Jeep likes to tell the story of the American soldier in Germany in 1945 who stopped three Germans from escaping behind Allied lines.
The Germans were dressed in US Army uniforms and riding in a US Army Jeep – two regular soldiers in the front and a colonel sitting in the back.
As the Jeep approached a checkpoint, the GI figured something was wrong with the seating arrangement.
American colonels don’t sit in the back seat, he told himself. American colonels drive the vehicle.
He stopped the Jeep, told the occupants they sure as hell didn’t belong to Uncle Sam’s Army, and marched them off at gunpoint to the guardhouse.
Jeep can tell these stories because it’s 75 years old next year and, unlike every other four-wheel-drive maker today, was there when Hitler tried to turn the world on its ear.
It was there before Land-Rover, the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and Mitsubishi Pajero … before the concept of four-wheel-drives had been fully explored.
The Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower – later to become US President – said the Allies would not have won the Second World War without the Jeep.
The GIs loved it. US Army official Ernie Pyle said in the early 1940s: “I don’t think we could continue the war without the Jeep.
“It does everything. It goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and as agile as a goat.
“It carries twice what it was designed for, and keeps on going. It doesn’t even ride so badly after you get used to it.”
The flat Jeep bonnets became altars for US Army chaplains and poker tables for GIs. The fold-down windscreen allowed the use of stretchers for the wounded.
“It does everything except bake a cake,” said one officer. It even powered a fridge to make ice cream for GIs hungry for a taste of Stateside.
So don’t for a moment think the latest Jeep concepts (see New Jeep concepts: blasts from the past along with future shocks) have been built for an off-road knees-up in Utah next month. No, they are the forerunner to the main event – the brand’s 75th birthday next year.
Jeep last year laid out plans to broaden its model range to double annual sales to 1.9 million vehicles over the next five years. CEO Mike Manley said he wanted to “unlock the potential of some of the world’s largest markets.”
Jeep might even return to the Gladiator name, used for pick-up models from 1963 to 1969. It unveiled a Gladiator concept at the 2005 Detroit motor show and revisited it a couple of years ago.
It was a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited body sitting on a Ram 1500 pick-up truck frame. Jeep fans have never stopped talking about it. Indeed Manley says 10 years on he still gets asked about the potential of such a Jeep-branded pick-up.
Such a vehicle was talked about when Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler took control of Chrysler in the late 1990s. Mercedes-Benz has just confirmed it is building a pick-up to rival models like the Toyota Hilux. Will Jeep do the same in 2016?