The best concepts from the 50th Easter Jeep Safari.
4X4 Australia heads to Moab, Utah, to drive the 2016 crop of Jeep concept vehicles at the 50th Easter Jeep Safari.
EASTER JEEP SAFARI CONCEPTS
SINCE its inception, the Easter Jeep Safari has captured the attention of the off-road world. What started in the 1960s as a local trail ride with a few Jeeps, Scouts, Broncos and Land Cruisers has morphed into a massive American spring gathering and draws more than 20,000 four-wheel drive aficionados from around the globe. Each year, Jeep, along with its underground team of mad engineers, rolls into town with its latest batch of concept vehicles. The word ‘concept’ is a little deceptive, as one might be misled into believing these creations are in the works for the general market. While some – or variants thereof – do eventually see the light of day on showroom floors, most remain eye candy for all to drool over and dream of.
As the hired gun responsible for photographing these works of art, I’m often able to talk the top dogs at Jeep into letting me take one or two out for a private day on the trail. All of this year’s concepts are worthy of a good romp in the bush, but it was the Crew Chief that caught my eye. It’s based on a late-model
Interior is almost untouched, save for the massive compass and four toggle switches. Pentastar V6 engine with JPP cold-air intake is mated with a five-speed auto transmission.
Wrangler Rubicon chassis, although it radiates DNA from another era – one of olive drab green and the Kaiser M715. With keys in hand I headed for the Sand Flats Recreation Area in the lee of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains for a relaxing day on Moab’s expansive slick rock. Jeep’s underground team began by slicing the frame in half and adding 585mm in front of the rear axle. The cab was chopped off behind the rear doors and replaced with a 1525mm steel bed fitted with a hardwood floor, mesh side panels and a pair of jerry cans. The front clip was removed and sent to the body shop, where the grille, hood and fenders were reworked with the design lines of the M715. When complete, a custom ragtop was stretched over the top, windows were removed for an authentic open-air feel, and door panels were sealed up. The final package was trimmed with Jeep Performance Parts 10th Anniversary Rubicon bumpers fitted with Warn winches fore and aft, JPP Rubicon rock rails, and bed-mounted lashing points. The Crew Chief rolls on 40-inch NDT military tyres wrapped around 20-inch beadlock wheels. Supporting the additional weight are a pair of JPP Dana 60 axles fitted with Eaton Elockers, 5.38:1 gears and Warn hubs. Prop shafts from Tom Woods tie the axles to the reliable 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. To keep the tyres in contact with the surface, the underground boys installed a four-inch suspension from JPP, and FOX remote reservoir shocks. Rolling down Main Street gained me no less than celebrity status. The thumbs-up was the ubiquitous gesture from
Design lines are based on the Kaiser Jeep M715, a military vehicle built from 1967-68. Enormous wheelbase doesn’t become an issue until you have to turn this beast around. JPP 10th Anniversary Rubicon bumpers are fitted with Warn winches fore and aft. Eaton Elockers are fitted to Dana 60 axles, to send torque where it’s most needed.
passersby, intersections became autograph sessions, and I nearly had to peel lookyloos out of the cab when I stopped for fuel.
Across the dash sits the control centre with its full-size nautical compass and toggles for the Elockers, ARB air compressor, and a mysterious button labelled ‘auxiliary.’ Hmm, maybe a rocket-propelled grenade launcher?
A cool Utah breeze rolled through windowless doors as a friend and I scaled the Fins & Things Trail. The Katzkin leather seats felt good and the lockers kept the squarecut military treads turning evenly. The Crew Chief’s wheelbase, which is about a gazillion inches long, actually helped when surmounting some of the larger ledges. However, the turning radius was akin to the Titanic.
By the end of the day I wasn’t ready to hand the keys back to the Jeep boys; rather, I was thinking about filling the tank to take a leisurely 1600km dirt trek back to California.
The thumbs-up was the ubiquitous gesture from passersby, intersections became autograph sessions, and I had to peel lookyloos out of the cab when I stopped for fuel