engine. The CJ-3B remained in production until 1968 and a total of 155,494 were manufactured in the U.S. In 1953, Willys-Overland was sold to Henry J. Kaiser for $60 million. The Kaiser Company began an extensive research and development program that would broaden the Jeep product range.

Two years later in 1955, Kaiser introduced the CJ-5, based on the 1951 Korean War M-38A1, with its rounded front-fender design. It was slightly larger than the CJ-3B, as it featured an increased wheelbase and overall length. Improvements in engines, axles, transmissions and seating comfort made the CJ-5 an ideal vehicle for the public’s growing interest in off-road vehicles. The CJ-5 featured softer styling lines, including rounded body contours. A long-wheelbase model was introduced and was known as CJ-6. Apart from a longer wheelbase, the CJ-6 was almost identical to the CJ-5. Jeep also introduced a forward-control cab-over-engine variation to the CJ line in 1956. The Jeep CJ-5 had the longest production run of any Jeep vehicle, from 1954 to 1984. In the 16 years of Kaiser ownership, manufacturing plants were established in 30 countries, and Jeep vehicles were marketed in more than 150 countries.

In 1962, Jeep introduced the first automatic transmission in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, in the Wagoneer line (a predecessor to the Jeep Cherokee). The 1962 Jeep Wagoneer was also the first four-wheel-drive vehicle with an independent front suspension. In 1965, a new “Dauntless” V6 engine was introduced as an option on both the 81-inch wheelbase CJ-5 and 101-inch wheelbase CJ-6. The 155-horsepower engine almost doubled the horsepower of the standard four-cylinder engine. It was the first time a Jeep CJ could be equipped with a V6.

In 1970, Kaiser Jeep was purchased by American Motors Corporation (AMC). Four-wheel-drive vehicles were more popular than ever, and by 1978, total Jeep vehicle production was up to 600 vehicles a day – more than three times production at the start of the decade. All Jeep CJs came equipped with AMC-built 304- or 360-cubic-inch V8 engines. AMC equipped both the CJ-5 and CJ-6 with heavier axles, bigger brakes and a wider track. Another first introduced by Jeep in 1973 was Quadra-Trac, the first automatic full-time four-wheel-drive system.

In 1976, AMC introduced the CJ-7, the first major change in Jeep design in 20 years. The CJ-7 had a slightly longer wheelbase than the CJ-5 in order to allow space for an automatic transmission. For the first time, the CJ-7 offered an optional molded plastic top and steel doors. Both the 93.5-inch wheelbase CJ-7 and 83.5-inch wheelbase CJ-5 models were built until 1983 when demand for the CJ-7 left AMC no choice but to discontinue the CJ-5, after a 30-year production run. The Scrambler, introduced in 1981, was a Jeep similar to the CJ-7 but with a longer wheelbase, known internationally as the CJ-8. The growing market for compact four-wheel-drive vehicles still sought the utilitarian virtues of the Jeep CJ series, but consumers also were seeking more of the “creature comforts” found in passenger cars. AMC responded to this demand by discontinuing the CJ series and introducing the 1987 Jeep Wrangler (YJ).


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