The Jeep is quintessentially a utilitarian vehiclea reliable tool whose primary function is transport, on- or off-road. Its official nameTruck: utility 1/4 ton 4x4means that it is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, capable of carrying 500 pounds. (The origin of its popular nameJeepis much debated.)
The Jeep was invented in 1940, when the United States Army issued specifications for a small, powerful, general-purpose vehicle. The history of the design is complex. Engineers from the American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company, and Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., were largely responsible for designing the Jeep in a matter of weeks in response to the Army's program. The Jeep was one of the most technologically advanced machines at the time. After the war, Willys-Overland Motors continued to produce the vehicle for both military and civilian markets.
In 1952, engineers at Willys-Overland modified the original 1940s design and produced the M38A1, a new model that was faster and slightly larger and that was widely considered to be the best military Jeep ever built. Like the model on which it is based, the M38A1 is characterized by a flat body with high ground clearance yet with a low overall height. Whereas the earlier Jeep avoided all sense of styling or streamlining, the M38A1 possesses greater verve, with curved hood and fenders, and a front grille panel with bold vertical slots and recessed headlamps-characteristics still seen in today's Jeeps. The M38A1 remained in production for sixteen years and strongly influenced the design of popular civilian Jeeps for more than three decades-a testament to its functional appeal and its transformation into a cultural icon.