(This is part a continuing
series of stories from Motor Authority about the iconic Jeep from its origins
as a World War II workhorse to its history as a robust off-road vehicle for
work and play.)
The original jeep – the fatigue-green,
open-top vehicle sent off to battle – was hardly a sight to behold. Its looks
were utilitarian, with headlights designed for easy replacement and an upright
body that could be disassembled and rebuilt for easy transport.
It was an implement and an instant
success. Like many superheroes, the original jeep has spawned a host of
imitators that share its styling, its utility and its spirit.
As a military, agricultural, and industrial tool, early Jeeps proved as useful powering American farms as they did hauling goods to market in developing nations. As a result, the original Jeep designs were built under contract across the globe. Jeeps were built in Egypt, in South America, at Kia factories, and most notably by Mitsubishi. Those were official, licensed products, however, and while their makers profited, they set out to copy Toledo’s finest.
Here’s a look at what other automakers
have done to imitated the Jeep, if not always with great success.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Though the Land Cruiser has carved a
name for itself over the past 70 years, it was the first true jeep clone. The
Imperial Japanese Army captured a military jeep in 1941 in the Philippines and
shipped it home to be studied. The country’s wartime government tasked Toyota
with building a four-wheel-drive, open-top vehicle, which would be known as the
The truck saw limited wartime use, but it set the stage for Toyota to build a truck under U.S. government contract after World War II. Sensing a need for military vehicles in the Korean conflict, the U.S. Army commissioned Toyota to build Willys-based military trucks. Toyota obliged, and soon offered its own, more-powerful and larger version, which would eventually spawn the iconic Land Cruiser FJ40.
Today’s $86,000 Land Cruiser sold in U.S. showrooms hardly feels like a Wrangler rival, though the 70-Series Land Cruisers offered in much of the world are more-direct heirs to the original Jeep copy.
Sensing a postwar need for a farm
implement that split the difference between tractor and passenger car, the
chief designer at British automaker Rover sketched out a boxy truck so heavily
influenced by the American military truck that the first prototype even road on
a jeep chassis.
The earliest Land Rovers were painted in various shades of
leftover military green. Their bodies were composed of aluminum-magnesium alloy
due to limited steel supply as a result of the war. The simple, boxy truck was
intended as a stopgap to help put British farmers back on the road while lining
Rover’s coffers with much-needed cash. Seventy years after its first Series
trucks impressed farmers, Land Rover has become a definitive luxury good, and
the upcoming Defender replacement will share little
other than four wheels with the original.
The inspiration for the Mahindra Roxor
is obvious, and that hasn’t made the folks at Jeep happy. The Roxor looks like
a Jeep CJ-7, albeit four-fifths scale with a wonky grille. Indian conglomerate
Mahindra didn’t stumble on the Jeep design by accident, however. The company
has a long history of building Jeep-designed vehicles under contract for use in
certain parts of the world.
The Roxor gets the CJ-7’s elongated proportions just right, and
its leaf-sprung solid axles underneath look reasonably authentic. Under its
hood, the Roxor is motivated by a 63-horsepower 2.5-liter turbodiesel, which
isn’t enough to make the 3,000-pound 4×4 a tire burner. But that shouldn’t
matter since the Detroit-built Roxor isn’t legal for road use in
the U.S., except in areas where golf carts can be driven at moderate speeds.
Jeep and Mahindra are deep in a legal
dispute that hasn’t stopped this Indian CJ-7 clone from being sold in the U.S.,
albeit through ATV stores and not car dealers.
Its name doesn’t exactly roll off the
tongue, but the SsangYong Korando’s looks are awfully familiar. A complicated
relationship between Jeep, the U.S. Army, and South Korea-based Ha Dong-hwan
Motor Workshop saw the Jeep CJ-7 built under contract beginning in the late 1970s
at a small assembly plant not far from Seoul.
Then-Jeep parent AMC in 1978 pulled out
of the deal, leading SsangYong to simply rotate the seven vertical-slot grille
design and keep building CJ-7-like vehicles. A second-generation model arrived
with Jeep-esque styling—and retained the sideways grille—in the mid-1990s with
Mercedes-Benz power under its hood.
The BAIC BJ40 has no Jeep lineage in
its family tree. Instead, this Chinese copycat arrived at the 2010 Beijing
Motor Show and was heralded by its maker for its rugged looks and removable
top. The Jeep Wranglers sitting across the show floor made the same claims, of
Lax trademark enforcement in China
hasn’t slowed the BJ40, either. The Jeep lookalike is now sold as close to home
Let’s not forget that the BJ name
(which BAIC claims stands for BeiJing) was applied to an official model called
the Beijing Jeep that was the first western car built under license in China.
The original incarnation of Beijing Jeep was a legitimate partnership between
AMC and the Chinese government. The plant first built Soviet-designed
military-oriented trucks with Jeep-like grilles before eventually building the
boxy Cherokee for local consumption.
In 1985, China was a highly regulated
market, but the Beijing Jeep played a major role in transitioning the Chinese
economy. As a result, the Jeep brand has panache in China, and Jeep even sells
the market-exclusive Commander and Grand Commander crossover SUVs there.