Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Jeep

I've owned Jeeps twice.

 
My first car, a 1958 M38A1 Army Jeep.  In the words of Iris Dement, "it turned over once, but never went far."*

My very first vehicle was a Jeep.  I bought it for $500 with money I had earned from a summer job.  I was 15 at the time, and not old enough to actually drive, but I still had it when I turned 16.  

The engine was a mess, in need of rebuilding or replacement, and as you can see, the prior owner had hit a tree with it.  As the engine was so worn out, it burned nearly as much oil as gasoline, and I sold it when I was 16 and bought a Ford F100 to replace it.

My second Jeep was a 1946 CJ2A, the very first model of civilian Jeep.  I kept it for awhile, but ultimately when my son was small, I sold it too.  The CJ2A, particularly ones made in the first couple of years of production, was nearly unchanged from the World War Two Army 1/4 ton truck that gave rise to the species, and indeed, the model I had, had some parts commonality otherwise unique to the Army Jeeps of the Second World War.

Depiction of Jeep in use on Guadalcanal, bringing in a KIA.

Jeeps got their start in that role, as a military vehicle, a 1/4 ton truck, entering service just prior to World War Two.  Bantam, a now extinct motor vehicle manufacturer, gets a lot of credit for the basic design, and indeed the Bantam Jeep did enter U.S. and British service.

Bantam Jeep being serviced by Army mechanic. The Bantam was actually lighter than the Willys Jeep.

But it was Willys, with larger manufacturing capacity, that really gets credit for the design.  It was their design that became the Jeep, although Ford made a huge number of Jeeps during the Second World War as well.

Coast Guard patrol with Jeep.  The Coast Guard also had mounted patrols during the Second World War, acquiring horses and tack from the Army.

American and Australian troops with Jeep serving as a field ambulance.

Jeeps became synonymous with U.S. troops during World War Two.  Indeed, there's a story, probably just a fable, of a French sentry shooting a party of Germans who tried to pass themselves off as Americans, simply because the sentry knew that a walking party of men could not be Americans, they "came in Jeeps."  A story, probably, but one that reflected how common Jeeps were and how much they were admired by U.S. forces at the time.  It's commonly claimed by some that Jeeps replaced the horse in the U.S. Army, but that's only slightly true, and only in a very limited sense.  It might be more accurate to say that the Jeep replaced the mule and the horse in a limited role, but it was really the American 6x6 truck that did the heavy lifting of the war, and which was truly a revolutionary weapon.  

None the less, the fame of the Jeep was won, and after the war Jeeps went right into civilian production.  For a time, Willys was confused over what the market would be for the little (uncomfortable) car, and marketed to farmers and rural workers, who never really saw the utility of the vehicle over other options.  Indeed, for farmers and ranchers who needed a 4x4, it was really the Dodge Power Wagon that took off.  The market for Jeeps was with civilian outdoorsmen, who rapidly adopted it in spite of the fact that it's very small, quite uncomfortable, and actually, in its original form, a very dangerous vehicle prone to rolling.  Still, the light truck's 4x4 utility allowed sportsmen to go places all year around that earlier civilian cars and trucks simply did not. The back country, and certain seasons of the year, were suddenly opened up to them.  For that reason, Jeeps were an integral part of the Revolution In Rural Transportation we've otherwise written about.  You can't really keep a horse and a pack mule in your backyard in town, but you can keep a Jeep out on the driveway.

Not surprisingly, Willys (and its successor in the line, Kaiser) soon had a lot of competition in the field.  The British entered it nearly immediately with the Land Rover, a light 4x4 designed for the British army originally that's gone on to have a cult following, in spite of being expensive and, at least early on, prone to the faults of British vehicles.  Nissan entered the field with the Nissan Patrol, a vehicle featuring the British boxiness but already demonstrating the fine traits that Japanese vehicles would come to be known for. Toyota entered the field with its legendary Land Cruiser, the stretched version of which I once owned one of, and which was an absolutely great 4x4.  Indeed, their smaller Jeep sized vehicle, in my opinion, was the best in this vehicle class.   Ford even entered the field with the original Bronco.  Over time, even Suzuki would introduce its diminutive Samurai.

So, what's happened here to this class of vehicles anyway?

Recently, for reason that are hard to discern, I decided to start looking once again for a vehicle in this class.  I know their defects.  They are unstable compared to trucks, and they don't carry much either.  But there is something about them.  Last time I looked around there were a lot of options, and costs were reasonable for a used one. Well, not anymore.

I don't know if its the urbanized SUV that's taken over everything.  But whereas once a fellow looking for a Jeep like vehicle could look for Jeeps, Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Samurais, Broncos and International Scouts, now you are down to Jeeps, the Toyota FJ Cruiser or the soon to be extinct Land Rover Defender.  The Defender is insanely expensive, but the Jeep and Cruiser sure aren't cheap.  Even used vehicles in this class now command a crazy price.  I'm actually amazed I see so many around, given that most people don't use them for what they are designed for, and they're so darned expensive.


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*From "Our Town".

Postscript.

I recently ran across a net article that posed the same question, "what's happened here to this class of vehicles", which came to the conclusion that the the Jeep occupies such a niche market, and it's the only game in town for Jeep, so nobody else bothers with it.

Well, maybe.

But I'm not completely buying that.  There were a lot of vehicles in this class at one time.  Now, there's just one in North America.  The Land Rover hasn't been imported for years, and Toyota is discontinuing the FJ Cruiser.  Indeed, the Land Rover Defender is in its last year of production.

Oddly enough, overseas there is some competition. There's the Defender, this year.  Mercedes makes a vehicle in this class, as I believe Steyr also does.  Toyota also might, for overseas sales. Even Ford does, in Brazil.

The fact that Ford offers something like its old Bronco, albeit in a product line it just bought, might help explain it.  Maybe there just aren't as many places requiring a rough and ready vehicle in a lot of places anymore, but Brazil probably has plenty.  On the other hand, a lot of heavy duty 4x4 trucks seem to be around.

It's a good thing, anyhow, for people who need something like a Jeep that at least its still offered.

I did find one, by the way, after I posted this item.  I've been using it for about a year now, adding those items to it I find handy as I've gone along.

3 comments:

Rich said...

I wonder what that CJ2A would be worth today?

I had a '75 CJ5 with a 304/4spd that was almost scary-dangerous to drive because it was so overpowered. I eventually sold it because I was almost broke, didn't need two vehicles, and thought I could easily replace it when I wasn't broke anymore.

After looking at what they are selling for today, I doubt if it would be as easy to replace it as I used to think, although $3000 20 years ago was a lot more money than $3000 is today.

Years later, owning that Jeep did play a role in giving me the bragging rights to be able to call myself a "paid writer" of sorts (I might try to blog about that story).

Pat and Marcus said...

"I wonder what that CJ2A would be worth today?"

Enough that its depressing to think about that question.

On the other hand, as I tend to use the stuff I have, it might be a good thing I eventually sold it to a fellow who was wanting to rebuild a Jeep, and liked my CJ2A more than the CJ2A he had. It probably went to a kind and caring home where its preserved, rather than used.

Pat and Marcus said...

"I might try to blog about that story"

Please do!