Model Evolution: Jeep Wrangler

By Brandon Turkus

August 25, 2011


1940 Willys Quad: The very first Jeep didn’t look too much like a Jeep. Designed as part of a competition between Willys, Ford, and Bantam, the Quad eventually won out and evolved into the MA, which was followed up by the venerable MB.


1942 Willys MB: Along with the Ford GPW, this was the first recognizable iteration of the Jeep legend. Up until 1942 (when the MB and GPW arrived on the front lines), a mere 8700 Jeeps had been produced. From 1942 until the defeat of Japan in 1945, Willys and Ford produced almost 640,000 (that’s an average of almost 160,000 vehicles per year). So important was the Jeep’s contribution to the war effort, that General (and later President) Dwight Eisenhower didn’t think the Allies would have won the war without it.


1945 Willys Jeep CJ-2A: Powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder, the CJ-2A was the first mass-produced Jeep that could be bought by the public. It was essentially a Willys MB that had a tailgate, side-mounted spare tire, and larger headlights. The CJ-2A remained in production for four years.


1953 Willys Jeep CJ-3B: The CJ-3B was the first Jeep to receive the Willys Hurricane engine, which produced 75 horsepower from 2.2 liters. Interestingly, Indian manufacturer Mahindra still produces a version of the CJ-3B to this very day, called the Thar. By the time production ended in 1968, over 155,000 CJ-3Bs had left American factories.


1955 Jeep CJ-5: Like the original CJ-2A, the CJ-5 was based off the military Jeep, known as the M-38. Produced for an astonishing 30 years, the CJ-5 had a raft of four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines. Under AMC’s ownership, the CJ-5 thrived, with over 600,000 vehicles produced during its production run.


1976 Jeep CJ-7: The CJ-7 is a legend within a legendary line. Developed by AMC, the CJ-7 was the forebear of many of the Wrangler’s features today, including a molded hard top, an automatic transmission, and the first iteration of Quadra-Trac all-wheel drive. Like the CJ-5, the CJ-7 was offered with everything from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder to a 5.0-liter AMC V-8. Over 11 years, almost 380,000 CJ-7s were produced.


1987 Jeep Wrangler: 1987 marked the arrival of the Wrangler nameplate and the YJ platform. The YJ Wrangler was a significant departure from the CJ-7, featuring the first use of rectangular headlights and front turn signals (a feature derided by Jeep purists). In 1991, the YJ received the famous AMC 4.0-liter six-cylinder engine, which remained in production up until the JK Wrangler in 2007. During its 10-year run, 630,000 YJ Wranglers were produced.


1997 Jeep Wrangler: The TJ Wrangler arrived in 1997, still boasting the venerable 4.0-liter six-cylinder. Unlike the YJ, the TJ borrowed more heavily from its CJ ancestors, returning to circular headlights and turn signals. In 1993, the Rubicon model arrived, delivering the ultimate in Jeep factory off-road performance. It offered front and rear lockers, as well as Dana 44 axles and 32-inch tires. 2004 marked the debut of the long-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited, which eventually morphed into a four-door on the JK platform.


2007 Jeep Wrangler: In 2007, the larger JK Wrangler arrived on the market. Powered by a 3.8-liter six-cylinder, the JK featured an even greater level of creature comforts, while still delivering the ultimate in off-road capability. With the Unlimited becoming the four-door option, Jeep saw a surge of popularity, with four-door Wranglers now representing 60 percent of Wrangler sales overall.


2012 Jeep Wrangler: 2011 and 2012 delivered serious upgrades for the JK Wrangler, with a heavily revised interior arriving in 2011 and the beefy 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 becoming available in 2012. With these upgrades, the Wrangler is now more refined, powerful, and capable than it has ever been.

1940 1942 1945 1953 1955 1976 1987 1997 2007 2012
In celebration of the 2012 Wrangler, we’ve strung together some of the highlights of its long history. Starting off as the vehicle that helped defeat Hitler, the Jeep has soldiered on for 70 years, delivering affordable off-road performance that can’t be beat.