PROJECT CHILLY: A WRANGLER LJ RE-BUILD
Former Jeep product planner Tony Carvallo adds his long-time expertise and style to his personal off-road ride.
Jeeps are popular for modifying with aftermarket options and have an incredible following. It could be argued that the Wrangler is one of the most customizable vehicles in the 4x4 market. Part of the overall appeal is the ability of making it uniquely your own.
But what if you could redesign the Wrangler yourself? Just imagine the opportunity of taking on such an iconic off-road staple. We recently had the chance to sit down with former Jeep Wrangler product planner at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Tony Carvallo, who was part of the team that was tasked with redesigning the Jeep Wrangler in all its beautiful, boxy glory.
Carvallo’s resume reads like an off-road addict’s web browser history. His accomplishments also include being the lead engineer at Dynatrac in addition to the brand manager at Bestop, a manufacturer of soft tops and accessories for Jeep. Needless to say, he has been in the offroad/automotive industries for quite some time.
As a native of Chile, Carvallo was not accustomed to the cold Canadian climate. His first winter spawned his nick-name ‘Chilly Willy’ in reference to the 1950’s cartoon character. So, as a homage to his heritage, project “Chilly” was born.
The news of his project build led us to our next question; what is the ultimate build for the guy who was part of a team responsible for convincing FCA to keep a solid front axle under the Wrangler and also provide adaptability, open air, and larger wheel wells? You might be as surprised as we were to learn it wasn’t the new Jeep Wrangler JL, but rather a 2004 Jeep Unlimited.
The Ultimate Metal Canvas
When Carvallo first referenced the Wrangler as the ultimate metal canvas, I thought he was being a little artistically flamboyant. But after
witnessing his enthusiasm for all things Jeep, I came to realize that he was right. The Wrangler is the ultimate metal canvas.
The Jeep LJ, or ‘long Jeep’ that it’s referred to, is a late model 2-door Wrangler that has 5 cm (2 in) more passenger foot space and 33 cm (13 in) more trunk space than the TJ with almost an identical wheelbase of 267 cm (103.4 in) as the CJ6 and CJ8 Scrambler. It was in 2004 when the Wrangler Unlimited first rolled off the production line, and many still believe this wheelbase is the most ideal to build on.
Carvallo, however, was more obsessed with the LJ’s clean lines and aesthetic balance when he chose to build his ultimate trail machine. Having spent more time behind the wheel of a Wrangler at The Easter Jeep Safari than most enthusiasts will ever dream of, he fully understands what it’s like to pilot such iconic vehicles as CODE1 (one of the first JL’s off the line), a Dynatrac-equipped, short-arm Rock Krawler Jeep on 42” tires and CODEX, a Hellcat incorporated into a 4-door turned 2-door behemoth of a rig.
Yet, Carvallo chose the staple LJ platform due to its simplicity, reliability, and iconic heritage. He wanted something he could easily cruise down the road with, take his family on adventures, and be very aggressive on the trails. He also wanted a rig that was visually appealing.
According to Carvallo, there are many considerations when designing the lines of a vehicle. Wheel well openings and tire size ratio are important for an appealing profile while the lines that run along the body panels from the hood to the trunk are just as significant. Other considerations include lift choice, tire size, wheel offset, etc.
While Carvallo was insistent that all of his added aftermarket parts functioned properly, he wanted to ensure that they look stock, as though they were installed at the Jeep factory. Surrounded by hype and buried in the quest for ‘bigger and better’ throughout his career, he went with classic, subtle modifications and relatively modest accessories.
So, what is next for Carvallo? It would seem his pursuit for the next iteration of perfection leads right back to the beginning. He has returned to Canada and is enjoying every single moment of staying classic, appreciating what he has, and above all else, taking great pleasure in his 4x4 journey.