Sharing the stage were the rest of the 75th anniversary editions – the Cherokee, Wrangler and Renegade and the model which started the whole 4x4 thing, the 1941 Willys-Overland. This tough, go-anywhere utility vehicle was regarded as a key unit in winning the Second World War for the Allies. A true legend, really, was starting out. After the war, the Willys morphed into the Jeep. It inspired the Rover car company to copy it with the 1948 Land-Rover.
In Japan, Toyota picked up the theme, so did Mitsubishi and Nissan. The Land-Rover begat the Range Rover. Luxury marques like Mercedes and BMW waded in, while Jeep was already refining the raw 4x4 pick-up into a range of refined SUVs like the Wagoneer, ancestor of the Cherokee.
Jeep has faltered more than a few times over the decades and today is part of Fiat Chrysler. Sales have recovered – from 320,000 globally in 2009 to last year’s 1.23 million – with a target of nearly two million cars worldwide in two years. In the UK sales are up 35 per cent so far this year.
To celebrate its 75th with the mishmash of the UK motoring cadre it based itself at the Feversham Arms in Helmsley. The course was managed by South Duffield-based Yorkshire 4x4 Treks which runs events around the globe (http://www.yorkshire4x4treks.co.uk/).
We drove to the “dealership” on public roads and then through a farmyard. There was an adjoining, muddy series of hillocks and sumps on which to try the grip of the vehicles. Our Cherokee, a robust jungle-green machine, caught its underside on some sections which I’d expected it would clear. No-one seemed fazed by this graunching so one assumes the Cherokee was impervious to scraping rocks. Our model had protection plates underneath. This Cherokee “75” tested was finished in a moody shade called Recon Green, ideal for ambling surreptitiously across a grouse moor or army test ground. The 197bhp 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel from Italy had enough torque to lug a vehicle weighing comfortably over two tons. The nine automatic gears worked well. It has a bit of bronze detailing, long sunroof, bespoke embossed nappa leather seats. Jeep quotes an ambitious 49.6mpg “combined” and 150g of CO2. Good luck. Our reckoning was 32mpg according to the trip computer. Price: from £38,945.
All Jeeps are either trail-fit or in the case of the Fiat-based Renegade from Melfi in southern Italy can be had as a specific Trailhawk model with 4x4, protection and so on, from £26,795. Such a Renegade proved as capable as the hard-core proper Jeeps on off-road sections later in the day – placarded as Yorkshire’s own Rubicon Trail but really a stroll in the hills compared with the real Rubicon Trail, a 22-mile terroir de terror in America’s Sierra Nevada.
We started with “the steps”, a demanding boulder-strewn ascent onto the Rutland Rigg plateau using permitted moorland access tracks. Lighter, nimbler, shorter wheelbase 4x4s like the Renegade can shine on such terrain. We were in a V6 Wrangler which also played with the challenge. A Grand Cherokee on road tyres needed towing out of a ditch by our Wrangler which had proper treads.
The Ohio-built Wrangler in its four-door long-wheelbase version did impress on the track. It had ambled up the rocky “steps” with plenty of what they call grunt from the US-built 3.6-litre 280bhp petrol V6 through an old-school five-speed gearbox. The wheels were 75th edition “bronze” 18 inchers. On the tops the Wrangler had a remarkable absence of rattles and vibrations, despite having removable roof sections which could be a source of resonance.
Engaging low-ratio gears uses an old-fashioned mechanical linkage which needs a firm shove on the lever - commensurate with the hard-core persona of Wrangler and its owners. This is one of the most unstoppable, unbreakable 4x4s. Some call it a legend.
The 75 model has side rails and skid plates to protect an already tough carcass. It costs from £34,765 as a three-door and from £36,435 with five doors.
Fuel consumption is not a subject to cheer you. The official combined economy is 24mpg with an unhealthy CO2 rating of 273g. Err, next question: high teens on our drive but there was ten miles off the highway and then quite a lot of joy flooring it on the main roads. The 0-62mph time is 8.9 seconds. The fuel tank holds 85 litres (18.7 gallons).
Nice detail: the grab rail with an outline of the Willys.
Verdict: Tough enough for most things – including the impact from a deer outside Helmsley.