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The Jeep brand is synonymous with 4×4 convertible. Even in parts of the world where Jeep does not sell any SUVs, folks refer to any 4WD as a “Jeep.” But have you ever wondered where the word Jeep originally came from? The first Jeeps didn’t even carry that name: the Willys company built the “Quad” for the allies to use in WWII. The word “Jeep” began life as slang based on an official military acronym.

What does JEEP stand for?

When Willys offered its 4×4 “Quad” to WWII troops, the Army classified it as their 1/4-ton “GP.” The soldiers nicknamed their beloved 4×4 the “Jeep.” And after the war, Willys trademarked the name and launched its first “Civilian Jeep”–the iconic CJ.

Reenactors drive down a dirt road in a 1941 Willys MB 4x4 Jeep, trees visible in the background.
1941 Willys MB | DeAgostini via Getty Images

As Allied troops prepared for Normandy, the U.S. Army knew it would need reliable 4x4s to transport its troops across war-torn Europe. The Army put out a bid for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” weighing in at 2,160 pounds that could fit in a glider. Ford and Willys collaborated on the first design. Though this Quad came in above the target weight, the Army was so impressed it bought the little 4×4 on the spot.

The third redesign of the Quad, the Model B or Willys MB, finally went into production. Detroit built so many of these nimble 4x4s, the Germans began to wonder if the Army had one for every General Infantryman. The soldiers fell in love with the dependable GP and nicknamed it the Jeep.

The Willys Jeep MB “did everything. It went everywhere. Was a faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carried twice what it was designed for and still kept going.”

Ernie Pyle, Pullitzer-winning war correspondent

What was the first Jeep?

While the military’s 1/4-ton General Purpose vehicle (GP) was called the Jeep all through WWII, Willys didn’t adopt the name until after the war. It introduced a slightly “civilized” version of this little 4×4 targeted at veterans and named it the “Civilian Jeep” or CJ.

A tan 1945 Willys Civilian Jeep CJ-2A parked on a dirt road, grass visible in the background.
1945 Willys Civilian Jeep (CJ-2A) | Stellantis

For decades, the “Civilian Jeep” continued to be a model built by the Willys-Overland company. Even when the company merged with Kaiser, it continued building the CJ-1 through CJ-5.

Each CJ generation evolved slightly to help it compete in the evolving marketplace. But the convertible SUV always maintained the characteristics of the original Willys Quad: full frame construction, a two-speed transfer case, solid axles front and rear, and available manual transmission.

When did Jeep become a brand?

Willys/Kaiser experimented with models related to its “Civilian Jeep,” such as the Jeepster, Wagoneer, and Gladiator. But Jeep would not become an entire brand until it changed ownership. In 1970, a conglomerate called American Motors Corporation (AMC) bought all of Kaiser’s Jeep division.

A gray Jeep Wrangler "Willys" edition hybrid 4xe parked on a pile of rocks for a promo photo, trees visible in the background.
2023 Jeep Wrangler Willys 4xe hybrid | Stellantis

AMC transformed Jeep into its own brand. It introduced SUVs such as the Cherokee and trucks such as the Comanche. It also released a new CJ-7, which benefited from AMC’s range of modern motors. Jeeps became more popular during this time. When AMC faced its financial troubles, Chrysler Corporation was happy to fold the Jeep brand into its portfolio in 1988.

It was Chrysler Corporation that finally split the Jeep nameplate and its most iconic convertible 4×4 into two. It renamed its redesigned CJ the Jeep Wrangler. This reduced confusion as the automaker further expanded the lineup of other Jeep products.

Since 1988, Chrysler Corporation has also experienced a series of mergers. First, Chrysler and Fiat formed FCA. Then FCA and Peugeot formed Stellantis. Today, Jeep remains its own brand. Stellantis is planning an exciting electric future for Jeep, with some special European market EVs. It looks like “Jeep” will continue to be synonymous with 4×4 adventure–all over the world–for many years to come.

Next, find out the surprising story behind the Wrangler nameplate or learn more about the Jeep brand in the video below:


This Indian Automaker Designed The Nimble Jeep 4×4 Willys Never Could