Few vehicles have had as much of an impact on popular culture as the Jeep Wrangler. Like the Ford Model T and the Volkswagen Type 1/Beetle, the boxy open-topped runabout is instantly recognizable on sight. Its military ancestor helped the Allies win the Second World War, and in peacetime planted the seeds from which sprang the sport-utility class of vehicles that dominates American roads in the 21st Century.
Along the way, the Wrangler has become the “halo” vehicle for Jeep, in the way that the Corvette is the “halo” car for Chevrolet. It is visual shorthand for rugged go-anywhere capability and American individuality, even as it’s become larger and more (relatively) comfortable. While the fraternity of Wrangler owners has become larger, there’s still a lot people don’t know about this iconic vehicle.
10 The First Wrangler Had A (Slight) French Accent
Wrangler's origin story is familiar. On the eve of American entry into WWII, the U.S. government commissioned Willys-Overland and Ford to build a quarter-ton utility vehicle based on plans from the old American Bantam Motor Company. The versatile buggy — known as a “jeep” for reasons that are still a topic of debate — proved indispensable, and when the war ended Willys began selling the first CJ (“Civilian Jeep”).
When it came time to replace the CJ, Jeep’s then-owner, American Motors, designed a successor with a more stable suspension. That first Wrangler (known as the YJ) was introduced in 1986 when 49% of AMC was owned by the French carmaker Renault. You won’t find any Gallic design cues in that first Wrangler, but the French deserve thanks for helping make the boxy ute ubiquitous.
9 Its Door Handles Were 35 Years Old
Chrysler’s stated purpose for buying AMC in 1987 was to take control of Jeep, which was breaking new ground with its compact XJ Cherokee SUV and the just-unveiled YJ Wrangler. AMC’s other products were gradually phased out over the next decade, but some parts of the old company lived on inside the jeeps.
The first "Chrysler" Wrangler was 1997's TJ-generation, which carried over a number of parts from the YJ, including the “paddle-style” door handles first introduced on the 1968 AMC Rebel. Those handles were the last AMC-origin design used by Chrysler and were finally dropped for the JK Wrangler that replaced the TJ in 2007.
8 You Won't Find A 1996 Wrangler
The TJ Wrangler was Jeep’s effort to lean into suburban life while also going back to the vehicle's roots. The then-new Wrangler rolled out with a more civilized coil-spring suspension more or less borrowed from the larger Grand Cherokee. It also brought back round headlights, replacing the rectangular units from the YJ.
All those changes took time, apparently, so Chrysler decided that the Wrangler would skip the 1996 model year. YJ production ended in late 1995, and the first TJ hit showrooms in the spring of 1996 as a ’97. So if someone tries to sell you a ’96 Wrangler, they’re either mistaken …or they’re lying.
7 You Can (Legally) Buy One In The U.S. With Right-Hand Drive
Readers of a certain age will remember the fleet of jeeps used for years to deliver mail across the U.S. The “Dispatcher Jeep” (DJ) was a two-wheel-drive variant of the CJ, with an integral steel top, sliding side doors, a full-length swing-out tailgate and — notably — available right-hand drive, for ease of delivering mail on rural postal routes.
The DJ was dropped in the mid-'80s, but Jeep offered right-hand-drive as a special-order option on Wranglers, starting with the TJ. Fiat Chrysler has not said whether the current-generation Wrangler (known as the JL) will be offered in RHD in the States, but if you look carefully, you can find a used Wrangler with the steering wheel on the “wrong” side.
6 So Many Easter Eggs!
Remember how excited you were when you found a hidden treat during Easter egg hunts at your parents’ or grandparents’ house? That’s the inspiration for car companies hiding special styling features as a reward for careful owners. Modern Jeeps can be counted on for tiny design cues that reinforce the brand’s historical link to military jeeps, and the new Wrangler is no exception.
Each of the Rubicon’s alloy wheels has the silhouette of a Willys MB embossed near the edge. The passenger-side corner of the windshield has a tiny military jeep driving uphill. While the steering wheel hub has subtle design accents at 10, 2, and 6 o’clock to mimic the placement of spokes on the Willys’ steering wheel. We won’t share them all …because we wouldn’t want to spoil the fun of finding them!
5 Don't Sweat The Rain
That “Trail Rated” badge on the Wrangler’s fender isn’t just extra chrome. It’s Jeep’s certification that the brand’s “halo” car can go just about anywhere and do just about anything …even though the new JL Wranglers are probably less likely than any generation to see off-roading action. Top-line Wranglers even roll out with heated leather-trimmed seats and sophisticated in-car entertainment systems.
However, FCA builds all Wranglers as if they’re headed into the nearest swamp. Wrangler seats are built to be water- and stain-resistant; furthermore, Jeep still put a drain plug in the floor behind the driver’s seat. If you get stuck in a river or caught in the rain with the top off, just lift the carpet flap and pull.
4 Beware The Death Wobble
Wranglers are extremely capable off-road right out of the box, but it’s easy for owners to add even more ability with oversized tires and other accessories. But owners who don’t beef up other key components could trigger serious problems …in particular the phenomenon known in Jeep circles as “death wobble.”
Some modified JK and JL-generation Wranglers are especially prone to accelerated wear of tie rods and steering stabilizers, which can cause the tires to wobble side-to-side at speed. There are videos of this on the internet, and they are alarming. Owners can protect against this by upgrading steering components along with larger tires.
3 Why Can You Fold Down The Wrangler's Windshield?
One of the most distinctive features of the Wrangler and its CJ forebear is the ability to fold down the windshield for a more total off-road experience. An ever-smaller percentage of Wrangler owners actually perform such a transformation, but FCA says it’s easier than ever on the new JL.
But why would you do that? Jeep owners say it helps keep the windshield intact during off-roading and cuts down on the amount of dust in the cabin. It’s also an important link to the heritage of the military jeeps, which had folding windshields so that troops could fire their guns from the cabin without having to stand up, as well as making it easier to carry wounded troops to the nearest M*A*S*H unit.
2 Why Is Everyone Waving At Me?
Jeep owners like to think of themselves as an outgoing lot with a passion for adventure. In addition, a lot of owners see people in passing Wranglers as kindred spirits. As a result, Wrangler drivers can often be seen exchanging waves, or the more casual two-fingers-up “peace sign” from the hand at 12:00 on the wheel.
A number of jeep owner sites say "the wave" dates back either to WWII, when service members would acknowledge a passing ally; after the war, when vets driving CJs would encounter each other; or during the '70s when off-roading became more popular. No matter the beginnings, it’s one of the friendliest traditions on the road.
1 It's A Good Investment!
OK, that’s a bit of a misnomer; after all, cars are depreciating assets. That said, Jeep Wranglers have inspired incredible loyalty among their owner base. Their rugged good looks and go-anywhere image have made them extremely desirable, new or used.
The experts at Kelley Blue Book say the 2019 Wrangler is projected to hold 58% of its value after five years of ownership. By comparison, the average car’s resale value after five years amounts to about 39%. That’s why it’s often hard to find good deals on Wranglers: The people who buy them never sell.