Classic Cars A to Z

Jeep Models Through History

Loved by both collectors and enthusiasts alike, old Jeeps are fun to drive, easy to work on, and just seem to make people smile.

what was the first Jeep

This article is an overview of Jeep models from 1940 to 1988.

Origins of the Jeep

1939 - American Military reconnaissance vehicles, which were previously motorcycles and sidecars, were to be updated to light-duty trucks.

1940 - the U.S. Army contacted 135 automobile manufacturers and asked each of them to submit working prototypes. The combination of strongest motor and lowest bid helped Willys-Overland win the first production contract.

WW2 Army Jeep

Willys (pronounced Wil-lis) Jeeps began rolling off the Toledo, Ohio assembly plant in mid 1941.

Read: Army Jeep History



Early Flat-Fender Jeeps Include:

Compared to today's models, early CJ's are super small, but the 80" wheelbase they rode on made them very nimble. They were, and still are, exceptionally capable for off-road use.


Willys Jeep

In 1953, Kaiser Motors purchased Willys-Overland and changed the name to Willys Motors. A year later, the Jeep CJ5 debuted.

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Early Jeep CJ5's were basically a civilian version of the M38A1 military model.

L-134 Engine

The Willys L-134 four-cylinder engine displaced 134 cubic-inches and produced 60-horsepower. It was a flathead engine, with both intake and exhaust valves in the block.

Many early Jeeps left the factory with no oil filter. A common upgrade, then and now, is to add a remote oil filter.

Willys Jeep oil filter canister installation

Read: Willys Jeep Oil Filter Canister Installation


Willys Jeep Truck

Produced from 1947 through 1965, the Jeep Truck had a wheelbase of 118 inches, and was available as a pickup truck, platform stake truck, chassis cab, or a bare chassis.

Willys Jeep pickup truck

For the first two years of production, all Jeep Trucks were four-wheel-drive and carried a one-ton rating. In 1949, a two-wheel drive, 3/4 ton version became available.


F-134 Engine

In 1950, the L-134 flathead engine was replaced by the F-134 engine, which kept the exhaust valves in the block, but intake valves were now in the cylinder head. This allowed use of larger valves, raising compression slightly, and power output increasing to 72 horsepower.

The F-134 engine was first installed in Jeep trucks, and in 1953, fitted to CJ-3B models. Due to the engine change, the CJ's hood and fenders were redesigned to accommodate the taller engine.


Jeep Forward Control

In 1957, the Willys-Overland offered the 4-wheel-drive FC-150 and FC-170 cab-over pickups.

Jeep FC150 flat nose pickup truck

At 147.5 inches in length, the FC150 was two inches shorter than the sub-compact Nash Metropolitan. Wheelbase was a mere 81 inches.

The FC170 had a length of 181.5 inches, and a wheelbase of 108 inches.


V-6 Engine

Producing nearly double the horsepower of the 4 cylinder engine, the Buick-designed "Dauntless V-6" was offered in 1966. The compact V6 configuration fit well into the tight Jeep engine compartment.

engine swap choices for CJ5 Jeep

The Jeep V6 engine produced 155 horsepower at 4000 rpm. Net torque was 235 at 2400 rpm. The engine's firing order, 1-6-5-4-3-2, is known as the "odd-fire" pattern. A heavier flywheel was used to increase torque, and also help dampen vibrations of the odd-fire design.



1969 - Federally-mandated side-marker lights were added to all models.

AMC Jeep (1970-1986)

American Motors Corporation purchased Kaiser-Jeep in 1970. Through the next 17 years, the Jeep CJ was offered in an wide array of trim packages and special editions.

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New Engine and Frame

For 1972, the CJ Jeep got a new frame, featuring six cross-members for rigidity, and lengthened three inches to accommodate AMC's six-cylinder engine. Fenders and hood were also lengthened.

The CJ5 wheelbase (hub to hub) was now 81" and the CJ6 wheelbase measured 101". Transmission choices were manual only; either a T14A or T15 three-speed, or T18 four-speed.

258 Inline Six

First introduced in 1971 in J-series pickups and Wagoneers, the AMC 258 six-cylinder engine (4.2 litre) was fitted in CJ Jeeps in 1972. The cast-iron block featured seven main bearings and was very durable.

After Chrysler's buyout of AMC in 1987, the 258ci motor continued to be offered in a variety of AMC passenger and Jeep vehicles, and was eventually replaced by the 4.0L engine. Today, the 258 is regarded as one of the most durable engines ever produced.

304 V8

From 1972 through 1981, a 304 V8 motor was offered as a factory option, with the best performance years being 1972-1978. Also offered was a stronger T-15 three-speed or T-18 four-speed transmission with a Dana 20 transfer case.

The idea of putting a V8 in a Jeep CJ was not new. Enthusiasts had been doing it for years, and many aftermarket companies offer installation kits to fit a small-block Chevy into a Jeep.

Jeep CJ7

Introduced in 1976, the CJ7 marked the first significant change to Jeeps in 20 years. The longer wheelbase (about 10") allowed fitment of an automatic transmission.


Jeep CJ Pickup (1981-1986)

Starting production in 1981, the Jeep CJ8 was designed to compete with other American small domestic pickups, such as the Ford Ranger and the Chevy S-10.

Jeep CJ8 history

Wheelbase on the CJ pickup was 104-inches, and essentially a longer wheelbase version of the CJ7 model.



Jeep Gladiator Pickup (1962-1988)

Sharing it's basic platform with the Jeep Wagoneer, the Gladiator pickup was built in various trim packages, along with a choice of 2WD or 4WD.

1968 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck

The 1963 Gladiator pickup was offered with Jeep's "Tornado" overhead-camshaft straight-six motor. This was the first mass-produced U.S. designed overhead cam engine, beating Pontiac’s Sprint OHC six to market by two years.

Early models had an optional independent front suspension offered on 4WD Gladiators. The IFS design was built around a Dana 44 center section and proved to be troublesome, and the option was deleted in 1965.

1985 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck


Related Articles:

Army Jeep History
American Automotive Industry During World War Two
Kaiser Jeep History
Jeep CJ History (1970-1986)
Best Old Jeep To Restore
Classic American Trucks