Jeep can claim many milestones. But here’s one you may not have thought of: It’s the most copied brand of American vehicles.
Later the civilian Willys Jeep CJ series was the inspiration for all other competitors, from the International Scout and Ford Bronco of the 1960s to the Suzuki Samurai and Daihatsu Rocky of the 1980s.
Then there’s the 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ — the first unibody SUV — which is the template for the modern SUV and has been copied universally.
Early competitors tore apart the military Jeeps while creating their own versions. The first Land Rover prototype, built in 1947, had a Jeep chassis.
In the book Land Rover: The Unbeatable 4X4, authors Ken and Julie Slavin document the creation of the first Land Rover, which over the years has proved to be the Jeep’s toughest competitor.
1944 Willys-Overland “Jeep” MB, 1945 Willys-Overland Jeep CJ-2A, 1949 Willys-Overland Jeep Station Wagon, 1963 Jeep Wagoneer, 1984 Jeep Cherokee, 1987 Jeep Wrangler and 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee
“Using the Willys Jeep as a jumping off point, the design team had to scrutinize every detail of the American product and drive it in all possible conditions to learn its limitations,” the Slavins wrote. “Two Jeeps were acquired early on, solely for dissection purposes, but although certain of its stronger points were without doubt copied in the Land Rover, the Rover team maintained vehemently that there was nothing on the Land Rover that corresponded exactly to the Jeep.”
Today, the Wrangler, with its fold-forward windshield, exposed hinges, round headlights and other design cues, has no real competition. But the same cannot be said for all the other vehicles in the Jeep lineup, especially the Grand Cherokee, which traces its DNA back to the 1984 Jeep Cherokee and slugs it out in one of the most competitive market segments.
Roy Lunn, Jeep’s former director of engineering, led the team in the early 1980s that created the XJ. Lunn said the inspiration for the unibody SUV came from the fuel shocks of the 1970s.
“Other companies didn’t do it by choice. They said, “We’ll make an SUV-type vehicle and what is the nearest vehicle to base it on?’ They chose their light truck to derive it from. But the light truck line had a separate frame and normal heavy construction,” Lunn said. “I chose unitized because it is stronger pound for pound and it is lightest for meeting fuel economy requirements.”