Buying Advice

Too tall, too small: Vintage Jeep model sizes do not fit all

Jeep Wrangler seat sizes vary by generation and some are not a good fit for the modern man.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

I'd always wanted a vintage Jeep. For decades I'd dreamed about it and just never got around to pulling the trigger. With the COVID-19 pandemic causing me to be stuck at home for the last few weeks, I found myself spending my spare time surfing Craigslist ads across the country looking for a new resident for my driveway.

I ran into a few obstacles along the way that no one had warned me about in my research.

The original Jeep

1941 Willy Jeep

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Most people know that the Jeep was invented as an all-purpose military vehicle on the eve of World War II. Automakers including American Bantam, Willys-Overland, and Ford all submitted designs for consideration, and the Willys design was approved (pictured above). There are very few of the prototypes and early production models still around, but the MB design was mass produced for the war by Willys, along with the closely related Ford GPW.

After the war, the Jeep MB was sold to the public as the Jeep CJ-2A (pictured below). The "CJ" designation stands for "Civilian Jeep." The MB was further developed into the CJ-3A and CJ-3B, with a similar military version known as the M38. Together, all of these models are known as the "flat-fendered" Jeeps because the front fenders are – you guessed it – flat. The CJ-3B continued in production until 1968, with over 155,000 made.

The average GI Joe

1946 Jeep MB

In 1946, the Jeep Willy Universal Jeep CJ-2A was sold to the public.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Here's the thing about early Jeeps: If you go back to the original U.S. military specification, the Jeep was a "one size fits all" vehicle. The average U.S. soldier in that era was 5 feet, 6 inches tall, so the Jeep was designed to accommodate that height. Early Jeep seats are literally bolted to the floor with no possibility of adjustment unless you're pretty good with a welding torch. There was also no power steering, so the steering wheels have a huge diameter to give the driver enough leverage to turn the front tires on rough ground.

The problem arises when a taller driver like me wants to drive an early Jeep. I'm six feet tall, a little above average these days, and it's just about impossible to get longer legs up on the clutch and brake pedals of a WWII-era Jeep because your knee hits the bottom of the steering wheel. It's worse if you're a bit on the chubby side because that wheel will be right up against your belly button. Ask me how I know.

A larger military Jeep

1955 Jeep CJ-5

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

In 1952, Willys brought out a new Jeep design called the M38A1. It was bigger than the older models, with a better ride and a more powerful engine. You can tell the M38A1 at a glance because the front fenders curve down at the forward edge like all newer Jeep designs.

The M38A1 still has fixed seats and a big wheel, but it's enough larger than a 6-foot person can comfortably drive it. Production of the M38A1 went on until 1971, with 101,499 examples produced. The United States military bought 80,290 of those Jeeps, and many of those were sold to the public at the conclusion of their service. The Jeep I just bought is one of those ex-military models.

The parallel civilian model to the M38A1 is the legendary Jeep CJ-5. You can tell the difference between two by looking at the back end. The CJ-5 has a little tailgate like a truck, and the M38A1 does not. Also, there's an indentation in the passenger side cowl on the M38A1 for an electrical connection that is not included on the CJ-5.

Growing with the times

1955 Jeep CJ-5

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The first CJ-5 was sold in 1955, and the model continued in production until 1983 with a long list of developments over that time, such as sliding seats and improved comfort features. With a production history of almost 30 years, the CJ-5 saw dramatic changes over time and buyers can take their pick of various engines, automatic transmissions, different 4X4 components, and many special editions.

If you want or need more space than a CJ-5 (pictured above) provides, there is the comparatively rare extended-wheelbase CJ-6 model. The CJ-6 was also introduced in 1955 and was based on the military Jeep M170 ambulance or troop carrier. The CJ-7 was introduced in 1976, and these are also a little bigger than the CJ-5. Later Jeep Wranglers are even bigger.

Finding your Jeep

If you're looking for a vintage Jeep, there are many good places to look. You can browse Craigslist for bargains, or check auctions like Bringatrailer, Hemmings, and eBay. There are also specialty sites like Willysforsale.com that offer hard-to-find examples and restored military models.

Just be sure that you take a test drive in a similar model before buying an older Jeep, especially if you're bigger or taller. Finding the Jeep model that fits you is the first step in a grand adventure.

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New SUV

New Jeep Compass Coming Soon

The Compass gets a major update for 2022.

Stellantis/Jeep

The Chicago Auto Show is happening now, which means we've already seen a few new models and concepts. Just yesterday, Jeep introduced the new 2022 Compass compact SUV. It gets a new design inside and out, updated tech, and a load of new available driver aids. The Compass' refresh comes as new models from Ford, Subaru and others could cut into Jeep's off-road dominance.

As it was in previous model years, the new Compass is powered by a 2.4-liter "Tigershark" four-cylinder engine that makes 177 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It's good for up to 31 mpg on the highway in 2WD models and can deliver a max towing capacity of up to 2,000 pounds in 4WD models. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard for Compass Sport and Latitude 4X2 models, while all others get a nine-speed automatic transmission that can handle the 20:1 crawl ratio setting in the Trailhawk model.

An all-new Latitude LUX trim joins the Compass lineup for 2022 as well. It features leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, an eight-way power driver seat, a seven-inch full-color gauge cluster, and the larger 10.1-inch screen.


2022 Jeep Compass The new Compass is more upscale than its predecessor.Stellantis/Jeep


The Compass comes with a class-leading 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, but higher trims get an even larger 10.1-inch unit. It offers standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and runs Uconnect 5, a colorful, responsive infotainment system with advanced features and tech.

Several new safety features make an appearance, but most are added-cost options. The highway assist system offers a semi-autonomous driving feature, which Jeep says will become available later. Other tech includes traffic sign recognition, standard pedestrian/cyclist automatic emergency braking, a surround-view camera system, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, and a long list of more traditional advanced driver aids like blind spot monitoring and parking sensors.

The Compass lineup for 2022 includes five trims: Sport, Latitude, Latitude LUX, Limited, and Trailhawk. Pricing for the new Compass starts at $26,490, including a $1,495 destination charge. At the top of the lineup, the Trailhawk and Limited models both start at $32,890. It's expected to start arriving on dealers' lots in fall 2021.


2022 Jeep Compass New color schemes highlight the Compass' interior.Stellantis/Jeep

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Jeep Freedom models get special appearance-related upgrades.

Stellantis

The Fourth of July is almost here, and for many of us that means relaxing with family and friends over hot dogs, drinks, and fireworks. For Jeep, the holiday is another opportunity to tout its all-American roots. The brand just picked up an award for America's "Most Patriotic Brand," which is based on a survey of 6,000 Americans to choose the 50 companies that best represent America's patriotic spirit.

No huge surprises here. This year marks the 19th consecutive year that Jeep has been recognized as America's most patriotic brand. The automaker 's vehicles are synonymous with American cars for some people, and since 1941 the company has been making SUVs and off-road vehicles here.


2022 Jeep Wagoneer Flags adorn the side of the upcoming Wagoneer and Grand WagoneerStellantis


To celebrate the occasion, Jeep is offering special-edition Freedom models of each of its vehicles for the 2021 model year. The Freedom models have military-themed design features, matte black or Satin Carbon wheels, and an American flag decal on the side. The vehicles' hoods will be emblazoned with a large "Oscar Mike" (military term for "on the move") star on the hood as well. Wrangler and Gladiator models add an extra Oscar Mike star on the rear tailgate. As part of the rollout, Jeep will donate $250 to the USO for every 2021 Freedom model sold. Active and recently retired service members may also qualify for a $500 cash bonus.

Even after the Freedom models have come and gone, Jeep will retain flag-emblazoned models in its lineup. The 2022 Grand Wagoneer and the 2021 Grand Cherokee L both have American flag badging on their sides. Jeep says it will show off the new Grand Wagoneer on the outside of its tower in Auburn Hills, Michigan.


2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L The new three-row Grand Cherokee also has flag badging.Stellantis

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