AMC’s first downsized Jeep was the 1977 Concept Jeep II.
JEEP JUNIOR—the increasing popularity of four-wheel-drive vehicles is prompting new looks at ways to serve the growing market. In line with the downsizing trend in passenger cars, American Motors designers came up with this scaled-down concept of the Jeep CJ-5 which preserves the ruggedness and fun-to-drive character of the CJ series. Compared with its full-size brother, the Jeep Renegade II is almost two feet shorter in overall length and nine inches lower with top up. Wheelbase is 76 inches compared with the CJ-5’s 84 inches. Seating dimensions are comparable, front and rear. A blue Levi’s convertible top and rear tire mount cover complement the Alpine White body. While the company has no present plans to produce the miniaturized Jeep, it demonstrates American Motors’ continuing exploration of new ways to reduce vehicle size while maintaining usable interior space.
Fuel economy concerns and the industry’s embryonic "downsizing" movement prompted the Jeep II of 1977, one of several "Concept" vehicles AMC displayed late in that decade. Its press description was disarmingly honest:
"Concept Jeep II demonstrates Jeep Corporation’s exploration of new ways to reduce vehicle size while maintaining usable interior room. This scaled-down version of the CJ-5 preserves the ruggedness and fun-to-drive character of the popular CJ series.
"In contrast to the current-production CJ-5, the Jeep II is two feet shorter and nine inches lower, and the wheelbase, at 76 inches, is eight inches shorter."
With less weight, a lower center of gravity, and more angular front end and fender styling, the Jeep II represented a return to the nimble efficiency and no-nonsense character of the wartime original.
Unfortunately, faltering AMC wouldn’t have the wherewithal to rethink the basic Jeep CJ in earnest for another three years. While the impetus likely came from "Energy Crisis II" of 1979-1980, the means were unquestionably provided by Renault, which bought a controlling interest in AMC at about that time and sold Jeep CJs in Europe.
The development effort leading to the new Wrangler didn’t get underway until about 1981. Although Concept Jeep II may have influenced its early phases, the notion of simply shrinking the Jeep CJ was soon discarded, and the program was ultimately coordinated with development of the XJ-series Cherokee/Wagoneer compact wagons that arrived for 1984.