But while built for the wild, Jeeps were increasingly used on the roads. In 1986, AMC responded and took the bold step of retiring the CJ line, replacing it with the Wrangler. The name change marked a significant shift in philosophy: the new machine was still a compact, capable offroader, but there was a determined shift to add more of the comforts and features of passenger cars. The first Wrangler took its basic design from the CJ-7, but the mechanicals were virtually all new.
Not long after the Wrangler was launched, Jeep had new owners. AMC had long struggled, despite the success of its off-road brand, and in 1987 it was snapped up by Chrysler.
Sure enough, Jeep’s popularity continued to build, with the Wrangler supplemented by a growing range of even more road-focused products, helping Chrysler to grow significantly in turn. In 1998, the firm merged with Daimler, but it was a disastrous venture that lasted less than a decade. Two years after that, Chrysler went bankrupt in the 2009 financial crisis.
It was saved by Fiat, whose boss, Sergio Marchionne, recognised the potential of the Jeep brand. He rejuvenated the line-up and kept it centred on the Wrangler, still the go-anywhere, do-anything heart of the brand. Jeep became the cash cow of the Fiat Chrysler empire, and at times it pretty much underpinned every other brand.