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Jeep’s big birthday

2016 promises to be a stellar year for Jeep as it celebrates a major milestone and launches an important new model.

Not only will the iconic American brand mark its 75th birthday, but an as-yet unnamed, unseen compact Jeep (slotting in between the Renegade and Cherokee?) will be unveiled.

Born out of adversity, Jeep, its signature seven-slot grille and legendary off-road ability is known the world over.

Vintage Jeep at Carfest

Jeep’s roots can be traced back to 1940 when the US military was looking for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” to replace motorcycles and modified Model-T Ford vehicles.

The list of specifications included a light weight construction, four-wheel drive and a short wheelbase. Three companies produced prototype vehicles, including Willys-Overland.

All three went into production, but it was the Willys Quad (which evolved into the MA, then MB) that won the day and somewhere along the line it became known as the Jeep.

jeep

Willys struggled to meet the minimum weight specified, so many items were removed from the Willys MA, hence its low side body cut-outs, gearshift on the steering column and handbrake on the left side.

In all Willys-Overland built more than 368,000 vehicles for the US Army, and Ford built an additional 277,000 under licence.

After the war, Willys trademarked the name and began selling Jeeps to civilians and the first model sold in 1945 was the Willys CJ-2A. The rest is history.

Jeep Wagoneer

However, it is worth noting that Jeep claims it built the first luxury four-wheel-drive SUV when it launched the 1963 Wagoneer. Food for thought, Range Rover…

Jeep invited us to sample the latest line-up in Sicily recently.

We flew in a couple of days after Mount Etna erupted sending hot ash and lava shooting into the sky for the first time in two years.

Jeep Sicily

The world’s most active volcano is the highest in mainland Europe, standing at 10,000ft.

We wasted no time in heading up Etna, including a modest off-road course along the way, in the new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

The acclaimed Renegade, which recently took 4×4 Magazine’s 4×4 of the Year award and is now the bestselling Jeep in Europe, made mincemeat of the course staged over solidified lava.

Jeep Sicily

We’re already big fans of the Renegade, Jeep’s baby, which has enjoyed a hugely successful debut year. To date more than 5,800 Renegades have been sold in the UK while, around the world, the newcomer has also scooped other prestigious awards.

The Renegade is the first Jeep ever to be built outside of the US and the first car born out of collaboration between American and European designers and engineers brought together as part of Fiat’s takeover of the Chrysler Group, which began in 2009 and was completed early last year. The new group is called FIAT Chrysler Automobiles.

And business is good. During the first nine months of 2015, Jeep sales in Europe surpassed its 2014 full year results (41,415) with 65,695 vehicles – an increase of 158,7% against the same period in 2014.

Jeep Sicily

Back to Sicily for our Jeep Experience Days, and we switched to the Jeep Wrangler -still the only four-door convertible 4×4 on the market.

This is an old-school 4×4 which can trace its roots back to the original wartime Jeep – and it shows. To be fair, it feels more modern than driving a Land Rover Defender, and there are mod cons too, but it’s off-road where the Wrangler excels.

Our Wrangler X Edition paid homage to the X Games extreme winter sports competition held in Aspen, Colorado, and came complete with unique graphics, black grille slot accents and matching black headlight rings.

Jeep Sicily

There was plenty of grunt from the 3.6-litre V6 diesel and, frankly it was more than a match for the off-road course made up of rivers, a bamboo jungle and rocky terrain. The sand dunes were a little more of a struggle – here, it seemed, the secret is to keep your right foot planted.

With the sales success of its new baby, the Renegade, and an impressive model range, Jeep is on a roll.

Jeep’s hugely successful 2015 ended with sales up 137.2% year-on-year, making Jeep the fastest-growing car brand in the UK last year.

“In 2015 we sold more Jeeps in the UK than in the four years of 2011 to 2014 combined,” says Steve Zanlunghi, managing director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles UK and head of Jeep brand, EMEA region.

“We will now look to build on that momentum in 2016 – Jeep’s 75th Anniversary year. I’m very pleased that the UK has accepted the Jeep brand in the way that it has over the past year.

“The success has been a combination of the right product and the strength of our re-vamped dealer network, which is driving strong consideration by the UK public.”

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About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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