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Jeep vs Land Rover: Comrades in Arms, Rivals on the Trail
If you want a sugary heart attack in a can, you don't reach for any old cola. You get an ice-cold Coke or Pepsi. And if you're going to buy a 4x4 off-roader with military prestige to back it up, you've historically also had one of two choices.

Jeep vs Land Rover: Comrades in Arms, Rivals on the Trail

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Analogies between 4x4s and soft drinks aside, before the days when every company sold an SUV, Jeep and Land Rover found two completely different ways of providing what is essentially the same product. That being four-wheel-drive off-roaders with all the road manners of a passenger car with the ability to climb any mountain and cross any stream. That's the line they used to advertise Land Rovers back in the day, at least.

To find the genesis of both Jeep and Land Rover, one needs to take a trip in time back to the very earliest days post World War Two. There's a common misconception that Jeep and Land Rover as they exist today had their origins in this war. But this is false, as the term "Jeep" referred to a number of different vehicles made by a multitude of manufacturers at that time.

Both the American and British armed forces utilized designs for the first vehicles to be given the Jeep moniker during the war. These early Jeeps were designed by both the Willys Company and Ford. Although they were produced in factories all over the Allied nations. It wasn't until after the war that civilianized military 4x4s began to find their way into the consumer space.

In the case of Land Rover, this genesis occurred in 1947, as a 4x4 exclusive manufacturer under the umbrella of the larger Rover Company, based in Solihull, in the West Midlands. The goal was simple, to build a dependable civilian off-roader that could do three times the work of a horse on a farm at three times the speed. All while also being easily modified into a battle-ready design at a moment's notice as a secondary priority, as was being able to withsand a 45 degree incline, this was later abandoned.

The "Series" editions of the Land Rover accounted for the bulk of production from the 1948 model year for a staggering 37 years. In a time before Great Britain had fully recovered from the Second World War, especially economically, expensive facelifts and refreshes simply weren't possible. The very earliest Series I Land Rovers used the very same Jeep chassis the Rover group was trying to compete with.

This by very deliberate design, the Series I's chief designer Maurice Wilks was all too conscious of the dire economic situation. As steel was in extremely short supply, the body panels were made from aluminum instead and painted Army Green, thanks to an Army surplus. The design made its debut in the spring of 1948 at that year's Amsterdam Motor Show, just three years after the end of the war.

To say Land Rover saved Rover Group from extinction wouldn't be hyperbole in the slightest. Even American GIs serving in the UK grew to love these early Land Rovers. With gas and diesel four-cylinder options, these 50 and a bit horsepower 4x4s would grow to be adored by one and all. Within a single human generation, from the First Series One, Land Rover was competing with Jeep on American soil and doing remarkably admirably.

Meanwhile, Willys-Overland had the exact same eureka moment Maurice Wilkes had across the Atlantic with the Land Rover. Legend has it that the company was mulling over a civilianized version of the Willys Jeep before the war was even finished. None of these original "Civilian Jeeps" survive to the present day, but their designation of CJ-1 set a precedent for one of the most respected passenger vehicles in American history.

For seven generations (eight, if you count the extended wheelbase CJ-8), the Jeep CJ represented the pinnacle of American 4x4 capabilities. A scarcely believable four separate companies accounted for their production from 1944 until 1986, a staggering 42-year run. But as the sands of time crept ever further, it was time for both companies to evolve.

Land Rover's response to the turn of the 1970s was to unveil their Classic Range Rover, which was to become the stalwart of the company for the next 50 years. Meanwhile, Jeep and their Grand Wagoneer would evolve into the American icon, the Grand Cherokee.

In 1987, the Range Rover made its formal debut in North America. It was a complete success. Five years later, the Grand Cherokee 4x4 climbed the steps to the Huntington Palace Convention Center in Detroit and straight through a plate-glass window in front of the awaiting press.

The two titans of the industry, one in Britain and one in America, have been duking it out on the global stage ever since. Today you can buy specialized versions of both the Range Rover and the Grand Cherokee to serve any purpose you may have.

Not to mention all the special editions of the Defender and the Wrangler, the spiritual successors to the Series I and the CJ. You can even have a high horsepower track monster in the form of the Range Rover SVR and the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

And there are always special military versions of both, in the form of the M1161, the last in the line of military Jeeps and itself based on the Vietnam era M151 Jeep. Admittedly, it isn't made by the makers of the road-going Jeeps, but a Jeep it indeed is regardless.

As for Land Rover, their Defender-based Wolf light utility vehicle reminds us that even today, these two companies have military DNA that they aren't at all reluctant to be boastful about and all the power to them. Because frankly, who the heck knows where the British auto industry would be without them?

But which of these two off-roading icons would you rather put in your garage? Let us know in the comments down below. Check back soon for more from Land Rover Month right here on autoevolution.


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