The iconic Jeep was not just a brand, it became the name for the product itself – for the four-wheel drive off-road vehicle used since the Second World War. Legend has it that it started out as a GPV from Willys – general purpose vehicle – got abbreviated to Jeep.
In India, Mahindra acquired the licence to build Willys Jeeps back in 1947 and began assembling the Willys CJ3B.. In a sense, since then Mahindra has not stopped making the Jeep. The latest iteration of the Jeep is the Mahindra Thar, whose body style is based on Jeep CJ5. That’s nearly 68 years of making Jeeps!
Initially the CJ3A and Willys MB were also assembled in India by Mahindra, but continued to be branded as Willys. So here’s a look at the number of Mahindra “Jeep” clones over the years.
Image courtesy: 4wd4all.com
The first actual Mahindra production model of the Jeep was the CJ3B. This was a short-wheelbase Jeep (wheelbase of 81 inches). It came with a three-speed gearbox and a part-time four-wheel drive transfer case, with one lever for switching between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive a shorter one to switch between four-wheel drive high ratio to neutral and low-ratio. The first CJ3Bs were powered by 2.2 litre Hurricane petrol engines that put out 72 bhp of power and 154 Nm of torque. Being really light, these were mean machines that could take on any terrain.
The Mahindra CJ4A was a Jeep based on a slightly longer wheelbase. This one had the wheelbase stretched to 91 inches, making it slightly more spacious (for up to eight people). The CJ4A was also better suited to add metal or fibre glass hard tops, for applications like ambulances and government vehicles. This too shared the same engine as the CJ3B with the same T90 three speed gearbox and T18 four-wheel drive transfer case.
The Mahindra CJ500D was probably the first of the Jeep clones to get a diesel engine. Mahindra retrofitted the 2.3 litre International Harvester B275 diesel engine from its tractor range into the Jeep CJ4A chassis. This CJ500D put out a modest 38 bhp of power and just 117 Nm of torque. This too came with the same three-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive transfer case. However, Mahindra also started offering this without the four-wheel drive, realizing that many of these were being used for people-mover purposes.
The Mahindra CJ340 was based on the CJ3B, but with updated mechanicals. This was the predecessor of the short-wheelbase Mahindra Classic. The CJ340 came with a 2,112 cc Peugeot diesel engine that put out 62 bhp of power and 124 Nm of torque with a four-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive (2-lever). This vehicle too did not have doors, but the seats and dashboard were updated.
Mahindra Classic CL340 DP
The Mahindra Classic was an evolution of the CJ340. This was a stunner, when introduced in late 1989, early 1990. It came with wire wheels, decals and a dashboard that had more lights than some small aircraft cockpits. It was also powered by the 2,112 cc Peugeot diesel engine with a four-speed KMT90 gearbox, but what was interesting was the incorporation of a single-lever four-wheel drive mechanism.
Mahindra MM440 / MM540 DP / MM550
The Mahindra MM440 is technically the grandfather of the Mahindra Thar. The Mahindra MM440 was based on the Jeep CJ5. It was the first of the lot to get the rounded fenders and bonnet design. The MM440 also used the 2.2 litre Hurricane petrol engine with a three-speed gearbox and two-lever four-wheel drive transfer case.
The Mahindra MM540DP and the present day Mahindra Thar look almost identical – well, they should as the body shell is exactly the same. The MM540 looked stunning as it had proper doors and a much better designed body. The MM540 was also powered by the Peugeot 2.1 litre diesel engine and came with a four-speed manual transmission (synchromesh only on gears 2,3 and 4), and a two-lever transfer case. This was later changed to a single-lever four-wheel drive in the MM550. The MM550 also got an engine update, shifting to a 2.5 litre diesel from Peugeot with 72 bhp of power and a five-speed gearbox (BA10 – the predecessor of the Bolero’s gearbox).
Mahindra CL550 / Mahindra Major
Mahindra stretched the chassis of the CJ4A further. On it was born the CL550, which later morphed into the Mahindra Major. The Major was powered by a 2,650 cc diesel engine with a five-speed gearbox and single-lever four-wheel drive transfer case. It also was largely sold without the four-wheel drive mechanism for people-moving purposes.
Mahindra Wagonette / Mahindra Commander
The Mahindra Wagonette was the predecessor of the Mahindra Commander – which came with either a soft-top model or a full metal body with five doors (the predecessor the Mahindra Armada, which in turn is the predecessor the Mahindra Bolero). It was based on the long-wheelbase CJ5 chassis. It also was powered by the 2.1 litre Peugeot diesel engine, while a lower variant had the 2,650 cc diesel engine putting out 59 bhp of power.
Photo courtesy: Team-BHP
In the mid 1990’s, Mahindra decided to get adventurous with design. It built a long wheelbase CJ5 body, with rectangular headlamps and a heavy plastic grille and bumper. This was the Mahindra Armada – with five doors, comfortable seats, a proper dashboard and it also had the option of air conditioning. The Armada had the same 2.5 litre Peugeot diesel engine. The Mahindra Armada Grand came with round headlamps and an even more chunky grille.
The Mahindra Bolero was first based on the Mahindra Armada Grand. It got a completely modified front, a flatter roof and more creature comforts including power-steering and air-conditioning in 2000. This was Mahindra’s first “luxury” SUV. It was (and is) powered by a 2.5 litre diesel engine with a five-speed gearbox and some variants got the option of a four-wheel drive Borg Warner transfer case with electric shift mechanism. While the body design is definitely not Jeep, the chassis is an evolution of the CJ5, with a completely new independent, front suspension on the 4×2 variants.
The Mahindra Thar is likely to be the last of the Jeep-based designs. With the same Mahindra MM550 body bolted on to a chassis that is half Bolero and half Scorpio, the Thar is quite a mix up of all Mahindra has in its parts bin. However, under the skin it is fairly modern with a 2.5 litre Scorpio derived common-rail diesel engine, five-speed gearbox from the Scorpio and even the Borg Warner four-wheel drive mechanism from the Scorpio, but with a manual shift system. It also comes in a DI variant with the Bolero engine.
There were more iterations of Jeep designs in between. The Mahindra FC (forward control) van was one of them that has now evolved into the Mahindra FC mini bus. In between, Mahindra has also experimented with a 1.8 litre Isuzu petrol engine as well.