When Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca was asked why he wanted to buy American Motors he responded, "Jeep is the best known automotive brand name in the world" and, at the time, only the Coke brand had higher recognition than Jeep throughout the world.
After WWII, Kaiser Industries decided to enter the automotive business that was booming with consumers and returning servicemen starved for new vehicles. It looked like "easy pickings" to the successful shipbuilding industrialist Henry Kaiser, who teamed with an automotive executive, Joseph Frazer, to manufacture Kaiser-Frazer passenger cars until 1955 when the company subsequently found the capital requirements and the stiff competition too difficult to continue producing in the United States, it moved its operations to South America.
But, two years earlier in 1953, Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland, manufacturer of the Jeep line of utility vehicles for $60 million and changed its name to first, Willys Motors, and then ten years later to Kaiser-Jeep.
After American Motors' Chairman Roy Chapin, Jr., purchased Jeep in 1970, the company's passenger car production and sales remained fairly constant, while Jeep production and sales continued to increase. By 1978, Jeep production was almost 42 percent of AMC's total production. Jeep sales kept AMC afloat through the end of Roy Chapin, Jr.'s leadership in 1978 and proved to be his most important action for the profitability and survival of the company.
At the time "the French Connection" started between AMC and Renault, the classic Jeep products were a small 205 CJ-5 and longer wheel base CJ-7, as well as the U.S. Postal Service unit DJ-5, all being direct descendants of the WWII military vehicles. They were not upscale in content, nor owned by upscale owners. Also in the line-up was the much larger Jeep Grand Wagoneer (and Jeep Cherokee -- codenamed SJ) that had more car-like features, comfort, and safety.
How revered was Jeep? Enzo Ferrari said, "Jeep is America's only real sports car." It was a shot and a huge compliment.