Jeep has always been a curious brand and not just because they are like no other car. Let me explain: The “Jeep”, as we know it, was introduced in the early 1940’s as a utility vehicle explicitly for military use in World War II. Initially, it was never officially branded as a Jeep. It was rather an MB, or maybe even a GP but only referred to as a “jeep” in a slang manner as a shortened derivative for “General Purpose”, a term hurled about by those enlisted men who used them. The term “jeep” was then casually adopted by the general population, primarily because the “jeep” made them feel as though they were a part of the war; that they shared, in some small way, a little bit of something in common with those soldiers who fearlessly represented them. Most advertising from the war era uses the term Jeep as though it was the actual brand name.
Imagine, if you will, going to your local grocery store to buy a pack of hot dogs. As you stand in front of the refrigerated display admiring the wide variety of weenies & brats, you might well choose to make your selection based on the color of the label, the attractiveness of the product glaring through the clear packing or maybe even base your selection simply on the price of the franks. The choice is yours with little at stake to lose. But what if the pleasing price was accompanied by the words “Hot Dogs” written inside troubling quotations on the packaging? What could this mean?? Could these “hot dogs” be some other food concoction masquerading as a genuine hot dog? Is it possible to fall short of such a low culinary standard?
When the war was over and the Jeep was transitioning into a new life as a civilian all-purpose vehicle, Willys-Overland continued advertising the ‘Jeep’ but now book-ended the word with single quotations, as though they recognized it was not the original but an undecorated version of it. These single quotations always struck me as a little strange. Sure… the CJ was not really the original military version but it WAS surely a Jeep just the same. I can’t help but think of the ridiculous Dr. Evil character from the Austin Powers movies doing his “air quotes” as he describes the importance of “lasers” in his evil plan to take over the world. Why would Willys not just call their ‘Jeep’ a Jeep and leave the single quotations for something more sarcastic? Is there something more philosophical in play here that would cause them to only reference their product in quotes? What is Willys-Overland insinuating exactly? Never before has a pair of quotation marks resulted in some many question marks…
As it turns out, Willys-Overland had been trying to get a patent on the name “Jeep” since 1943 and, unfortunately, were meeting quite a bit of resistance. The Federal Trade Commission had even ordered the automaker to stop making claims to any responsibility for the “jeeps” initial design or subsequent production. When Willys launched the first official civilian version of the ‘Jeep’ in 1945, they were sure to take the proper steps to have the name Jeep copyrighted. An official registered trademark followed a few years later in 1950 and yet the single quotation marks remained still, hinting at some level of illegitimacy.
At any point was the Jeep, or dare I say ‘Jeep’, in danger of having the dreaded quotes stamped into the cowl sheet metal or added to the badging? Was the Jeep merely pretending to be something that it was not?? Was the iconic slotted grille not an adequate substitute for a genuine certificate of authenticity? “How long would it be until we could buy an actual real Jeep?” remained a question that begged an answer for well over two decades.
Even in 1970, under the ownership of Kaiser, the ‘Jeep’ label remained, now accented with a somewhat confusing tagline “The 2-Car Cars”, intended to convince buyers that the ‘Jeep’, with it’s 4-wheel drive capabilities, was actually two cars in one. No mention was made in these ads if one of the 2-cars was merely pretending to be a Jeep leaving prospective purchasers with a bit of a dilemma.
The year that followed for ‘Jeep’ in 1971 proved to be one of newfound promise. Ownership of the company was transferred from Kaiser to American Motors Company and instantantly the single quotations were gone. This vehicle was no longer a pretender and was not to be mocked. This was a JEEP and it no longer had to boast of being 2-cars in one. It was THE car, unlike any other and set on a course to revolutionize what people can do with their cars.
From 1971 forward, under AMC and Chryslers ownership, Jeep grew stronger and more independent as a brand, never resorting to decorating its proud name with uncalled-for quotations ever again. While I think the original intent was to somehow isolate the Jeep from its heritage so as not to detract from it, the fact that the Jeep name was marketed in quotations for some 25 years is a question that begs for some great explanation. Or maybe it was all just part of Dr. Evil’s plan all along. OlllllllO