It made its reputation in the mud, snow, sand and assorted muck of World War II battlefields and, 70 years later, it's still doing much the same thing, only now in the hands of 4WD enthusiasts here and around the world.
Jeep disembarked in New Zealand with the American troops and has been here in some form or other ever since, in a line-up that includes the Wrangler, the original's descendent, and others that range from suburban runabouts to Range Rover-challenging luxury.
Some were even assembled here for awhile - by Nissan in its old Mt Roskill factory.
And Jeeps have their own local legends, real or fancied, including being dumped by the hundreds after the war in water off Auckland and Wellington.
It began in July 1940, when the United States Army started looking for a "light reconnaissance vehicle" to replace its motorcycles and modified Ford Model-Ts.
Willys-Overland, American Bantam and Ford answered the call, going head-to-head for the lucrative contract. Each produced prototypes quickly for testing, Bantam taking only 49 days.
It was up against the Willys Quad and Ford's GP (General Purpose) Pygmy, powered by an adapted tractor engine. Each won an initial order for 1500 and further tests chose the Willys. Most of the Bantams and Ford GPs went to Britain and Russia under lend-lease.
The Willys became known as the MA and later the MB. But the army, and the world, came to know it as the Jeep.
Some claimed that the name came from slurring the letters GP. Others insist it was named after Eugene, the Jeep in the Popeye cartoon.
Willys trademarked the Jeep name after the war and planned to turn the vehicle into an off-road utility for the farm. One of Willys' slogans was "The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep".
Jeep roll call:
A roundup of some significant predecessors to today's models.
Several features of this first civvy Jeep were found on successors for many years, including a 134 cubic inch four-cylinder engine, the T-90A transmission, Spicer transfer case and a full-floating Dana 25 front and Dana 23-2 rear axle.
Jeepster (VJ): 1948-51
The strange Jeepster was the last phaeton-style open-bodied vehicle made in the US, using side curtains for weather protection instead of roll-down windows.
Introduced in 1948, the CJ-3A had a one-piece windscreen and a more robust rear axle.
With a taller front grille and bonnet to accommodate the new Hurricane F-Head engine, the CJ-3B was built in the US and overseas, including by Mahindra in India. Numbers of Mahindra and American CJ-3Bs came to New Zealand, augmented later by used-import Mitsubishi-built versions.
Based on the 1951 Korean War M-38A1, but slightly larger than the CJ-3B and featuring a rounded front-fender design. Improvements in engines, axles, transmissions and seating made it ideal for the growing interest in off-road vehicles.
A long-wheelbase model based on the CJ-5. A V6 became optional in 1965, almost doubling the horsepower of the standard four-cylinder. Beginning in 1973, all CJs had the AMC 304- or 360-cubic-inch V8.
Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer/Cherokee (SJ): 1963-91
The first 4WD with an automatic transmission and an independent front-suspension option. Quadra-Trac, Jeep's automatic full-time 4WD system, was introduced in 1973.
Gladiator/J-Series Pickup: 1963-87
Resembling the Wagoneer, Gladiator was sold in either 120-inch (J-200) or 126-inch (J-300) form.
The first major change in Jeep design in 20 years. The CJ-7 had a slightly longer wheelbase than the CJ-5 to accommodate its automatic transmission.
CJ-8 Scrambler: 1981-85
Similar to the CJ-7 but with a longer wheelbase, and sold in either hard-top or soft-top versions. Fewer than 30,000 were built and survivors are popular with collectors.
Cherokee (XJ): 1984-01
Built on a unibody platform, Cherokee used Jeep's Command-Trac 4WD system and Quadra-Link coil front suspension. A huge success, it was the first model when Jeep was re-established in New Zealand in 1995.
Wrangler (YJ): 1987-96
A growing market for compact 4WDs still sought the utilitarian virtues of the CJ, but wanted more comfort. Although the Wrangler shared the profile of the CJ-7, it had few common parts. Mechanically, it had more in common with the Cherokee. Its rectangular headlights were a first and a last.
Grand Cherokee (ZJ/WJ): 1993-2004
The Grand Cherokee famously first appeared by crashing through the convention centre glass at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit during its introduction there in January 1992
Wrangler (TJ): 1997-2006
The YJ successor used a four-link coil suspension, similar to the Grand Cherokee, and had a new interior including driver and passenger airbags.It sold well in New Zealand and is a popular enthusiasts' vehicle.
How it began
Here's what the US Army was looking for when it put out the specification in 1940:
* Load capacity of 272kg * Wheelbase less than 1900mm * Height less than 910mm * Smooth-running engine from 5-80km/h * Rectangular-shaped body * 4WD with two-speed transfer case * Fold-down windshield * Three bucket seats * Blackout and driving lights * Gross vehicle weight less than 590kg.
Adam's rib milestones
Jeep is the oldest 4WD brand, but several others are close behind.
And each of the big-name makes started by building Jeeps or Jeep-influenced vehicles.
* Land Rover turned 60 in 2008. Prototypes built on a Jeep chassis.
Toyota Land Cruiser, originally the Jeep-influenced BJ, and Nissan's Patrol (originally the Jeep-like 4W60) turn 60 this year. Mitsubishi celebrates 60 years of 4WD production in 2013 - it started by building Jeeps.
Jeep's factory in the US has built a "strictly limited" run of 70th anniversary models for the Australasian market, in silver and black colour schemes.
The Australians get their special-edition vehicles this month, but Jeep NZ says it is still evaluating the line-up.
"We are looking at the process of fitting the 70th anniversary models into our plans," said Jeep NZ divisional manager Todd Groves. "We are hoping for some before the end of the year."