Friday, April 24, 2009

Visit My Website

My Website "Intriguing Automotive Histories" is chock full of articles and pictures
of interest to anyone who appreciates fine old antique cars of special interest.

Visit at
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This is a useful diagram if you want to convert your electric Overdrive
to a switch operation from the dashboard. Click it to enlarge it
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Studebaker Service Advisor, Circa 1954
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What a beautiful Scene for Studebaker Lovers, Click to enlarge image.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jeep, The Improbable Survivor

Jeep, The Improbable Survivor (This article with pictures at:
By: Murray Stahl (April, 2009)

Jeep, just the name makes most people smile. It’s difficult to write a story about the Jeep without the word crude. It’s true though, Jeeps aren't exactly polished and serene modes of transportation. The Italians have this wonderful word for a car that truly describes a Jeep, it’s a Macchina. This one word conveys the sense that it’s a machine not the kitchen appliance that so many current vehicles have morphed into.

If you play the word association game most words that come to mind when “Jeep” is mentioned aren't exactly complimentary. Words like, crude, noisy, leaky and rough pretty much define the open Jeeps. Yet the facts are contradictory, women and people under thirty purchase the majority of Jeeps. Many Jeep sport a logo on their spare tires saying “It’s a Jeep thing.” Jeep people are a minor cult that isn’t interested in a billowy ride or a car that parks itself. They delight in a vehicle that demands to be driven by an alert driver. A trip in an open Jeep over paved or dirt roads requires the driver to adjust as he bounces and jounces down the road. There were no doors on any early Jeeps and even today doors are easily removed. The windshield was a fold down until the 60s. A Jeep is a Macchina not a blender.

Its story is an incredible rags to riches then again to rags tale of mid-century America. Almost everything about this little vehicle is improbable starting with its name derived from a Popeye Comic book. The Jeep design team worked for a company with slightly less resources than your local bodega yet created an icon. The original Jeep was born and running in September, 1940. It continues today in a version only incrementally updated through 69 years of constant production. A truly remarkable run for a vehicle that was designed for war and continued as a go-anyplace, leisure time fun machine. Since 1940 there have been many significant automobiles produced; it’s actually laughable that the crude, rude unassuming little Jeep survived virtually intact almost 7 decades. The open Jeep is arguably the longest production run of an open vehicle ever manufactured. Its almost seven decades of production is longer than Hudson, Packard or Studebaker existed in the automobile business. Oh, it’s had facelifts and modernization but no one mistakes a short wheelbase, open Jeep for anything other than what it is. As this is written Jeep is marketing a 4-door open Jeep that looks to be a success. Who would have picked Jeep to revive the 4-door Convertible model; Yes, its doors are removable.

Jeep added the first automatic Transmission on a 4-wheel drive in 1962 but it was 1976 before they appeared on the open CJ models. True to it’s heritage, Standards remain the most prevalent on the open Jeeps. It’s still true that any kind of Jeep roof will be a leaky, flapping affair. Jeeps without a top are still the most common sight on our roads bobbing along on knobby tires. This is a minimalist vehicle as designed and remains one to this day. The newest open Jeep has a cup holder but the short wheelbase and the big knobby tires conspire to insure that your coffee will spill all over your Carhartt jacket.

Its unlikely that the design team that put the first prototype together ever envisioned the many uses it would be put to or the absolute love affair that future owners would affix to their Jeeps. It’s reached the cult status state of the British Mini, VW Beetle and the Model-A. Anyone who questions a Jeep owner’s devotion is usually told, “You wouldn’t understand, it’s a Jeep thing.” Cult cars become one of the family; you give them names and treat them with respect. Teens and senior citizens consider jeeps “cool”. A few years ago a study found that Women purchased 60% of open Jeeps; they are like Babies, everyone loves them. You’ll see Jeeps all over on sunny days. Look at the drivers; you won’t see Rolexes the size of toasters or guys sporting gold chains, it’ll be baseball hats and tee shirts with wide smiles.

My own exposure to the Jeep came about when we were visiting the Southwest. In Moeb Utah we rented a Jeep to tour through the mountains in nearby Arches National park. What a hoot it was pounding up one-lane roads filled with switchbacks in low-low four-wheel drive. It was hot, dusty, noisy and great fun. In this little town of about 20,000 souls every other vehicle was a Jeep and in fact Moeb boasted two Jeep dealers. The frou-frou, SUVs with leather interiors that populate the flatlands were close to non-existent out west. There is a large portion of the US where Jeeps rule and they aren't the recent air-conditioned barges named after Indian tribes; they are the noisy, cramped Wrangler and CJ sorts.

In the beginning the Army wanted a fast, light re-con vehicle that could cross-fields and ford streams. As in all things Government they set an impossible completion date of 49 days then compounded it with unrealistic specifications. Wonder of wonders it happened. The Original Specifications called for a weight of 1,300 pounds, four-wheel drive on a 46 inch wide by 80-inch frame. It had to carry 600 pounds and travel at very low speeds without overheating. So it was that the Army specified a very short narrow vehicle with over six inches of ground clearance that weighed about as much as a non-motorized Mullins trailer of the time. As it turned out the weight limit was really wacky and revised to 2,100 pounds.
The aptly named Bantam Car Company had supplied some earlier reconnaissance vehicles to the Army. They along with Ford and Willys-Overland were the only companies that even responded to the Army's call. The 49-day deadline was more than just problematic however, and Willys asked for more time to finish their vehicle as Ford backed out. Bantam's only hope to meet this deadline was to bring in outside help. Over 130 companies had declined to accept the challenge leaving two Lilliputian companies that were constantly flirting with insolvency to answer the Armies call. Bantam needed the original $79,000 tied to the 49-day contract just to keep the lights on at their little plant in Butler Pa.

An engineer named Karl Probst with considerable automotive experience saved Bantam’s. bacon. He was sort of drafted by the National Defense Advisory Committee supervisor William S. Knudsen, the famed former president of General Motors. Probst accepted this patriotic challenge without salary and went to work. In just two days he had completely laid out plans for the Bantam prototype, He was the original “quick Draw” engineer; a no nonsense technocrat. It was his drawings that were the precursor of the Jeep vehicle. Bantam's bid was submitted complete with layouts of this new vehicle and the rest is history. The bid claimed that the vehicle met the weight limit of 1,300 pounds although it was actually a full third heavier.

The prototype was put through its paces and the military was delighted. They used a bit of slight of hand to ease Bantam out of the mass production picture and Ford and Willy’s ended up with the major contracts. Bantam’s facility resembled a garage more than a plant. The final “approved” Jeep was a Willy’s modified design with a Willy’s engine. By the end of the war Ford had produced 700K Jeeps to Willy’s 300K. Jeeps served with distinction in all theaters of the war. Celebrated War correspondent Ernie Pyle characterized the Jeep vehicle in this way. "It's as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and agile as a goat."

As for Bantam, they only produced 2,674 Jeeps in total and manufactured their last one just before Pearl Harbor. That was the last automobile the Bantam Car Company would ever make; another proud little company faded into the sunset.

Willys Overland had struggled on the fringes of the US Auto market for so long that like a sneak thief it had developed a sixth sense for survival. It maneuvered itself into position to be the one company that’s name was forever associated with Jeep. They were hungrier than Ford because unlike Ford they really had no real “next act” postwar product plans. So it came to pass that by 1942 Willys were planning a civilian Jeep, the CJ. They began using scarce assets to buy ads promoting a main street USA version of the Jeep as the perfect postwar vehicle; the ads always featured the Willys name prominently lest anyone think that the Jeep was a Ford product. The New York Times had a back page story in May of 1943 that the Fair Trade Commission agreed that Willys-Overland claimed to have created the Jeep, that was false but by then Willys had appropriated title to the Jeep name in the public’s perception; perception became reality. A short, nasty court fight in 1943 left Willys free to create the image of Willys Jeep, the only Jeep. Its ironic that the very successful Jeep has helped prop up a total of five struggling companies in various stages of financial difficulty.

It took until 1950 for Willys to obtain the United States Trademark Registration for the Jeep name. Since then, ownership of the Jeep trademark, which is also registered internationally, has passed from Willys-Overland to Kaiser to American Motors Corporation, and most recently, to Chrysler Corporation. Today, Chrysler Corporation, owns over 1,150 registrations for the Jeep® trademark throughout the world. As Chrysler passes through the current bad times its interesting to note that the trademark for the Jeep name is listed as Chrysler’s major asset.

At the wars end Willys had fully developed the civilian Jeep and began an ad blitz marketing it’s prowess to the returning GIs and farmers. It was little removed from the Army version and as familiar as rain to the GIs. The new model designation was CJ-2A and it remained virtually unchanged until 1953 when Willys-Overland sold out to Kaiser Industries for the bargain price of $6o Million. An updated model was already in the works at the time of the sale so Kaiser didn’t need immediate cash for face-lifts.

The sale to Kaiser is interesting. By 1953 cagey old Henry Kaiser knew that his bid to shoulder his way into the automotive big leagues had failed. As he stated in an interview, “we knew we had to bet $50 Million dollars to enter the car market; what we didn’t realize though is the fact that this money would make hardly a ripple in that market.” By 53 he was looking for a way out and badly needed a cash cow to mitigate his losses. Jeep had a steadily profitable, niche business that needed little investment as it was blessed with infrequent model changes. Today we would state it as, “nice cash flow, little need for more investment, priceless.”

A little background on the fifties is in order. By 53 all of the Independent automobile companies could see the “Grim Reaper” on the horizon. Studebaker was the most threatened as they continued to insist on mimicking the “big three” as a full-line manufacturer.

Studebaker plunged into the 53-model year with one great product and a series of also-rans. Trucks were an expensive distraction that siphoned off talent and money in a hopeless quest to gain market share. Their trucks were different and pretty but never achieved enough market volume to make them viable. Studebaker trucks larger than pick-ups were produced at a Rolls Royce run-rate, essentially hand made then usually sold at a loss.

At the same time that Studebaker had a little of the Government contract cash still on hand from 1950 and 51 when Government contracts were 36% of their revenues. Jeep was for sale and the contracts had ended. They might have purchased Jeep, It was a very steady cash cow and they could have snatched it away from Kaiser. The basic Jeep line had continued with only small, incremental changes for 30 plus years. Jeeps were always profitable and repeat business was assured by its cult like following. A Studebaker-Jeep line would have produced a predictable profit instead of the predictable loss that their truck division delivered. The Aero Willy’s sedan by Jeep could have been Studebaker’s Rambler; it was a good design well before its time hampered by a lack of dealers. Kaiser quickly dropped it to eliminate competition with it’s own Henry-J. Even now, 60+ years later the Jeep franchise is one of Chrysler’s most profitable and recognizable brands and their only Internationally known nameplate. Letting Kaiser buy it for peanuts was a major mistake by Studebaker. A huge management problem is addressing “Multiple simultaneous events” each with there own “unintended consequences.” Studebaker’s response was to continue doing what they always had. The automotive marketplace was rapidly evolving and Studebaker missed the turn.

The 53 Jeep model update featured a new but still small engine called the “Hurricane.” The body looked for all the world like a Jeep but had a new hood and some grille changes, all very incremental. Over 155K of this new model were produced.

In 1970, after almost twenty years of growing the business Kaiser Jeep sold out to the American Motors Corp. (AMC). This was incidentally fifteen years after the death of Kaiser’s automobile adventure in the US. In a few short years AMC was selling Jeeps at a 180K unit pace. They had split the civilian business from the military contract production by creating American General Corp.
In 1976, AMC introduced the CJ-7. It was the first major change in the open Jeep in 23 years. The CJ-7 was mounted on a slightly longer wheelbase than the CJ-5 to allow an automatic transmission to be fitted. For the first time Jeep offered an optional molded top and real steel doors. AMC finally discontinued the CJ-5 after a 30-year production run. In 1987 AMC introduced the Wrangler (model YJ) and it retained all the expected Jeep “stuff.” It had doors that could be removed but switched to square headlights. The windshield still folded down and a choice of a soft-top or removable hardtop. In a bow to safety a roll bar was standard equipment. The Wrangler entered Jeep history 47 years after the first Jeep was conceived and it still looked very much like its parent and it was still noisy and leaky. Through the long life of the Wrangler 633 thousand would be sold.

In 1987 a year after the introduction of the Wrangler, American Motors Corporation was sold to the Chrysler Corporation and the popular Jeep brand became a part of the Jeep/Eagle Division of Chrysler Corporation. Of all the products that AMC produced Chrysler’s interest was only on the Jeep.

Chrysler now manufactures Jeeps in the USA, Austria, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela, Argentina and Egypt. The US market enjoys the name Wrangler for the open Jeep while the rest of the world sees the identical vehicles labeled as TJ.

The open Jeep is a transcending vehicle of a type that only a few manufacturers have stumbled onto the formula. People driving a Jeep are viewed as individualistic and self-assured. The Jeep casts an aura over its driver like few other vehicles. There are many expensive cars that lend certain panache to their owners but in the Jeep its “cheap Chic.” An open Jeep is just cool without spending Bentley Convertible money and it’s always been cool / different. Mustangs, Corvettes and Road Runners had that coolness for a time but the Jeep aura has persisted for close to seventy years, Hoo-rah.

The new Jeep Wrangler is still an open car that’s noisy and leaks. The doors still can be lifted off and it still looks like the wartime Jeep’s older brother. it now has a four door sibling that has extended the open Jeep franchise and it still sells in meaningful numbers; A survivor indeed.

The Jeep is an icon now but history has noted that it was birthed by a company in dire financial shape and then was passed through another four owners that were in various states of financial difficulty. Through it all the Jeep stood out as the rock solid asset for each of its owners; always profitable, always fun.

The 1997 Wrangler (TJ) Still with a lift off top and doors, still fun!

Around the world Jeeps serve in many ways. The United Nations has adopted this all-purpose machine as the standard field car for its relief agencies. They are superb as emergency vehicles, and farmers use them as small all-purpose tractors but mostly they are simply fun. The Jeep is also a favorite among American sportsmen, for it can tackle both bogging sands and the most primitive road. Jeeps still meet adoring glances from ex-servicemen, and a new generation has grown up to supply the cars with eager young swains. In true Hollywood fashion it was "love at first sight" and, like the typical happy ending, it lasts for life.