Saturday, May 21, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY - A Soldier’s best friend, The JEEP rumbles along to its 70th birthday

From the Detroit News...


My own JEEP is 48 years old and she still loves to do her thing...starts right up and goes...They knew how to build them back in Toledo, OH in the day.

Soldier’s best friend rumbles along to 70th birthday
Gritty Jeep MB will rock your back teeth, but it can do anything

Moab, Utah — Three very important births happened in 1941: Those of my father, mother and Willys-Overland Jeep.

The Jeep had the faster start, and has ruled the off-road world ever since. This year marks the 70th birthday of all three, and, thankfully, they all appear to be running on all cylinders.

Recently, I took a spin through history in the unflappable and uncomfortable 1941 Willys Jeep MB. (For Jeep buffs, the original Jeep was an MA model with a three-speed gear shifter mounted on the steering column. But that model, which won Jeep the U.S. military contract in July 1941, was quickly modified to the MB, with more weight and a floor-mounted shifter.)

By today’s standards, the ride is awful, bouncing the driver nearly to the point of concussion on a metal seat covered with canvas. The seat doesn’t adjust (it’s bolted to the 15-gallon gas tank), and most people over 6 feet tall can barely squeeze into position to drive it.

The doors are simply canvas straps with metal hooks. Perhaps ahead of its time, the Jeep came with a push button start — but the button, similar to those old high beam switches, was mounted on the floor high above the gear shifter.

Starting it was like playing Twister, left foot, green, right foot clutch.
But wow, does that Jeep purr.

The 54-horsepower 134-cubicinch I-4 engine, known as Willys Go Devil, whines out and launches the four-wheel drive Jeep with rock-throwing enthusiasm. Weighing just 2,454 pounds and coming with a small 80-inch wheelbase, the Jeep can go anywhere.
And through the years, it has proven it can do anything.

“Some have called the Jeep the single most important American influence in modern warfare,” said Brandt Rosenbusch, manager of Historical Services at Chrysler Group LLC, which owns Jeep.

When the Americans took Sicily and Paris and crossed the Rhine, it was the Jeep carrying them. It quickly became a do-everything vehicle: troop hauler, supply carrier, ambulance and reliable best friend. When victory finally arrived in 1945, it came with the same gear-grinding screech I heard in Utah between one of the long throws from first to second gear.

How the Jeep got its name, though, is a mystery. The name could have been derived from the military nomenclature GP for “general purpose,” according to Jeep. It could have also earned the name from the Popeye character Eugene the Jeep, Rosenbusch said.

The old Jeep may live in nostalgia, but the new Jeeps continue the tradition of unbelievable capabilities while providing much more comfortable rides. And this year, Jeep is offering 70th anniversary editions of its entire lineup.

“Jeeps are the benchmark for off-roading,” said Mike Manley, Jeep president. “They can go anywhere and do nearly anything.”

During Utah rock crawling, a new Trail Certified Jeep Compass — the crossover Jeep that was shunned by enthusiasts — churned through the steep rock faces with aplomb. Try that in just about any other crossover, and you’ll need to go back and pick up your axles.

Indeed, and they’re dramatically improving. Their interiors have been overhauled to meet more discerning consumers. From the flagship Grand Cherokee to the beefed-up Compass, quality improvements in construction and cabin design have opened the brand to new customers.

According to New Jersey-based AutoData Corp., Jeep sales have climbed steadily this year, jumping 64.8 percent in April compared to the same month last year, and 41 percent for the year.

Every vehicle in Jeep’s lineup has seen sales increase this year, with the Grand Cherokee — The Detroit News Truck of the Year — up the most, 86 percent for the quarter over the first four months last year.

The revival is testament to Chrysler’s resilience and Jeep’s maturity.
The humble beginnings of the rugged Willys Jeep MB helped lead America to victory.

Now America, it appears, is helping lead the brand to a victory of its own.
Happy birthday.  

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