1946-1986 Jeep CJ

Over the years, the 1946-1986 Jeep CJ has represented many things to many drivers. Above all, though, the Jeep CJ is all-American: the most red-blooded stars-and-stripes buggy ever to run on four wheels.

It was born of the greatest and most heroic war the United States ever fought and was cherished by the people who won that war. In World War I, nothing meant as much to a cavalryman as his horse. In World War II, millions of service personnel developed a similar affection for the Jeep. Civilian offroaders have felt the same way ever since.

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1946 jeep cj-2a
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The 1946 Jeep CJ-2A was the first of an illustrious Jeep line. See more classic car pictures.

That more than anything explains why the civilian Jeep, commonly known as the CJ, has hung on so long. But now it's gone, the last of the line having rolled out of the original Willys factory in Toledo on January 28, 1986.

Of course, there is a successor. It looks quite similar and is even superior in some respects. Still, for thousands of Jeep lovers, the Jeep CJ was, is, and always will be the only real Jeep.

The Jeep began the way it ended: mired in controversy. Let's first deal with the long-debated origins of the name. According to the two most popular stories, it was either derived from the Army's designation "GP" -- for General Purpose vehicle -- or taken from Eugene the Jeep, the fanciful "Popeye" cartoon character who liked to eat orchids, could make himself invisible, and had the ability to walk on walls and ceilings.

Which is true? Whatever you'd like to believe -- and these aren't the only explanations. Actually, "jeep" had been used before the 1940s, but it wasn't widely known until the military vehicle of World War II.

That was officially described at first as "truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4," but some newspaper reporters began calling it "Jeep" during early tests in Washington and it stuck. After a fight, Willys copyrighted the name in 1946, though it would be contested.

The idea, of course, originated with the U.S. Army. Ever since World War I and its forlorn memories of dying horses and supply wagons that never reached the troops, the Army had been considering various motorized contraptions that could do a better job.

Now, the Army is not inclined to rush unless a situation is acute, so it wasn't until a new war was underway in Europe -- and U.S. involvement more or less inevitable -- that anyone thought much about a go-anywhere, do-everything vehicle that could serve as a functional replacement for the horse. Enter the Jeep.

Continue to the next page to learn more about the origins of the Jeep CJ.

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