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Hot Rod Jeeps

Hot Rod Jeeps
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Chances are the first hot rod Jeep beat a Kubelwagen in a quarter mile race to the safety of the legendary Black Forest. We all know that GI's returning to America after World War II started the hot rodding craze, so there's little doubt that one of them hopped up a Jeep "Go Devil" engine back in Germany in 1942.

That's the year after the U.S. Government picked Willys-Overland as the winner in its We-Need-A-Go-Anywhere-Car Sweepstakes. W-O beat out Bantam, Checker and Ford to get the Jeep contract (although Ford wound up building a bunch of Jeeps to the basic Willys design with Ford and "F" script markings on the tailgate and head bolts, respectively).

By the time GI's were taking the first deliveries of Jeeps, W-O was already planning postwar models including a Jeepster convertible, a woodie wagon, a pick-'em-up truck and even a sedan delivery. Photos in old hot rod magazines prove that four-wheel drive versions of the wagon and pickup were particularly popular with early hot rodders attending races in places like El Mirage and Bonneville. Want to bet they didn't leave things stock under the hood?

In later years, those same magazines would devote a number of pages to souped up Jeeps with V-8 power that competed in off-road racing events like the Baja 500. Full bore racing engines, tricked out suspensions and hefty roll bars became standard equipment for hot rod Jeeps. By the mid-'60s, you could order your Gladiator pickup or Wagoneer station wagon with a 327-cid "Vigilante" V-8 that generated 250 hp. It was the first time you could get a V-8 Jeep.

By 1970, the Jeep had been a Willys product and a Kaiser product, but now it was American Motors time to take over. It was also the high-performance era, which explains why AMC joined with Hurst Performance Products to create a Hurst Jeepster Commando with a big hood scoop, special red, white and blue dress and a three-speed gearbox with a Hurst shifter. Only about 100 were sold.

That same year there was also a Renegade II version of the Universal Jeep that came with aluminum-alloy wheels and could be ordered in the same special "Big Bad" colors as a Javelin or AMX. Total production was 600 units.

AMC (sometimes in conjunction with Renault) held onto Jeep until 1988, when Lee Iococca got the idea that Chrysler should buy the brand. From that pont on, the Jeep became a fancier, more refined vehicle with plenty of performance options for some lines. By this time, the Jeep was more of a Soccer Mom's car than a hot rod, but there has always been a certain percentage of Jeep owners interested in making their legendary rides look better and go faster.