Written by Eric Becker
The story of the original military-chic, civilian off-roader began more than 80 years ago. In the late 1930s, with the shadow of war looming, America’s military recognized a need for a light 4-wheel-drive vehicle capable of ferrying GIs around the battlefield. The original Jeep was billed as a bantamweight brawler, a quarter-ton go-anywhere military vehicle. Its historic prominence was cemented with President Dwight D. Eisenhower likening it as “one of three decisive weapons the U.S. had during World War II.”
Strict build criteria mandated that it be light, capable, simple and reliable. The light construction allowed the Jeep to be lifted by soldiers, floated across rivers and dropped by parachute from airplanes. Yet the Jeep’s steel body, 80-inch wheelbase and 4-wheel drive system were tough enough to go the extra mile when deployed, whether that terrain was desert or tundra. Finally, the Jeep’s simple construction allowed soldiers to strip, repair and assemble the vehicle in mere minutes.
The Willys Jeep served in nearly every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, in dozens of roles. More than 650,000 were produced during the Second World War, and to this day it remains an enduring symbol of capability and spirit.
So, what about the name? Well, historians have yet to come up with a consensus on how the word “Jeep” entered the modern vernacular, but there are two prominent theories. The first posits that it originated phonetically, with the military slang term for “general purpose” or “GP.”
The second theory involves E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre comics character – Eugene the Jeep. Making his comic strip debut in March 1936, the supernatural exotic pet of Popeye and Olive Oyl was renowned for his ability to go anywhere and do anything. Many have speculated that it was this endearing quality of the original Willys MB that led to the nickname Jeep. No matter the truth, the Jeep performed, and won the acclaim of civilians and military alike.
As the war entered its final phases, Willys-Overland, one of two manufacturers producing the Jeep for the war effort (the other being Ford) introduced the Civilian Jeep. The Civilian Jeep, or CJ, would become an enduring postwar sales success, eventually growing into a full-fledged brand, offering dozens of models, some even sporting luxury accoutrements like doors and a roof.
The Jeep would go on to inspire some of the world’s most premier off-roaders as well, from the indomitable Toyota Land Cruiser to the globe-trotting Land Rover. The original Jeep is, of course, one of the most functional machines ever built, a vehicle fit for purpose. To this day the original’s seven-slot grille and circular headlights remain instantly recognizable.
Here are 10 incredible Jeeps that have made their way across the Barrett-Jackson auction block:
Nicknamed “Inferno,” this completely reworked 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is powered by a Dodge Hellcat supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine producing 707hp and 650 ft/lbs of torque backed by an automatic transmission. “Inferno” is a true 6×6 with three live axles, it employs a completely custom specially built driveline. Like any true off-road Jeep, it retains the ability to lock the differentials if desired. The 6×6 Jeep features a 5-inch lift kit, Rough Country shocks and 35-inch off-road tires mounted on custom 20×12.5-inch wheels. The red finish is a one-off color that was produced in-house by the builder. It sports a more aggressive-looking, custom-made carbon-fiber grille, a custom-built rack with an LED light bar in the front and back, as well as custom-made wheel arch extensions in gloss black. The steel bumpers feature tow hooks, with the one in the front incorporating a winch and bull bar with an LED light strip on top. Further upgrades include an all-leather interior with custom-embroidered stitching. The 6×6 Jeep crossed the block at the 2018 Northeast Auction and brought in a final price of $181,500.
Penned by the legendary Brooks Stevens, the FC (forward control) Jeeps were billed as commercial vehicles. This 1958 Jeep FC170 was completely hand-built by the Daystar team in Phoenix, Arizona. It was featured at the 2015 SEMA Show. The combination of the all-terrain wheels and tires, as well as separate Mattracks 88 Series tracks, the vehicle can tackle any terrain on tires or treads. The custom body of the FC170 is protected by a beautiful 3-stage custom Metallic Viper Green paint accented with a pearlescent cream. It’s powered by a 5.7-liter 8-cylinder engine backed by an automatic transmission. The go-anywhere Jeep crossed the block at the 2019 Scottsdale Auction and sold for $159,500.
Originally crossing the block at the 2019 Scottsdale Auction, this 1981 Jeep CJ7 was custom-built by Gas Monkey Garage in collaboration with the Gary Sinise Foundation and Sunbelt Rentals for an episode of Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud.” The Jeep was completely restored and dressed in a custom paint scheme to honor all the branches of the United States military. The chassis was painted with all fuel and brake lines custom-built to accommodate the 4-inch lift package. The original 258ci 4.2-liter engine is paired with a BorgWarner T150 3-speed manual transmission. The Jeep brought the hammer down for an initial $200,000, with the generous winning bidder donating the car back to be sold again for an additional $100,000. To top that off, another $1.01 million was donated to the cause, making a total of $1.31 million going directly to the Gary Sinise Foundation. The CJ7 found itself up for auction again the following year to help others. At the 2020 Scottsdale Auction it sold three times to meet a final price of $425,000 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Arizona chapter.
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer could claim the role of starting the luxury SUV trend. The Brooks Stevens design remained in production from its debut in November 1962 until 1991. Of course, there were numerous refreshes and updates included during its production run. An all-new Grand Wagoneer is scheduled to make a return in 2022. This 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is powered by a 360ci V8 engine with a 3-speed automatic. This icon of Americana sold for $110,000 at the 2020 Scottsdale Auction, besting the previous record by $71,500.
The Commando was Jeep’s answer to the International Scout and Ford Bronco. It was offered in four body styles, including pickup truck, wagon, roadster and convertible. This restored convertible once belonged to country music superstar Alan Jackson. Power comes from a 225ci “Dauntless” V6 engine with an automatic transmission. The Jeepster commanded a final price of $88,000 when it crossed the block at the 2009 Scottsdale Auction.
Crossing the block at the 2009 Scottsdale Auction, this 1951 Willys represents the military roots of the Jeep. The Army Green Jeep sports telephone, radios, an operating siren, gas can, helmets and more. The ’51 Jeep sold for a final price of $104,500.
This 2018 Wrangler JL Unlimited “Bandit” is one of four and features a 3.6-liter engine paired to an automatic 8-speed transmission with 4-wheel drive. The JL is the most recent incarnation of the Wrangler and uses lightweight aluminum doors. It’s wider, longer and lighter than its predecessor, the JK. The “Bandit” features color-coordinated flares and bumpers. Sporting custom-painted one-off Bandit 20-inch Snowflake wheels, custom graphics and a one-of-a-kind Trans Am Shaker hood, the interior is adorned with Bandit logos and kerchiefs to emulate the famous “Smokey and the Bandit” Trans Am. The Bandit Wrangler crossed the block at the 2019 Scottsdale Auction and sold for $75,900.
Sold for charity, Barrett-Jackson was proud to auction off the first Commando Tactical Edition Jeep Wrangler ever built. Crossing the block at the 2016 Palm Auction, the “Tactical” Wrangler sold for $225,000, with the entire hammer price benefitting the Patriot Foundation, providing support to families of airborne and special operations soldiers killed or wounded in combat. Inspired by the original Hendrick Commando tactical vehicle and premiered at the 2015 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, the Commando Tactical Edition Jeep is a collaboration between 4 Wheel Parts Dealer Services division and Hendrick Dynamics, who worked together to create this spectacular vehicle’s aggressive design, style and versatile up-fit technology, including an exact replication of the authentic Commando Tan exterior color. Hendrick Commando is a tactical vehicle that provides the military with a versatile mobility platform capable of operating across a wide range of missions and terrains, and was initially fielded overseas for evaluation purposes in support of a special operations science and technology initiative. Historically, the Hendrick Commando was the first Jeep utilized in U.S. combat operations since Operation Just Cause in 1989. Similar to the military version, Commando Tactical Edition Jeep is one of the most capable, rugged and versatile vehicles ever created with its various suspension upgrades, strong but lightweight 17-inchaluminum wheels and Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires. The Commando Tactical Edition was built on a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon platform and can go anywhere, much like its military Jeep ancestors.
Crossing the block at the 2019 Scottsdale Auction, this 2019 Wrangler ditched the standard 3.6-liter V6 and opted for something a little more “hellish.” Power comes from a 6.2-liter Hellcrate 707hp supercharged engine backed by a 2018 Ram 8HP70 8-speed automatic transmission. The Hellfire Edition Wrangler rides on a 4-inch suspension lift and 17-inch alloy wheels clad in 37-inch BFGoodrich KM3 tires. The Hellfire met a final price of $137,500.
Rounding off our list is a classic 1982 Jeep CJ7. Powered by a 304ci AMC V8 mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The all-steel body Jeep is finished in House of Kolor Candy Red with gray accents. The showstopping off-roader crossed the block at the 2007 Scottsdale Auction, reaching a final sale price of $56,100. The 2007 sale denotes that the love for the Jeep is not a recent addition to the auction excitement.
Barrett-Jackson is excited to see future Jeeps of all kinds roll across the auction block.