A 75 Year Evolution in Automotive Seating Technology

An awful lot can happen in the better part of a century. While we’ve been told over and over again that Rome wasn’t built in a day, nobody ever gives any details about how long it actually did take to build it. Some rumors are that it has never even been built entirely, not even once, before somebody goes and tears it up and the infuriated Romans must begin again. Rather than focus on the proven fact that you can’t accomplish anything too terribly remarkable in just one day, let’s focus instead on what Jeep has managed to do in the under-appreciated art of equipping Jeeps to provide support to our collective posteriors.

When the first Jeeps rolled off a troop carrier and onto sandy foreign soil in the early 1940’s, passenger seating was nowhere near the top of the totem pole in terms of importance. This fact can be no more obvious than when you sit in an early war-era Jeep. Just getting in is punishing enough before you ever hit the seat. In fact, the outrageous weight restrictions imposed by the military meant that the drivers could very well be supplied with only an over-turned milk crate on which to position themselves. Thankfully, in the interest of overall operator safety, a lightweight seat frame was fashioned out of 1-inch diameter steel tubing, barely 18 inches in width, and bridged from side to side with a sheet of flat steel on which the task of supporting the drivers back and buttocks fell. This was a crude design and not exactly a drastic improvement in comfort over the supposed milk crate, but at least this unruly frame was indeed a seat and could be bolted firmly to the floor. Fitting these primitive seat frames with heavy canvas cushions is about the only thing that separates them from being mistaken for a medieval torture device. I have heard on several occasions that the early MB’s seat cushions could be used as a flotation device, in the event that things go terribly wrong during an unscripted beach landing. Seems like a grand notion until you note that the seat cushions are screwed to the seat frame! Not only do I have to muster the endurance to tread ocean water in frigid temperatures, only to play an impromptu game of high stakes tug-o-war with my canvas life-preserver as it slowly goes down with the ship. Such a prospect does seem to lend heavily to the strong sense of adventure commonly found in Jeep owners.

Photo Credit: Toadmanstankpictures.com

Since that observation may be a little hard to digest, we’ll make only slight mention that the early Willys / Jeep seat frame was mounted directly over the vehicles primary fuel tank, so that any semblance of physical comfort could be accompanied by a repressed feeling of uneasiness that, as the bullets fly, you can rest easy knowing that a giant can of highly-flammable liquid is safe and secure directly underneath you. Your only hope lies in the possibility that you will be blown clear of the actual destruction.

Photo Credit: Hemmings

The first evidence of any sort of civility in the seating found in Jeeps would coincide with the development of the early civilian Jeeps, or ‘CJ’s’ for short, which came along in the late 40’s. Not that they weren’t stricken with very similar unforgiving steel seat frames found in the MB; seats that were purely about fit & function with total disregard to the comfort of the seats occupant. The CJ was given a softer feel by means of a rugged, yet much more comfortable, seat cushion. A seat cushion ample enough in thickness to absorb most of the pounding the off-road suspension was prone to put out. Graduallly the drivers of Jeep CJs were being spared from the agonies of the severely harsh ride they had grown accustomed to. The days of feeling like you had just been paddled with a rowboat oar after an hour behind the wheel were largely behind us (pun intended).

Photo Credit: Hemmings

As the CJ platform continued to develop through the 60’s and 70’s, car seat construction practices had progressed considerably, as well; the last CJ models, the CJ7 and CJ8, marked a rather significant period in terms of passenger comfort. Seats were now being designed with soft yet supportive foam that was suspended by springs rather than merely plastered to a rigid surface. The seats backs were becoming taller so as to provide greater support for the upper back and shoulders. These subtle improvements continued to find their way into production, each having positive influences on the overall experience of driving a Jeep. While still far away from what I would consider refined, Jeep had come a very long way in a relatively short timeframe and the backsides of Americans quietly rejoiced. Not only was the seating surface becoming a place where moderate comfort could be found, but the bucket seats were now being mounted to an elevated pedestal via a seat slider that would allow for some level of fore & aft adjustability in relation to the steering wheel. Not to even mention the fact that the 1970’s had brought on a much welcomed move for the Jeeps fuel tank, ostracizing it entirely from the passenger compartment. It seems kind of silly to wait until we’re no longer being shot at to make such a decision, but still a very generous engineering gesture, nonetheless.

The 87-95 Wrangler YJ and subsequent TJ models further advanced the Jeeps standings in terms of driver comfort. While seats still remained a manual operation in their means of adjustment, the seats received additional bolstering and added support to enhance overall comfort. The true pinnacle of seating luxury in the Jeeps history is obviously the most recently experienced- the 2017 Jeep Wrangler JK and JKU Unlimited. You would be hard-pressed to find a more plush seating apparatus furnished in any other go-anywhere off road vehicle. It’s almost hard to remember the Jeeps humble beginnings when you are wrapped in the opulence of high-back leather bucket seats, equipped with spine-numbing seat warmers and upholstered in some of the finest supple calf hides you have ever felt. These seats even have air bags on the outboard side that deploy in the event of a substantial side impact. And to think we used to have to sit on the gas tank…OIIIIIIIO

Photo Credit: Jeep

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