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.

4 x 4 Australia - - Front Page - WORDS AND PHO­TOS BY CHRIS COL­LARD

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

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