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1946-1986 Jeep CJ

Jeep CJ Derivations

For all the many Jeep CJ spin-offs that have appeared over the years, the basic CJ and its concurrent military counterparts stayed remarkably the same. But that's not to say that Willys, Kaiser Jeep, and most recently, American Motors haven't tinkered with the basic concept.

1969 jeep xj001
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The unique Jeep XJ001 in 1969 was one of several derivations from the basic CJ model.

For example, Willys tried grafting a downsloped hood onto a CJ-3B in 1953, with the aim of improving forward visibility. The idea never made production, but a surviving photo from Willys Engineering suggests that it probably would have improved aerodynamics as well, even though the industry wouldn't be concerned with such things for decades.

Some 15 years later, Kaiser Jeep created XJ001, a styling exercise on the 81-inch-wheelbase CJ-5 Universal chassis. Boasting a sporty and very modern fiberglass body with an open back, door-less sides, and sculptured, car-like contours, it was designed in 1969, just before the AMC takeover.

A company press release described it as "an experimental test platform for innovations in the growing recreational field." But according to AMC historian John A. Conde, Jeep's new owners "didn't know what to do with it, not having the finances to tool up for such a radical departure from the Jeep CJ.

"Fate solved the problem . . . On the way back from the Texas State Fair several years later, the truck carrying the model flipped over, caught fire, and the Jeep XJ001 was lost forever."

1977 concept jeep ii
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
AMC's first downsized Jeep was the 1977 Concept Jeep II.

Fuel economy concerns and the industry's embryonic "downsizing" movement prompted the Jeep II of 1977, one of several "Concept" vehicles AMC displayed late in that decade. Its press description was disarmingly honest:

"Concept Jeep II demonstrates Jeep Corporation's exploration of new ways to reduce vehicle size while maintaining usable interior room. This scaled-down version of the CJ-5 preserves the ruggedness and fun-to-drive character of the popular CJ series.

"In contrast to the current-production CJ-5, the Jeep II is two feet shorter and nine inches lower, and the wheelbase, at 76 inches, is eight inches shorter."

With less weight, a lower center of gravity, and more angular front end and fender styling, the Jeep II represented a return to the nimble efficiency and no-nonsense character of the wartime original.

Unfortunately, faltering AMC wouldn't have the wherewithal to rethink the basic Jeep CJ in earnest for another three years. While the impetus likely came from "Energy Crisis II" of 1979-1980, the means were unquestionably provided by Renault, which bought a controlling interest in AMC at about that time and sold Jeep CJs in Europe.

The development effort leading to the new Wrangler didn't get underway until about 1981. Although Concept Jeep II may have influenced its early phases, the notion of simply shrinking the Jeep CJ was soon discarded, and the program was ultimately coordinated with development of the XJ-series Cherokee/Wagoneer compact wagons that arrived for 1984.

Keep reading to learn about the Jeep that revived the CJ tradition.

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