Retrotechtacular: The Best Jeep Commercial Ever

How often do we find ourselves thankful for advertising? When it comes to Hackaday’s Retrotechtacular column it’s actually quite often since it snapshots a moment in culture and technology. Today’s offering is a shining example, where we get a great look into vehicular utility of the day that is rarely seen in our modern lives.

The origin story of the Jeep is of course its prominence in World War II when more than half a million were produced. GIs who drove the vehicles constantly during the war greatly appreciated the reliability and versatility and wanted one for their own when returning home and a market rose up to satisfy that need. The modern equivalent would be the Hummer fad that started in the 1990’s. Humvee, the early ancestor of the Hummer, replaced the Jeep in the US military in the 1980’s and a version called Hummer entered the consumer market in ’92. But that was more of a comfort-meets-icon proposition, where the Jeep of the 1950’s (seen in the commercial below) delivered — even over delivered — on a promise of utility.

In this ad, the case is made for Jeep as farm implement, acting as plow, mower, even post hole digger. As a firefighting implement the announcer boasts that “One man with a Jeep can do the work of 100 men with shovels” by cutting fire breaks into the soil. It’s sold as the workhorse of cemeteries, ranches, county service crews, and anything else their marketing gurus could write into copy. We think the metrics are dubious but certainly the inexpensive build, versatile nature, and need for power equipment across the countryside brought these Jeeps into widespread rural and industrial service in myriad roles.

Power take off driving shaft to power circular saw. You can also see the hydraulics that lift and lower the saw.

What makes most of this possible is the existence of a power take-off (PTO). This is a mechanical connection from the engine of the vehicle to external components that can be switched out. Once connected, the speed of the engine can be controlled to adjust the power take-off operation. In conjunction with a hydraulic system that can lift and lower the implement, it becomes a remarkably versatile system. We begin to wonder the American vernacular includes the saying “it’s like the Swiss Army knife of…” rather than calling everything that’s insanely useful a Jeep.

Connect a pump to the PTO and you have a fire-fighting Jeep. Connect a generator and you can drive electric tools like the chainsaw used to cut down a tree in the video and to power an arc welder. There’s a gnarly-looking circular saw blade, and you’re going to spill your coffee when you get to the “Jeep-a-trench”. That’s right, a trenching attachment gives the vehicle’s suspension a rough workout. It boasts the ability to dig down six feet and complete the footings for an ordinary house in just three hours.

Willy’s MB, the company behind the Jeep must have employed a crew of hackers. What a blast it would have been to be in the research and development sessions to come up with 1,001 more uses for the equipment. The company has a bit of Jeep history you can peruse, but we’d really love to hear about the addon equipment ideas that didn’t make the cut. Are there any readers who have some stories along these lines? Let us know in the comments below.

41 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: The Best Jeep Commercial Ever

  1. An underlying characteristic of the original Jeeps with some continuation today is modularity and simplicity. Fenders fit in both front and rear positions with bolts holding them on, for instance. Readily accessibly bolts allow changing fenders. It was basically a preassembled kit.

  2. The PTO was a thing in farming for a long time, I recall hearing about the dangerous belt PTO on my grandparents depression era widowmaker tractor. Before universal electrification that tractor with PTO was all of the non muscle working force found on farms.
    No surprise that the familiar and universal PTO was included in the swiss army knife of vehicles Jeep and those like the TLC who followed the concept of a cross between a car, a mule, and a tractor.

          1. Body breaker, not just arms. When I was a kid out on the farm there were a few things we had drilled into our heads, don’t play near the auger, don’t get close to the edge of the dugout, don’t ride your bikes near the pin-harrow, stay away from the pigs and don’t go near a PTO.

            It’s no different than if you could climb out under your truck while driving down the highway and you got hooked on the driveshaft. The new PTO’s have a plastic sleeve that rotates freely so they’re much safer though.

            My grandfather actually still had some belt driven tools as well, he had modified an old flathead ford engine to run a flywheel, and the only tool he still used was a log splitter that had an axe head welded onto a flywheel that passed between a steel fork for the base. It was a terrifying machine, as the axe head would go spinning around on this wheel at about 20 RPM. Just enough time (barely) to stand a chunk of wood on the fork and then run like hell! Cause when the axe head hit the wood you had 2 halves flying off in random directions ready to smack you.

            Since the farmyard was clearly too dangerous for us kids, our parents would usually give us a .22 rifle and some gas for our dirtbikes (or snowmobiles) and tell us to go shoot things.

            I’m amazed I survived my childhood…

    1. I own a 1964 CJ5a. It is an experience to drive an ride in. Top speed is 45mph, the three speed transmission has no syncro in first. This means it is difficult to put it in first without grinding gears until you are at a dead stop. The “three on the tree” style shifting distinctive of this specific jeep is also a mess of poorly engineered levers that were probably not up to the job when they were new, It has an anemic motor but I would change many things in order to feel safe in faster than 45mph operations (steering dampers and anti-sway bars would go a long way) I would feel slightly better with a roll bar since it corners like a bus full of hippies. There is a “choke” and a “throttle” push pull lever for cold weather starting and low idle adjustment. Ergonomics are a firm no. 4 wheel drum Brakes are…well…ok, I guess. There’s something like 12 electrical circuits in the whole vehicle put together with the very minimum of reliability. So much of the vehicle is the antithesis of the modern driving experience. It is interesting, but a commitment, to own and drive. Every drive is an adventure.

      1. Did you see the clean footer in that trench?
        I would pour a concrete footer completely surrounded my property if i had one of those, then build a stone wall like the Etruscans!

        Then no one, other than a drone I’ll be shooting down, could spy my grand projects. :)

  3. it was a small tractor that could be used as transportation. Or basic transportation that could be used as a small tractor. The exact sort of thing each new “startup” with grand ideas about “building the car Africa needs” should consider. A two cylinder diesel in an exact replica of the old GP but with plastics for body parts where “bounce” is good and corrosion is not, and of course better steel than “whatever we could get the most of, fastest”.

      1. Exactly, my town uses Unimog trucks for plowing the snow and doing most of the road maintenance. But they also use Multicar or Hansa small tractors for plowing the sidewalks/bike lanes or do some lighter road maintenance. Those are really multi-purpose vehicles.

  4. Truly a hacker’s vehicle. Need to finish getting my M38A1 (the military equivalent of a CJ5) back on the road!

    Oh, and you can definitely shift into unsynchronized first while moving, on a Jeep or anything else — you have to double-clutch it in, or rev match it. I prefer double-clutching myself, was always told it’s not as hard on the transmission. If you think the little T-98 3-speed is tough, try downshifting unsynchronized first while upshifting the two-speed rear end in an old dump truck :)

    1. Yeah, I have tried double clutching and it didn’t seem to make any difference. The best strategy (for me on this Jeep) seems to be to snick it into first a split second before coming to a stop. The mechanism for the steering shaft mounted shifter is really junk and has left us stranded once and almost stranded a second time. The first time it shifted into both first and third which bound everything up. Luckilly this shift was done after coming to a stop. I would have hated for this to have happened while moving. The second time I was in a parking lot and couldn’t shift out of first…this time I put the transfer case in neutral and was able to shift again. I suspect this could have helped in the first situation.

      1. You may be out of luck with the old “three on the tree” configuration, I don’t think I’ve ever driven one that shifted well. I’m sure there’s a way to convert over, but I don’t remember if the T-98 was different for side-shift vs. top-shift.

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