A Brief History of Jeep CJ and Wrangler Vehicles

Civilian Jeep CJs

CJ-2A (1945-49)
The first civilian Jeep vehicle was built to replace farm horses on working farms.

CJ-3A (1949-53)
Fun fact: from 1949-1964, either a complete Jeep vehicle or chassis was used on all Zamboni® ice resurfacing machines.

CJ-3B (1953-68)
This was the first CJ with a dramatic design departure from Jeep’s military forefather—the Willys MB. A new engine made 25 percent more horsepower than the previous generation.

CJ-5 (1955-83)
Recreational off-roaders were growing, and the CJ-5 was the answer. This model featured a larger wheelbase, improved suspension, and enhanced seating comfort. In 1965, the CJ-5 was equipped with an all-new “Dauntless” V6 which basically doubled the power of the standard four-cylinder. The CJ-5 has the longest production run of any Jeep vehicle.

CJ-6 (1955-81)
The CJ-6 was built in response to customers’ desire for more cargo and passenger room. They feature a 101-inch wheelbase—20 inches longer than the CJ-5. Heavier axles, bigger brakes, and in 1973—304- and 360-cubic-inch V8 options turned the CJ into an off-road powerhouse. Today, the CJ-6 is a popular collector vehicle.

CJ-7 (1976-86)
The CJ-7 was the first Jeep vehicle to offer an automatic transmission as well as an optional molded plastic hard top and steel doors. This seventh-generation model was the first major redesign in 20 years.

CJ-8 Scrambler (1981-85)
The CJ-8 Scrambler was a small pickup geared for Jeep owners craving more room. They’re super-popular with car collectors and off-road enthusiasts. President Ronald Reagan famously drove a blue one on his California ranch.

Civilian Jeep Wranglers

YJ (1987-95)
The Jeep Wrangler replaced the 40-year CJ series and launched the Wrangler name. The YJ series is currently the only Wrangler/CJ style to feature square headlights.

TJ (1997-2006)
The TJ featured a total suspension overhaul that replaced leaf springs with Jeep’s Quadra-Coil suspension. It was the biggest advancement yet for Wrangler’s on-road ride quality. (Note: The TJ was released in early 1996 as a 1997 model so, technically speaking, there was no “1996” model Wrangler.)

TJ-L (2004-07)
Enter the Wrangler Unlimited. Unofficially nicknamed the “LJ,” its longer wheelbase made driving on the road better than ever for a Jeep Wrangler.

JK (2007-2018)
This is what the JK Wrangler looks like. They are capable on-road vehicles and the most popular off-road vehicles in the world. They offer unrivaled versatility with removable tops and doors and fold-down windshields.

JKU (2007-2018)
The Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited provides the luxury trim options and functional capabilities of large, family SUVs, while maintaining the off-road ruggedness that has made Jeep the standard bearer in off-roading.

[Update: Since this Ride Guide was initially designed, Jeep has introduced the next-generation Wrangler, the JL. You can learn about it here.]

Military Models

M83 (MC) (1950-52)
This is a combat-ready version of the CJ-3A, and represents the first post-WWII military Jeep vehicle.

M-38A1 (MD) (1952-71)
Rounded body features, a longer wheelbase, and a more powerful engine became the foundation for what would later be the venerable CJ-5.

Author: Matt Griswold

After a 10-year newspaper journalism career, Matt Griswold spent another decade writing about the automotive aftermarket and motorsports. He was part of the original OnAllCylinders editorial team when it launched in 2012.