The History Of The Jeep Wrangler

Here at Altitude Jeep, there’s no hiding the fact that we are avid Jeep enthusiasts. Heck, it’s the reason we got into the business of providing custom Jeep parts and accessories in the first place; we strive to get more people using their Wranglers for what they were made to do — ride.

It came to our attention recently, though, that not every like-minded Jeep Wrangler enthusiast is well-informed on the evolution of the Jeep and how it has transformed drastically since its early beginnings.

This blog pays tribute to the history of the Jeep Wrangler and everything that the company has done over the past 60 years to make one of the most iconic and notoriously fun vehicles in the world.

The Transformation Of The Jeep Wrangler: A Journey Through Time

While the Wrangler name didn’t come about until the 1987 model year, when it made its debut as a replacement for the Jeep CJ, the Wrangler’s roots can be traced back as far as World War II.

Willys-Overland had won a contract with the U.S. military to provide them with four-wheel-drive vehicles for use in the war. The vehicle was officially known by the name MB (military-B), but it soon picked up the nickname “jeep” amongst the military members. There was no denying that these 4x4 vehicles made a major impact on the war, which led to them becoming a beloved icon by all of America.

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1945–1954: Willys-Overland CJ

After the Jeep’s incredible success in WWII, Willys-Overland began manufacturing a version of the MB to sell to American consumers. In 1945, the Willys-Overland CJ-2A was launched, and it quickly earned a reputation for being robust, reliable, easy to fix, and nearly impossible to break. These qualities made it a fantastic vehicle for a variety of agricultural and industrial purposes. The CJ-2A was later followed by the updated CJ-3A and the CJ-3B.

1954–1983: Willys CJ-5

In 1953, Willys-Overland was bought by Kaiser Motors, leading to the introduction of the CJ-5 model the following year. Although Kaiser manufactured a variety of different versions of this Jeep, the CJ-5 managed to stay in production for nearly 30 years. With this generation, Kaiser also officially coined the vehicle’s name as “Jeep.” Kaiser-Jeep was purchased by American Motors Corporation in 1970, but the CJ-5 model still lived on for over a decade.

1987–1995: Jeep Wrangler YJ

While it is a celebrated brand today, the first true Jeep Wrangler model got off to a bumpy start. When going about branding the Wrangler, Jeep had to receive permission from Goodyear, who offered a line of all-terrain “Wrangler” tires, to use the name. What they did not think of at the time was obtaining the same permission from the Wrangler Jeans company, resulting in a hefty lawsuit that lasted many years. Somehow, oddly enough, Jeep was able to release the Wrangler YJ model despite the ongoing lawsuit without skipping a beat. The first edition came to market in the summer of 1987 on — you guessed it — Goodyear Wrangler tires.

Soon after the initial release of the Wrangler YJ model in 1987, Jeep’s parent company, American Motors Company, was purchased by Chrysler Motors. In 1991, under the new Chrysler ownership, they produced a newer 4.0-liter I-6 engine with fuel injection to replace the old 4.2-liter, giving the YJ a much-needed dose of power. The YJ’s output jumped to 180 horsepower and its torque rose to 220 lb-ft.

This same year, Jeep released the first Renegade model, which boasted a brand new body style. Over the course of the following years, Jeep would continuously add even more needed accessories, such as rear seat belts, anti-lock brakes, and automatic transmission.

1997–2006: Jeep Wrangler TJ

In 1997, Jeep introduced the second generation of Wrangler — the TJ. It featured two key advancements: the return of round headlights, as well as a coil-spring suspension instead of leaf springs, which immensely enhanced the ride quality. Jeep spent over $280 million in an effort to make the Wrangler have more appeal for on-road use while still maintaining its superior off-road capabilities. The body of the TJ was also much stiffer than the previous YJ Wrangler models.

The year 2003 also marked the birth of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon model. This trim level was geared toward the hardcore off-roaders — coming standard with locking front and rear differentials as well as a 4:1 low-range gear ratio, disc brakes, and 31-inch all-terrain tires.

In 2004, the TJ-L, more famously known as the Wrangler Unlimited, was introduced. It featured a roomier backseat and cargo area and also a significantly greater towing capacity — up from 2,000 to 3,000 pounds. It was also made available in the Rubicon trim package.

2007–2018: Jeep Wrangler JK

For 2007, Jeep completely redesigned the Wrangler to be bigger and badder than ever. The mid-2000s were the age of the giant SUV craze, with giant Hummers and Suburbans roaming the streets. Jeep had to meet consumer expectations with their new model to include size and safety. It was made taller, wider, and longer, and it rode on a longer wheelbase. It was designed to be even more comfortable than the previous TJ models and offered new safety features such as stability traction control. The Jeep JK also marked the first offering of a four-door Jeep model, which was a decision that quickly proved successful.

2018–Present: Jeep Wrangler JL

After over two years of teasing us, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL finally debuted in late 2017. The body style was wider, but it still featured much of the classic Wrangler aesthetics. With the JL generation, Jeep finally began to focus efforts on improving the Wrangler’s efficiency. They also added more technology and further improved the Wrangler’s off-road capabilities. The body is still made out of high-strength steel, but the hood, doors, and windshield frame are now aluminum.

Although a traditional 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is still available, Jeep now offers a turbocharged four-cylinder, and they recently added a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 option. You heard that right: a diesel Wrangler!

The JL also comes with all of the advanced technology options that have come about, such as an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system, rear parking sensors with cross-traffic alert, a blind-spot monitoring system, and much more.

This is how the Jeep Wrangler has progressed throughout history into what it is today, and there’s no denying that it’s still a classic. Here at Altitude Jeep, we proudly provide a variety of custom Jeep parts for Wrangler JK and JL models — exhaust systems, lift kits, fenders, bumpers, grills, headlights, and many more — along with aftermarket Jeep accessories that can be used to elevate the look and functionality of any model of Wrangler on the road today. So browse our entire collection of custom jeep parts and find the perfect items for your Jeep to elevate your ride today.


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