By Deb Acord
The first Jeep, made in 1941 by the Willys-Overland Company in response to the U.S. military's call for a new light reconnaissance vehicle, was a quarter-ton, four-wheel-drive machine. It was practical, plain and had a gearshift on the steering column and low body cutouts.
Seventy years later, the luxurious 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit looks nothing like its plain ancestor, but the two vehicles do have something in common – the undying love of their owners.
Larry H. Morton is one of them. He shares the love with Jeep owners from around the world on his website, 4-the-love-of-jeeps.com
“When the real Jeep bug bites and the love affair begins, it is usually a lifetime romance full of interesting adventures and memories,” Morton says.
When Morton, a Texan, got his first Jeep – a 1953 converted military model – he was hooked. “It nearly beat me to death on pavement, but nothing I had ever driven before performed as well off-road.”
Today, he prefers pre-2002 Jeep models, including the Wrangler TJ and YJ, Comanche MJ pickup, Cherokee XJ and many CJ5 and CJ7 models.
Why has he stuck with Jeeps? It's all about possibilities, he says. “When I drive the family sedan my goal is simply to get from point A to point B and back. However, when I take one of my Jeeps anywhere, there is something special about just knowing that the capability is there to go through most any kind of weather or road surface with relative ease and certainty.”
It’s the idea that a car can go anywhere a driver wants it to go that attracts buyers to Jeep, says Jim Morrison, head of Jeep Brand product marketing in Detroit.
“We know that 100 percent of Jeep customers take their vehicles off-road, but most do it only in their minds,” Morrison says.
“Not all of our customers will take a $30,000 or $40,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee off-road, but it’s important for them to know they won’t get stuck in their driveway in the snow,” Morrison says. “Many Jeep customers have done some wheeling in the past, and they dream about taking their new Cherokee out, knowing it’s the best SUV.”
Morrison experienced the iconic nature of the brand he markets during a business trip. “I was traveling, going someplace where it was snowy, and I had arranged to rent a Jeep,” he says. “I got to the rental agency and the agent handed me keys to a Chevy. I said, ‘I need a Jeep,’ and she said ‘It is a Jeep’ and pointed to the key tag that said four-by-four. I showed her my business card and said I needed a real Jeep.
“It’s cool for us that people associate Jeep with four-by-fours, as we are still the leaders in that area, and have stayed pure to what we are.”
The new Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit hides its gnarly four-by-four muscle under fixtures that would make a doughboy scratch his head: a heated wood and leather wrapped steering wheel and Alpine speakers with a 506-watt amplifier and subwoofer. Morrison says the luxury appointments can cause some to doubt the Jeep’s performance abilities.
“We took one to Moab, put journalists in the vehicle and drove it to the mountains. It rides like a crossover and they were grumbling that it wasn't a real Jeep. Then we drove up a 35-degree hill with a 2,000-foot incline. The second day, it was snowing when we did it.”
By Deb Acord