As Jeep grows up, a look back at some of the company’s best models

According to reports coming out of Detroit, Jeep is about to make a jump into the big leagues – that is, if your idea of the big leagues is an international market, which real Jeep drivers probably don’t care much about.

Numerous sources speculated a few years back one of the main reasons Fiat decided to invest in the much harangued Chrysler brand was the company’s ownership of Jeep, which is possibly the only steadfast American marque in terms of quality.

When the company became a commercial brand in 1945, it promised functional, hard-working vehicles that were built to last. This philosophy worked well for Jeep throughout the ’80s and ’90s, as nearly every carmaker on the market threw their hats into the sport utility ring. No other manufacturer was able to produce a true Jeep slayer – a car that could tackle nearly any terrain and look pretty good doing it.

While there have been quite a few misses over the years as Jeep has tried to crossover into a wide range of markets – from the pickup trucks to luxury rides – more often than not the brains behind this all-American brand have gotten it right.

The 1941-1945 Willys MB

This car was the basis for the original commercially produced Jeeps that would come about after World War II. These original convertibles were built by Willys-Overland, a Toledo, Ohio-based outfit that designed their cars for use overseas battling the Germans in World War II. To demonstrate their off-road capability, the company had a driver take this model up the stairs of the United States Capitol Building in 1941.

About 150 Willys were supplied to each infantry division during the war. The company even supplied Jeeps to the British and Russian armies to help in the efforts of the Allied Forces. These cars weren’t sold to the public at the time, but surviving models were made street legal in subsequent years.

The Jeep Wrangler

This model is probably what jumps to mind first when people today think of a Jeep. It shares many characteristics with the Willys MB, including the convertible option, seven-slat grill and circular headlights. It was introduced in 1987 as a follow to the wildly successful CJ series of Jeeps that had carried the Jeep flag consistently for the prior few decades, and remains relatively unchanged today compared to when it was first introduced.

Today, the Wrangler title is the basis for a whole line of compact SUVs that stretch the definition of what a Jeep truly is. A hard top is now among the most popular options, as well as numerous extended cab models. You can even get a four-door model that can fit the whole family when in the past you’d be lucky to squeeze a dog into the back seat.

The Jeep Cherokee

One of the most revolutionary models in the Jeep lineup was surely the Cherokee, as it helped Jeep gain even greater relevance as more than just a niche brand. This truck was introduced ahead of the Wrangler in 1984 with two- and four-door options available. This car helped start the mid-sized SUV craze that carries on today, setting the stage for imitators like the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox which may have off-road looks but none of the capabilities.

With Fiat behind the wheel, the Jeeps of the future are sure to look very different from the bare-bone designs that steered Jeep to success in the past. Are you looking forward to Jeeps becoming a global brand or do you want the company to retain its rugged American image? Leave your thoughts below: