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Which of these Crazy Jeep Concepts Will Make it to Production?

Posted in Features on October 1, 2015
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Photographers: Jeep

You can count of certain things to happen every year. In summer, the days grow long and the weather heats up. In autumn, the leaves fall from the trees. In winter, the days grow shorter and the nights longer. And in spring, Jeep unveils some pretty cool concept builds at Moab Easter Jeep Safari. These creations are always awe-inspiring pieces of art, mechanical ingenuity, and design genius. Full credit to Jeep head of design, Mark Allen and his team for locking in on essential elements that Jeep purists hold near and dear and tastefully incorporating them into modern Jeep offerings. That’s right; these buildups begin life as regular old Jeep vehicles straight off the factory lot. And with few exceptions—an engine swap or perhaps upgraded axles—many of the concepts’ drivetrain, chassis, and underpinnings sport factory parts or common aftermarket upgrades. What’s it mean to those who anticipate and truly enjoy the unveiling of these creations? It means if properly motivated, some of these designs hold the potential to actually become production pieces. And in the end, that’s the true genius behind buildups like these. They tap into the mojo of legendary Jeeps of yesteryear to create an emotional connect with modern Jeep enthusiasts. So, whether it’s stitching together the storied history of the brand and what makes Jeep the iconic force in the automotive world (like the Chief or Staff Car) or just plain expanding a theme of what’s popular in our off-roading culture today (like the Africa or the Grand Cherokee Overland), these vehicles hit the nail on the head, as well as the soft spot in our hearts. Now, if we could walk into our local Jeep dealer and finance one of these, all would be right with the world.

Africa

Of all the vehicles Jeep displayed this year in Moab, we think the Africa build holds the most potential to actually make it into production. Tapping into the extremely popular ‘overlanding’ craze, the Africa concept started with an overseas JK Wrangler Unlimited to obtain the desirable 2.8L diesel engine and adds an extended rear overhang and a raised, non-removable hard roof. It’s true the overall vibe is somewhat derivative of a Land Rover, but we’re more than willing to overlook this since the original Land Rover was just a copy of a Jeep flatfender.

The addition of just 12 inches of rear overhang could actually go unnoticed by some, but it’s just enough to stick a fullsize spare tire underneath, freeing up interior cargo space and rear visibility for the fifth door in the rear. The Africa ticks all the overlanding boxes like plain steel wheels, external Jerrycan carriers (like an old Willys Wagon), and integrated roof rack.

Despite the austere paint color and plain steel wheels, the interior is luxuriously appointed in Sahara-level trim. This could be the solution to families wanting the twin solid-axle utility and capability of a Wrangler but who don’t want the niggling trade-offs like wind noise and potential leaks that come with the regular Wrangler’s removable top and fold-down windshield.

The Africa seats five in its current configuration, but if Jeep decided to put it into production with a 16-inch overhang instead of the Africa’s 12-inch overhang, a two-door JK Wrangler rear seat could be fit behind the second row to turn it into the first production seven-seat Wrangler-based vehicle. That’s a market segment Jeep has yet to tap into with any of its offerings since the Commander. And let’s be honest, wouldn’t you rather have an Africa than a Commander?

The Chief

Rarely do design concepts so perfectly nail the spirit of a vehicle than this. The original Chief is one of those vehicles everybody seems to have a story about, whether first- or third-hand. Since they’re the quintessential Baja surf wagon, it’s no surprise the interior of the Chief concept is done up in Hawaiian trappings, teak wood roof paneling, and an all-white plastic and seat covering treatment. The razor grille works so nicely with the reconfigured body lines you’d almost never realize it was all sitting atop a JK Wrangler Unlimited chassis.

The rear view is just as bang-on as the front, with the angled drop-down tailgate, Cherokee taillights, spot-on roof line, and partially obscured rear doors that emulate the look of the vintage two-door Cherokee Chiefs of the ’70s. Like the Africa, seeing the Chief become a production vehicle wouldn’t be out of the question. Would you buy one?

Although Chiefs from the ’70s were usually found wearing steel spoke wheels as standard-issue garb, the slotted mag wheels were an option on the early ’70s Wagoneers and seamlessly complement the vibe of this build. Were it not for the chopped windshield and shorter roof height (Mark Allen does that with almost all his builds), it would be hard for the layperson to tell this vehicle from a real FSJ Cherokee Chief.

Grand Cherokee Overland

This is the image most people conjure when they hear the word “overlanding.” The Grand Cherokee Overland concept rolls all those elements into one build from the outstanding 3.0L EcoDiesel drivetrain, rooftop tent, interior room for cargo, camping gear, and five passengers, plus a look to die for.

It’s not easy to squeeze an integrated winch mount in a turbodiesel vehicle because of the intercooler, but the Grand Cherokee Overland has one, as well as Trailhawk-esque red tow hooks, a forward-facing LED lightbar that almost disappears, and of course, the easy-open rooftop tent. The air suspension copes nicely with the additional weight on the roof and keeps the vehicle feeling light and nimble. The color isn’t quite Commando Green. It’s a hue Allen and team had blended just for this build, and it totally works.

Staff Car

If you truly know and appreciate WWII military jeeps, then the Staff Car is full of all sorts of hidden gems. From the integrated pioneering tools on the side of the tub to the uninterrupted door opening to the NDT tires to the GI-sped fog-it-all paint job, the Staff Car truly emulates the early military flatties.

Although the color looks like some desert-theme milspec drab, it’s really from a cardboard box Allen and his team brought to the painters and said “match this.” The comically long antenna is real and the exterior trinkets are a mix of reproduction parts from the aftermarket (like the taillights, blackout lights, Jerrycan holders) and items from Jeep’s current J8 military vehicles (bumpers, tow hooks, wheels, and so on).

If you’ve never owned a vehicle that’s received a military paint job, you’re missing out. They literally fog everything and then come back with a razor blade and scrape the paint off the glass. The Staff Car started life as an upper-level JK Unlimited, and Allen and team did the buildup on such a tight deadline that they didn’t have time to remove the high-zoot radio or steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. We’ll forgive ’em.

NDT tires aren’t the best for crawling, wet weather, street driving, but they do completely sell the look and running anything else on the Staff Car would’ve been sacrilege. We definitely won’t be seeing a Staff Car on the dealer lot anytime soon with windowless cosmoline canvas top, low-back canvas seats, and NDTs, but we can dream. And in the end, isn’t that what builds like this are all about?

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