4 Wheel & Off Road - - ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE -

Ev­ery year at Easter Jeep Sa­fari, Jeep un­veils a hand­ful of con­cept ve­hi­cles to keep every­one in­ter­ested and on their toes. The Jeep Un­der­ground, an of­fi­cially un­of­fi­cial group of engi­neers and de­sign team mem­bers within FCA, and Mopar’s af­ter­mar­ket divi­sion are turned loose to build some re­ally neat stuff. We’ve seen clev­erly dis­guised sneak peeks at fu­ture de­sign el­e­ments in sev­eral past con­cept ve­hi­cles, and the con­cepts them­selves are usu­ally pretty cool. Edi­tor Hazel had a chance to get up close and per­sonal with this year’s con­cepts, and here is his take on each one.


It’s su­per-light­weight. That’s awe­some. The lighter a 4x4 is, the bet­ter it usu­ally wheels in our opin­ion. When you’re driv­ing a lighter ve­hi­cle you feel more like part of the ma­chin­ery and less like you’re on a worn-out tram­po­line with a dead ele­phant on your back. The 4Speed achieves its lifted sta­tus not by spac­ers or longer springs, but by sim­ply shed­ding weight, re­liev­ing the stock springs of roughly 900 pounds of bulk to deal with. This lets the lit­tle turbo 2.0L feel like it has much more power than it does. The clipped frame is right in line with Verne Si­mons’ Shrink Ray TJ that we built at Jp Mag­a­zine many years ago, so that’s ob­vi­ously some­thing we are in tune with. And while I’m not a huge fan of the snow­board jacket seat cover ma­te­rial, the min­i­mal­ist rollcage, lack of car­pet, seethrough tail­gate, and cara­bi­neer clips on the rear down­bars are right on point.


I ab­so­lutely love it when the Un­der­ground takes a vin­tage Jeep that has such a strong con­nec­tion with the brand’s her­itage and does a mod­ern take on the de­sign. They are masters of this. You look at the Wagoneer Roadtrip with an un­trained eye and you might just think it’s a nicely re­stored Wagoneer that some­how looks way bet­ter than any re­stored Wagoneer you’ve seen be­fore. Un­til you re­al­ize that the wheel­base was pushed back 5 inches in the rear, both im­prov­ing the rear wheel­well open­ing and re­duc­ing the ex­ag­ger­ated Kar­dashi­anesque fac­tory over­hang. The con­tour of the fender flares was re­con­fig­ured, the rocker shape tweaked, and sev­eral Ford replica bumpers flipped up­side-down, cut, and rewelded to achieve the clas­sic one-piece front bumper look in­stead of the tra­di­tional FSJ three-piece bumper. The boxed fac­tory Wagoneer frame was treated to a front and rear coilover sus­pen­sion. There are so many over-the-top de­sign “fixes” to the clas­sic FSJ styling that we can’t cover them here, and the same holds true for the rest of the build. Ex­am­ples: a 5.7L Mopar crate Hemi and a four-speed auto that’s tog­gled by the vague fac­tory col­umn-shifter, Dana 44 crate axles with elec­tric lock­ers ac­tu­ated by ex­tra light switches mounted in the dash, oxblood-vinyl bench seat­ing for six, a beachy head­liner, campy road-trip maps, a leather lug­gage cooler, and a Tor­nado valve-cover tool­box. This build is just too damn cool for Jeep school! For me, with­out a doubt, this is one of the sweet­est ve­hi­cles to come out of any Jeep plant in sev­eral decades and un­der­scores in scream­ing av­o­cado-col­ored let­ters that the con­nec­tion to Jeep’s her­itage, which made the brand what it is to­day, is still alive and well within the halls of the cor­po­rate head­quar­ters.


Wait—the Mopar folks are chop­ping and rak­ing back wind­shields and mod­i­fy­ing hard tops to pay homage to iconic Jeeps of the past? Watch out, Un­der­ground! Se­ri­ously, though, the Mopar Jeepster re­ally does con­jure up vi­sions of the late 1960s/early 1970s C-101 Jeepster that is so beloved by most. The swooped white-on-red paint scheme, fast­back-styled hard top, cus­tom rollcage, and laid-back cargo-mounted tire car­rier free­ing up the tail­gate are the ic­ing on what is an oth­er­wise re­ally nice 2.0L-pow­ered two-door JL Sport cake. Even though the Jeepster is sans lock­ers, its 2-inch lift, 37-inch tires, stubby Mopar winch bumper, and twin fluid con­tain­er­hold­ing tail­gate would be wel­come ad­di­tions for a long day on the trail. I re­ally like this one and tip my hat to the Mopar folks for go­ing the ex­tra mile on this vin­tage-vibe build. Nailed it.


If you want a mod­ern Wran­gler to have up­per­level ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the rocks, many sus­pen­sions will more than fit the bill. But if you want it to ex­cel in the rar­i­fied world of high-speed rock rac­ing, com­bin­ing pre­run­ning with desert rac­ing, Mel Wade at Of­froad Evo­lu­tion is your man. Un­der­ground dropped off a bare chas­sis at Of­froad Evo­lu­tion to have a rolling chas­sis built, com­plete with chro­moly long-arms, by­pass shocks, and coilovers at each cor­ner to achieve 14 inches of front and 18 inches of rear travel as well as a mas­sive pair of Dy­na­trac ProRock axles. Then the Un­der­ground took it back home and fin­ished up with racy body bits, a stupid-pow­er­ful 6.4L Mopar crate Hemi backed by…wait for it…a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion, and all the other go-fast stuff. Sand­storm is one se­ri­ously fun go-fast ma­chine—and I kinda got the vibe that Jeep plans to en­ter it in the 2019 King of the Ham­mers. We’ll see.


The Rene­gade isn’t for our hard­core mar­ket, but it has a place in the Jeep lineup. Un­for­tu­nately, dur­ing our me­dia day that place was bro­ken down half­way through our trail loop. The hood treat­ment of the B-Ute gave it a more se­ri­ous ex­pres­sion than the “Hi guys, wanna play?” look of the nor­mal Rene­gade. We found it a wel­come im­prove­ment. Put it in the next-gen Rene­gade. I can see equip­ping one of these things the way B-Ute was con­fig­ured, with the roof rack and other light-over­landy el­e­ments, but the mil­i­tary-themed Lt. Jenk­ins ref­er­ence is a bit hack­neyed. I guess it’s a ve­hi­cle for mil­len­ni­als, and things like that ap­peal to mil­len­ni­als, but I’d rather see a Tide Pod dis­penser than a silly video game ref­er­ence that has to be ex­plained to a ma­jor­ity of the off-road­ing com­mu­nity who don’t live in their par­ents’ base­ment.

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