75TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATES JEEP’S PLACE IN NZ HISTORY
Jeep New Zealand is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the brand with a link to Kiwis’ involvement with the original off-roader.
The company held World War II-themed off-road events at Auckland’s Woodhill forest last week not only to show the abilities of the fleet but also show the 75th anniversary models about to go on sale in dealerships around New Zealand.
The vehicles include Cherokee Longitude 3.2-litre, four-wheel-drive priced at $54,990; the Wrangler Unlimited Overland 3.6l 4WD ($69,990); and two Grand Cherokee Limited, the 3l ($91,990) and 3.6l ($84,990).
The Jeep Wrangler.
Jeep NZ, which now comes under the Ateco group, has 250 of the specially branded anniversary models for sale here. Although Jeep had the fleet on display at the Woodhill event, it was the company’s original off-roader, the Willys Jeep MB, which was the star of the day.
Built in 1941 to support the American’s campaign in World War II, Willys and Ford began producing their off-roaders to cope with situations in Europe and North Africa.
Willys built 363,000 of their MB Jeeps, while Ford built 280,000 GPW and 13,00 Seeps (Sea Jeeps) were made especially for D-Day but were more successful in Russia.
The success of the Willys Jeep MB was due to the fact anyone could drive it, it was lightweight and had four-wheel-drive. The chassis layout and drivetrain of the Willys Jeep MB were so successful that it became the standard for 4WDs for decades with the vehicle influencing the first Land Rover and the Toyota BJ.
But there is a clear link to Kiwi involvement with the wartime Willys Jeep MB with the New Zealand troops using them famously in not only the Italian battle of Monte Cassino but also in North African campaigns.
Wartime Prime Minister Peter Fraser in a jeep with Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, at Cassino, Italy. Photo / George Kay
Postwar, the Willys Jeep was used by New Zealand troops in peacekeeping duties in Tokyo.
To celebrate the connection, Jeep NZ had an army-style camp site at Woodhill for the 75th anniversary event, including “American” soldiers riding shotgun in Willys and even protecting the assembled media, Jeep guests and staff from a faux attack on the camp site.
Although the theme was light-hearted, the off-road abilities of the vehicles and the tests were serious as the company highlighted the capabilities of the brand’s fleet.
The fleet included the three- and five-door Wranglers, the compact SUV Renegade, the Cherokee medium SUV and Grand Cherokee luxury SUV, which is the biggest seller for the brand, making up nearly 80 per cent of sales.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Before we headed into the forest, we were told to have all vehicles in low-range four-wheel-drive.
The first activity was the circular sand pit, where you had to drive your vehicle into it and then drive around — stick to the high side and you had to drive fast, at the low point you were stuck in lower speed.
Though the demonstration was given in the Wrangler, my first vehicle into the pit was the Cherokee, a vehicle I envisioned lolloping in the bottom of the pit.
It skirted the top of the circle and whipped up the sand as effortlessly as the Wrangler.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the 75th anniversary of the brand at Woodhill Forest, Auckland.
But the task wasn’t just a fun lesson in making donuts; it was instead to be a more practical demonstration of how to drive on the beach — a task Jeep owners may encounter.
The idea, said instructor Roger Winslade, was to keep up speed and momentum on sand — just as you would on the beach; be in launching a boot in the water, or maybe a beachside camp site.
Keeping with the sand theme, task two was hill decent down a steep sand dune.
In my Cherokee Trailhawk, I dialled-in hill descent, took my foot off the brake and accelerator and instead steered it and it “climbed” down the steep dune.
The Jeep Renegade.
We continued mining the hill decent abilities, this time with a rutted steep decline deep in the Woodhill Forest, with the drop showing evidence of many off-roaders trying the track during its use in weekends as a Four-Wheel-Drive adventure park.
A splash through two large pools of mud was more a task to see who could cause the largest waves, while the afternoon session — in the rough forestry area and mud tracks — showed how the range could handle the tasks easily.
It might have been the smaller and more urban of the range, but the Renegade Trailhawk was the little star of the day.
You’d expect off-road abilities from the Wranglers, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, but the latest vehicle from Jeep proved it held the Willys heritage, and not just because there are the emblems and styling of the first Jeep throughout the vehicle, from the sticker of a Willys MB on the bottom right of the windscreen, to the Willys seven-slat grille flanked by two round headlamps as inlaid on the dash and speakers, and in the front headlamps.
The square tail-lamps have Xs on the reflectors to mimic the markings of the gas cans affixed to US Army Jeeps.
The Jeep renegade wheel looks pretty good covered in mud.
The Renegade weighs 1550kg, is 4259mm long, 1805mm wide, and 1697mm high, with the ride height enforced with the 17in alloys and trapezoidal wheel arches.
The Renegade Trailhawk was powered by Jeep’s 2.4-litre four-cylinder Tigershark engine producing 129kW of power and 230Nm of torque.
Paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the Trailhawk is priced from $49,990.
And although you can still find some Willys Jeeps in some farms in the South Island, one of “American” soldiers doing the re-enactment at Woodhill told Driven, the current range of Jeep were popular with Kiwis too.