“This vehicle is going to be absolutely outstanding. I believe this unit will make history.”
-Major Herbert J. Lawes, United States Army, after test-driving Bantam Car Company’s General Purpose vehicle prototype in 1940.
It was a cold, rainy, raw February day in 1941 when Washington Daily News correspondent Kathryn Hillyer went to cover a military publicity stunt on the steps of the US Capital Building.
The event was supposed to unveil a new Army vehicle that boasted all the speed of a modern streetcar combined with all the strength of heavier general purposed trucks. Yet everyone was skeptical.
Until the test drives began.
For an entire afternoon, Hillyer and others rode around Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park with driver Irving Housman, through all kinds of terrain, and skepticism quickly turned into amazement as that mysterious little vehicle clawed its way up hills, forded streams and bounded across open unpaved fields.
Finally, everyone returned to the Capitol Building’s steps where Housman slowly worked the vehicle up the stairs until they reached the top landing. Stunned, Hillyer climbed out and pointedly asked what was it that they were driving?
Housman smiled and replied, simply, “It’s a Jeep”.
Hillyer’s article was published nationally on February 19, 1941 and introduced the American public to this new type of four-wheel drive machine – unlike anything ever seen before.
Several months later, on July 15th, Willys-Overland was officially awarded the U.S. Government contract to build that machine. Called the Willys MB, it would soon help the Allies win World War II, and then eventually come to be known around the world as "Jeep."
Seventy-five years later.
July 15th 2016.
And the Jeep brand certainly has fulfilled Lawes’ words and more.
Its name echoes with reverence from every corner of the globe and legions of passionate fans proclaim their allegiance with waves and slogans.
So to mark this milestone anniversary date, Jeep is building – today - a commemorative one-of-a-kind Wrangler 75th Salute concept vehicle.
“We are creating this unique concept vehicle in celebration of the brand's legendary history, and to demonstrate that 75 years later, today's iconic Jeep Wrangler is instantly recognizable and clearly connected to the original Willys MB," said Jeep brand CEO Mike Manley. "Since they were first produced in 1941, Jeep vehicles have been the authentic benchmark for off-road capability, having mastered more terrain, led more adventures and provided drivers more freedom than any other vehicle before or since."
The Wrangler 75th Salute concept will be a modern interpretation of the Willys MB, according to a release from Jeep, and is based on the current generation two-door Wrangler JK Sport.
It highlights rugged functionality with heritage design cues, including the absence of B-pillars and doors. The exterior features an olive-drab color scheme that was first seen on military vehicles 75 years ago and is present throughout the Wrangler 75th Salute concept.
Features, including 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 32-inch military non-directional tires, hood latches, a rear-mounted spare tire, steel front and rear bumpers with tow hooks and low back canvas seats, echo the original military Jeep vehicles.
Other features include custom wood hood blocks and side mirrors, as well as bronze commemorative fender badges.
The Jeep Wrangler 75th Salute concept vehicle is being built today, July 15, on the same assembly line that has produced the Wrangler in Toledo, Ohio for decades, and is powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine and mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
Unfortunately, the concept vehicle is a one-off production. But hopefully Jeep will include it in demonstrations alongside other concepts – such as the awesome Jeep Crew Chief – during upcoming Jeep events.
With hordes of devoted fans who have helped make the vehicle what it is for the past 75 years, that would be absolutely outstanding and make history.
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