Although today’s competitive SUB/crossover market forces Jeep to also offer soft-roaders that cater to suburban families and shopping mall exploits, the brand hasn’t lost sight of the fact that many Jeep loyalists are truly die-hard off-road junkies. They’re the people who regularly spend a large amount of each and every paycheck on off-road modifications. They’re the people who congregate to traverse Moab year after year. They’re the people who, more often than not, actually have a need to hose down the interior of their Wranglers at the end of a weekend.
“We call them the lunatic fringe,” jokes one Jeep official, but honestly, that lunatic fringe isn’t far removed from Jeep itself. You can find many of those same Jeep freaks working within Chrysler – especially within Jeep and Mopar’s design studios. As they have for several years, a small band of those “lunatics” have assembled a series of one-off concepts to share with other Jeep fans at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Although no 2013 Easter Jeep Safari concept is quite as wild as last year’s Mighty FC or as nostalgic as the J-12 Pickup, there’s still a lot here that should interest Jeep enthusiasts. Here’s a quick run through of what you’ll find Chrysler designers and engineers exercising in Utah from March 23-31.
Mark Allen, Jeep’s chief designer and an off-road enthusiast in his own right, knows ground clearance is a must-have when off-roading, but isn’t keen on lifting a vehicle – and, subsequently, its center of gravity – sky-high. The 2009 Jeep Lower Forty concept first explored the idea with insane 40-inch tires, but the Wrangler Flattop continues the theme – albeit this time with “smaller” 37-inch tires. Despite the massive wheel/tire package, this Wrangler – built from a 2013 Wrangler Sahara two-door – isn’t lifted, but its fender flares were moved up three inches in order to clear the tires.
Allen’s team also chopped the top by two inches, resulting in some interesting dimensions. Although the Flattop is a half-inch lower than a stock Wrangler, ground clearance is five inches greater. For those wondering, front and rear axles are Dynatrac Pro Rock 44 and Dana 60s, respectively, and feature ARB air lockers, TerraFlex sway bars, and King shocks.
Allen says he loves the Flatttop’s bronze interior and exterior color scheme, stating it’s dressy enough where “you could go out for dinner in it.” The gilded grille accents are cribbed from the Chinese Wrangler Dragon concept, and the black five-spoke wheels are also accented with gold. All exterior lighting is LED, and a modified Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary bumper provides room for a Warn Xeon winch.
Like previous Grand Cherokee Trailhawk concepts (and production models), the new Trailhawk II concept – this time based on the new 2014 Grand Cherokee – aims to amplify the SUV’s attitude and off-road prowess. Allen’s team succeeded at tobth. Externally, the Trailhawk II wears a blinding orange paint job – “Blood Orange,” we’re told – and a matte black roof. The hood is cribbed from the updated 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, as is the contrasting grille surround and LED headlamps. Mopar rock rails and custom fender flares and underbody skid plates help add some off-road protection.
Mechanically, the Trailhawk II is largely stock. Power comes from the new 3.2-liter turbo-diesel V-6, and the SUV also utilizes the stock electronic limited-slip rear differential included with the Quadra-Drive II driveline. The 17-inch aluminum wheels are cribbed from the Wrangler Rubicon, and they’re wrapped in meaty 35-inch Mickey Thompson tires. Allen’s team needed to make space for that aggressive wheel/tire package, but says tbere isn’t a commercially available lift kit for the new Grand Cherokee. Solution: use modified Wrangler Rubicon springs and enlarge the wheel wells until they fit.
A stitch in time saves nine, but several dozen stitches in bodywork apparently saves 1100 pounds. Like last year’s Wrangler Porkchop concept, Allen’s goal with the Stitch was to shave as much weight from a Wrangler as possible – and as a result, this rig employs some pretty wild ideas. Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 replaces the Porkchop’s old 3.8-liter V-6, and is both lighter and more powerful than the old engine. The rollbar? Fabricated from lithe chromoly steel. Solid tow hooks are replaced with ballistic rope loops tied around the front and rear frame crossmembers. Look carefully at the Dynatrac 44 front axle, and you’ll it’s been Swiss cheesed in select areas to cut weight. Even the front buckets, stolen from a 2013 SRT Viper, feature drilled brackets and bases to add even more lightness.
“No ounce was spared,” brags Allen, which perhaps explains the Stitch’s most extreme modification. Apart from the hood – which is made of carbon fiber – most of the Wrangler’s outer sheetmetal was cut away, and replaced with a silver architectural fabric – think BMW’s creepy GINA concept. Look closely at any silver section of the Stitch and you’ll likely be looking right through it, or at least staring at an inner structural sheetmetal stamping. Likewise, the Bimini top and bed cover – both fashioned from a yellow vinyl material – are equally translucent.
Although Allen’s design team dreamt up and built the first three concepts, the others – including the Naval-themed Wrangler Recon – are the handiwork of Mopar’s Jeep performance parts division. “Mark dreams this stuff up,” says Chris Nowak, senior manager of product development at Mopar, “but we wind up working a little closer to a production reality.” Even so, the Recon looks pretty out there. Its front bumper – dubbed “Stinger” – is one of three new winch-friendly designs Mopar hopes to push into production in the near future, much like the eight-lug beadlock wheels. Those wheels are bolted to beefy Dana 60 solid axles, which are suspended by way of a prototype long-arm 4.5” lift kit. Power comes from a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, which is presently available as a crate engine through Mopar.
There are a number of little novelties throughout the Recon’s design. The battleship insignia is clever, as is the rust-like patina applied to the dash trim. Seat fabric consists of a white camouflage insert and fabric inspired by sailors’ peacoats. Thirsty while on the trail? Find the “J” in the embossed “JEEP” emblem in the rear bumper – it doubles as a bottle opener.
Nowak says the Slim was designed for off-road enthusiasts who not only use their vehicle on the trail, but also as a daily driver. As such, the Slim may not be as extreme as a Wrangler Rubicon, but it does boast some modifications to improve on- and off-road use. The five-hole rims are already available from Mopar, but the new two-inch suspension lift – developed in-house by Chrysler’s own suspension/ dynamics engineers – will be shortly. The front bumper is another up-and-coming Mopar design, and flares up to fill the gap between the front bumper and front fenders. Other additions include a new Mopar rear bumper, drilled Mopar rock rails, leather seat covers, an insulated headliner for the hard top, LED exterior lighting, and a black hood stripe and grille surround.
Remember this beast? The Sand Trooper first appeared at last year’s SEMA show, but Nowak says his team has constantly been playing, tinkering, and modifying it ever since, allowing it to serve as a “development vehicle” of sorts. Power still comes from a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, and the Sand Trooper still rides on Mopar-sourced portal axles and enormous 42-inch tires. So, what’s new? The front bumper, for starters – dubbed “Shorty,” it will soon join Mopar’s Jeep Performance Parts portfolio. Look inside, and you’ll also find new locking storage cubbies in the center console, cargo area, and under seat cushions.