An original 1941 Jeep.
An original 1941 Jeep.
The Jeep Wrangler 70th Anniversary Edition - test drive one and you could win it.
The Jeep Wrangler 70th Anniversary Edition - test drive one and you could win it.

Probably as well-known a shape as the Coke bottle and the VW Beetle, the iconic Jeep has been around for seven decades.

The original Jeep was the result of a 1940 US Army requirement for a “four wheel-drive reconnaissance car” weighing less than 1300 lbs (590kg). Engineer Karl Probst designed the Bantam Reconnaissance Car in five days and the Bantam Car Company delivered the prototype 61 days later!

When the Willys Overland company was asked to quote on building the BRC it sensibly ignored the 590kg weight limit in order to use its own, more powerful, 2.4-litre, side-valve “Go Devil” engine - and created an icon.

It went into production in July 1941 as the GPW (hence the name Jeep, according to one telling) and more than 640 000 were built during the Second World War by Willys Overland and Ford. The Willys version, however, initially had a welded-up “slat” grille whereas Ford introduced a stamped grille with nine (later seven) slots, which was lighter and cheaper, and became a signature Jeep design cue.

After the war Willys Overland registered the name Jeep as a trademark and, ever since, has built some of the world's most formidable go-anywhere vehicles, partly by sticking with tough, proven solid axles when almost everybody else was going for independent suspension.

Now part of the Chrysler group, Jeep is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the GPW with special “70th Anniversary Edition” models of the Wrangler, Patriot, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.

Chrysler SA marketing head Guy Franken said: “The Jeep brand's legendary heritage and capability have made it iconic, well-known and loved throughout the world including South Africa.

“Since they were introduced in 1941, Jeep vehicles have been the authentic benchmark for off-road capability, having mastered more terrain, led more adventures and provided drivers with more freedom than any other vehicle before or since.”

Each 70th Anniversary Edition Jeep comes with special badging, brushed-aluminium sill plates on the Wrangler and Cherokee, special rims (18” on the Wrangler, Cherokee and Patriot, 20” on the Grand Cherokee), olive, slate or black leather seats with contrasting brown stitching and piping, contrasting brown stitching on the door armrests and centre console, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with brown accent stitching, a special overlay on the instrument panel and a 70th anniversary logo on the radio screen.

The 70th Anniversary Patriot also has a 2.4-litre DOHC VVT engine, special floor mats with brown binding and a special cargo-compartment floor cover

Chrysler SA is running a birthday competition with a Jeep Wrangler Sahara 70th Anniversary Edition as the prize. Customers are invited for coffee and cake - and a test drive - at all participating dealers during July and August 2011, and one of them will win it.