Conceptualize This: The 2017 Collection Of Incredible Concept Jeeps From The Easter Jeep SafariPosted in Features on May 22, 2017
Every year, the Jeep and off-road community holds their breath around the beginning of spring for a glimpse at the amazing concept vehicles to be debuted at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. The tradition of these concepts is engrained into the Jeep culture, and we are all better for it.
Jeep and Mopar build these rigs to tantalize our minds, show off what they are capable of and discreetly test out designs and ideas on the public for future product variations. Remember the Jeep Gladiator or Jeep Rescue concepts? While us Jeep truck fans didn’t get a new Gladiator or Comanche, nor did the fullsize Jeep fans get a new big SUV, we did get a serious preview of the JK Wrangler body styling ahead of its debut.
For 2017, Jeep and Mopar continued the tradition. Seven custom Jeeps debuted early in the week leading up to Easter and ranged from sensible “I can do that” builds to complete one-off masterpieces. The Jeep Quicksand is a hot rod-inspired, sand-shredding, HEMI-powered JK Wrangler-based beast; the Jeep CJ66 is a ’66 CJ-6, a TJ and a JK Wrangler mash-up with a HEMI; the Jeep Grand One is a retro celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Grand Cherokee; the Jeep Luminator will light up your life with innovative lighting and high tech gadgets; the Jeep Safari was inspired by the open-air Jeep view all while keeping the doors and top on; the Jeep Switchback struts its stuff with Jeep Performance Parts; and the Jeep Trailpass is based on the all-new ’17 Jeep Compass Trailhawk and is loaded with goodies to get you excited.
The next few pages will give you a deep look at each of the concepts and their awesome features as well as give you some little-known insight from behind the scenes with Jeep and Mopar. We’ve also included the opinions of the concepts from our staff and contributors that got the chance to get up close and personal with each of the rigs. To get even more drool worthy photos and videos of each of the concepts, head over to fourwheeler.com.
QuicksandThe Jeep Quicksand is the wild musings of engineers and designers that fully support their inner child. Quicksand fully embraces the sand culture and lifestyle while still being a Jeep at heart. Under the tilting hood lives a crate Mopar 392 with eight-stack injection and custom valve covers and has an electronic exhaust cut-out system to go from quiet and healthy to loud and amazing in the flip of a switch. For the first time in Jeep concept history, it has a staggered tire setup with 32-inch mud-terrains up front and 37-inch mud-terrains out back and calculated gear ratios to make it work.
Backstory Bits“The idea behind Quicksand was to cultivate the sand lifestyle. It’s a very different setup than we normally go with—it isn’t rocks and mud, it’s go fast and so it had to be a little bit outrageous. We couldn’t put too much into it. Want to cut it 2 inches? Three inches? Ah, let’s do 4! You get a tall guy in that Jeep and his head sticks out the top which is even more Ed Roth to me. If I squint my eyes, I see a little Model A/Tudor sedan style. Then it started flowing. We pulled the fenders off for a sort of highboy look to it, and it just kept working. The eight-stack just fit and the headers had to be spilling out. We had a lot of fun with this one.” -Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, FCA North America
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “I applaud Jeep for creating Quicksand. This thing is a hoot. It’s quite fascinating how designers combined hot rod styling cues on the Wrangler-based rig, and it works for me. I’d love to hoon Quicksand in the dunes!”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Holy hot rod Batman. Quicksand is like your favorite toy car as a kid, blown up into life-size proportions with a roaring V-8. Loud, fast, and drool-worthy.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-Road Group, TEN: TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Badass. And everyone else will think so too. I want this thing on a T-shirt for people to tell me that's some cool art—right before I jump in and drive it around the corner just to watch gaping jaws and wide eyes. The staggered fitment and oh-so-short chop do it for me, as do the exhaust modes. However, there is a missed opportunity with no back seat to consummate your interactions with adoring groupies.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “The Quicksand is an awesome vehicle with an unfortunate name. Built to emulate a ’60s hot rod, the concept is perfectly flawless. With a 392 Hemi in a ’32 deuce-coupe–styled JK Wrangler, the Quicksand looks fast and mean. It’s topped with Hillborne-style injector stacks, milled vintage-style aluminum accessories, and slapped in front of a Getrag six-speed tranny. The best visual is the staggered stance with 32s and 37s, with appropriate axle gear ratios to match. The beauty is in the details, right down to the wheel Schrader valve located on the inside of the Ansen-style wheels. Loud, fast, and perfectly controllable, the beast even idles comfortably over the rocks. I’d take it home but change the name to ‘Sand Quick,’ as this buggy won’t be stuck in quicksand.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “Fun and dangerous and fun because it is dangerous, the Quicksand concept is an Ed Roth ’70s dune Jeep modernized. The Getrag is great behind the Hemi and would be awesome in the sand with no worries of overheating. The chopped top and slats across the opening look ready to scalp a driver, but hey, it’s all fun and games until someone gets scalped. The power and the ability to reveal it with the exhaust cutouts is fun and not even too obnoxious when opened up, just rowdy. And the winch hidden in the fuel tank is classic Jeep Design brilliance. This is this year’s fun one.”
CJ66The Jeep CJ66 has been out in the public eye the longest of all the vehicles brought to Moab. Built using a Wrangler TJ frame and an original ’66 CJ-6 Universal Tuxedo Park body with some Wrangler JK elements thrown in. Under the hood lives a Mopar 345 Crate Hemi backed by a versatile six-speed transmission. Providing power to all four wheels are a pair of Mopar Dana 44 Crate axles sporting a set of Jeep Performance Parts 17-inch beadlock wheels and 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires.
Backstory Bits“It’s a concept car. It’s custom, and it looks pretty, but it actually functions on the trail. You can go out there and hammer on it and things won’t break. Another cool thing about this concept is that there are three generations of Jeeps. We started off with an old body that was completely trashed, and we built it up. We slapped it onto a TJ chassis and then we added all the JK components to it.” – Nicho Vardis, Mopar Designer
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “I first saw the CJ66 at the 2016 SEMA Show, and it was bathed in fancy lighting. It looked fantastic. It looked just as good sitting on dirt bathed in sun in the Utah backcountry. I have a thing for modernized classics, and the CJ66 is a fine example of a vintage CJ with contemporary equipment.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Three generations of Jeep, bundled into an extremely well balanced rig. It may look pretty but it is definitely a driver’s Jeep, not a trailer queen. One of the best concepts in a long time.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-road Group, TEN: TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “A melding of old and new. With three generations that are mashed up, the final product ends up being a cool restomod Jeep that features the best of old and new. And hey, it works pretty good on the trail as well.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “How can one not love the minimalist nature of an old CJ-6 packed with modern power? It rides and drives like a dream, looks good, handles well, and has that certain flair that most other vehicles lack. You could take this wheeling, fishing, to the mall, or even the opera where it would turn heads and earn respect.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “The CJ66 is the epitome of a great built restomod Jeep. The new Hemi crate engine starts if you merely breathe on the key, it’s so nice. The custom round inclusive gauge in the dash is reminiscent of the early CJ-6 but modern and works better. The Rusty Orange metallic paint is perfect for Moab backgrounds, and the TJ suspension works as it was designed and is much smoother than a factory ’66 CJ-6. I’m not thrilled about the seats. They are just too modern. But overall, a nicely built and solid CJ with no obvious rattles.”
Grand OneThe Jeep Grand One was built to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Grand Cherokee. The team started with a ’93 Jeep Grand Cherokee and revitalized it while refreshing it with some modern spins. The original 5.2L Magnum V-8 still roars under the hood while a custom lift makes enough room for a pair of Dana 44 axles and 33-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrains wrapped around custom heritage-inspired 18-inch wheels. The retro interior, subtle woodgrain graphics, and custom paint are a fitting tributes to the most awarded SUV ever.
Backstory Bits“The hardest part was sourcing a good starting vehicle. It had to be a ’93 with the eight-slot grille—’96 was when we got seven-slot religion. Before that, it was like the wild west with any number of slots. It is history, we aren’t going to rewrite that. We were surprised at how small it is compared to the new vehicles, but it was fun to build. We expected four people to like it but the response has been overwhelming.” -Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, FCA North
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “I’m old enough to remember seeing a brand-new ZJ on display at the Chicago Auto Show. I was transfixed then, and I was transfixed when I saw Grand One. It looked as though the Jeep team had a lot of fun designing this rig. I love the nimble size of the ZJ and Grand One’s mods improve the rig’s functionality both on-road and off.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “The Grand One is my favorite concept of EJS 2017. The retro theme was executed extremely well. It works well off-road and I definitely knew I was driving a legitimate Grand Cherokee when the check engine light came on. From the custom flares, plaid headliner, tape deck and the JK steering wheel to get rid of the tissue box-style factory unit, I want it.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-Road Group, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Being a teenager in the ’90s, this one tugs at the heart strings a bit. Who can forget that the cool kids got the hand-me-down Grands from their moms instead of Explorers and minivans, and the modern take on the laced wheels are an especially nice touch. The third brake light is not to be missed, as are the RHCP, Stussy, and pastel MTV stickers hidden about. We’ll take our blinker fluid on the rocks.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “How nice to be able to travel back to the future in a Jeep, not an import pickup? Instantly the design cues pull you in with a generous portion of glass versus sheetmetal, so lacking in today’s slab-sided world. Sliding into the seat is like going home: a thousand times I’ve slid into the perfectly familiar interior and old-fashioned theme, right down to the OGZJ sticker. While all of the contemporary vehicles are now cast-offs from society, a ZJ can still hold it’s own on the trail, as well as everyday use. She’s a keeper.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “The Grand One is classic Jeep design, both in that it is a classic and that it embodies the humor of Mark Allen’s Jeep Design department. They made it proportional with the slight lift and slight stretched wheelbase, but they also threw in a dozen ’90s-era Easter eggs with funny stickers, cassette tape, and even a retro car phone. It has 25-year-old rattles, but the 5.2L V-8 has a satisfying rumble that only early Grands had. Having never been a Grand Cherokee owner this would make me consider perusing the Craigslist ads for a future project. But I still would’ve stuffed a 5.9 under the hood.”
LuminatorThe Jeep Luminator is covered in unique and innovative lighting features. Every light was swapped for an LED of some sort. The lighting was jointly developed with the Automotive Lighting division of Magneti Marelli and features some groundbreaking technology. The lightbar on the hood features active spot and dynamic following—if an object crosses the road in front of you, the center sensor tracks the movement and lights up the corresponding LED to keep it illuminated. Even the front bumper lights are designed to increase safety by utilizing side lighting that is connected to the steering system so they illuminate during turns.
Backstory Bits“The genesis of the Luminator is that we’ve got a group of hardcore enthusiasts in Jeep and Mopar that we got together for a brainstorming session, and we asked them what they would want. We came up with 76 overall concepts, and they were all really good, but we narrowed it down to 12, and those are what we put into Luminator.” -Bill Grobowski, Automotive Lighting division of Magneti Marelli
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “This is my favorite of the 2017 concepts. I hate weak lighting on a 4x4, and I’ve often whined in editorials, stories, to my wife, and to anyone that’ll listen about the lousy lighting on production 4x4s and the need for things such as an upgraded lighting package on 4x4 vehicles. The Luminator blew me away. It doesn’t matter what direction needs to be lit, the Luminator’s lighting completes the task and then some.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Jeep stepped up their game in the lighting department to put together the Luminator. There are some awesome unique features that can literally light up your life. I especially like the rear whip light that has a speed-based light color change. Red for under 3 mph, yellow for under 3-7 mph, and green for over 7 mph. That way you can easily tell what someone is up to from a distance.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-Road Group, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “One needs to look past all the bolt-on lighting and really look deep to see that the real story here is some incredible lighting technology. Less about the style and more about conceptualizing where the future of lighting can take us, we appreciate the shot in the dark of what is coming next.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “The Luminator concept is a salute to the lightbar craze currently sweeping the nation. With more lumens packed on board than a dwarf sun, even the LED technology can’t keep the voltmeter from taking a dive when every switch is flipped. Unique to the build is the side x side-style stinger antenna with the tricolor function- red for stop, yellow for coast, and green for go. The most interesting evolution is the inside lightbar-- behind the windshield! With promises of no glare or wind noise, unfortunately it needs fans (wind noise) too keep them cool. Eventually this may be overcome as lighting technology advances. It’s a bright thought.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “I like to joke that lightbars and excessive lights are the future mullet of current Jeep accessories, but the Luminator does have some great concepts. I really dig the lightbar mounted behind the windshield to delete wind noise. It needs to be tucked up a bit tighter to the ceiling for more visibility, but the idea is so “duh, why didn’t I think of that” that I hope it’s got a strong patent, as knock-offs must be in the wings.”
SafariThe Jeep Safari is all about enjoying the great outdoors with the family. Custom-made doors built from clear vinyl and aluminum and minimalist hardtop framing obstruct very little of the view. A translucent roof allows natural light to pour in over the modified Fiat 500 Abarth seats. The custom two-tiered aluminum roof rack bolts directly to the slant back hardtop and supports a concept drone. Under the Jeep is a 2-inch lift from Jeep Performance Parts that includes Fox Shocks, 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires, and front and rear Dana 44 axles, also from Jeep Performance Parts.
Backstory Bits“The Safari is family focused. It was me sitting in the back of a JK driving and imagining myself as a kid when I was a kid in the back of my Dad’s CJ, and I just wanted the experience for that kid to be the best. I want him looking out the window and having the most glass to look through and I want his or her experience to be awesome so he becomes a customer. Another thing is that I wanted the look and feel of the Jeep to be high-tech. This is for a different customer than our normal builds. This customer is really meticulous about keeping it neat and clean and takes a lot of pride in what it projects about them.” -Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, FCA North
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “One of the key components of a good off-road vehicle is visibility. Ever wheel a rig that has poor visibility? Yeah, it’s awful. The Safari has plenty of visibility and as a bonus the roof panel and windoors keep dirt out. Best of both worlds.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “The OCD jeeper would love the Safari. Tons of light, super clean, and intensely capable. It’s the perfect Jeep for scenic-view wheeling.”
Sean Holman, content director of truck & off-road group, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “This Jeep is not for me. I get what they are trying to do here, and it’s interesting, but it’s trying too hard to be ‘cool’ to the future Jeep customer while making today’s Jeep customer scratch their heads—although the translucent roof panel is something that would benefit current Wrangler owners.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “While I didn’t wheel it, it reminded me so much of a greenhouse I couldn’t bear to enter it lest I start sweating from the plastic sheets over the exterior. While more of a collection of stock JPP offerings, the Fiat seats, and Fiat steering wheel made me keep my distance. This is ’Merica, not Italy.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road; “This has got to be the closest to a nod to the future Wrangler that we’ll get to see at this year’s Easter Jeep Safari. The integrated roof rack, the translucent hardtop panel, the unusual CJ-esque grille, the C-pillars that can be seen through, and the integrated iPad dash navigation all seem like things we’ll see in the future. The recurring B-pillar delete is interesting, and I wonder if that’s a thing we’ll someday see since I’ve never been a big fan of the full B-pillar look on the JK unlimited. I dig the color scheme with the day-glow accents, and I think the light airy feel of the Jeep is just what Wrangler buyers are looking for.”
SwitchbackThe Jeep Switchback is what you get when you pluck out everything you want from the Jeep Performance Parts (JPP) catalog and bolt it onto your JK Wrangler with a few custom pieces tossed in. The long list of JPP parts includes Dana 44s front and rear, 4-inch lift with remote-reservoir Fox shocks, 10th Anniversary JK Wrangler steel bumpers, and more. Custom for this concept are the half doors, Power Dome Vented Hood and specially built Safari-style hardtop, and roof rack system.
Backstory Bits“We were sitting in the Switchback when it was all done and my director, Joe Gainer, came up and said, ‘We have to do something with these doors,’ so we asked the designers to go back to the designing board and came up with these open-air doors. It wasn’t in the original plan but really helped make this concept what it is.” – Nicho Vardis, Mopar Designer
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “I like the hardtop with increased visibility, but overall, I’m indifferent to this Jeep. Its name makes me think the Jeep is pleading to be switched back to stock.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “One of the only concepts that is within a reasonable range for the average jeeper to build. Lots of cool features on a readily available JKU platform come together into a balanced vehicle.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-Road Group, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Covered in bolt-on Mopar accessories, I think this is the perfect Jeep to switch back to stock when your lease is up.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “Bolting a bunch of excess aftermarket weight from the JPP catalog onto a JK does not a good wheeler make. While the door cutouts are sorta cool looking, they are fully non-functional except to let in bees, bugs, dust, and wind. A fully integrated build plan with a purpose would be better than a hodgepodge of products on an already good chassis.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “The two items I really want to see come to fruition from the Switchback are the half-doors with cut outs and the hardtop with the sky windows. The top windows are reminiscent of the Land Rover Discovery, but they make the back-seat experience so much better. The half-doors with windows improve daytime floor hunting for dropped items and adds a great new view for off-road driving.”
TrailpassThe Jeep Trailpass is an example of what can be done with the all-new Jeep Compass Trailhawk. Under the hood is an efficient 2.4L I-4 and a nine-speed automatic. A custom 1.5-inch lift boosts the Trailpass up to get a little more ground clearance and makes space for the 29.5-inch Continental all-terrain tires. The concept also features a set of Jeep Performance Parts rock rails, roof basket, and other goodies available for the Compass. The Trailpass doesn’t have the off-road prowess of a Wrangler, but being the Grand Cherokees littlest brother, it is very capable.
Backstory Bits“I would say 40 percent of the parts on the Trailpass are production parts so what you see is something you can mostly build yourself. We added the concept components to spice it up some more with the custom paint and graphics. It was a concept that was all production, but we wanted to go further midway through the process.” – Nicho Vardis, Mopar Designer
What We ThinkKen Brubaker, editor, Four Wheeler: “I didn’t hate the Trailpass like I thought I would. As a matter of fact, I dug it. It’s fun! It’s so cute that it looks like a smiley face on wheels. More importantly, I don’t think it would kill a person’s budget to create a Trailpass-type Compass, and the little thing is actually quite capable off-road.”
Jake Headlee, contributor, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “The Trailpass is solid proof that you don’t have to build a huge Wrangler to have fun in the dirt. You won’t be boulder hopping but it is comfortable and more capable than a minivan.”
Sean Holman, content director of Truck & Off-road Group, TEN: The Enthusiast Network: “Who knew the Compass would look so much better jacked up with a bigger tire. While it’s not going on the Rubicon anytime soon, it’s a great vehicle for all-weather capability and taking you a little further off the beaten path to get you to your favorite rock climbing, snowboarding, or camping spot. Or it could be a nice commuter Jeep for those who don’t want to put the daily miles on the Wrangler.”
Rick Péwé, editor, Jp: “The newest offering is made better with an additional inch of lift and better tires. If you can get the nannies to turn off it can be a sporty, fun little nimble wheeler that’s adept in the backcountry. It’s no minivan, yet can haul people and still go wheelin for the weekend. We’d modify the tranny to not shift out of first in the sand though so the little four-popper can keep the Compass heading in the right direction.”
Fred Williams, editor-at-large, 4-Wheel & Off-Road: “The little Compass is obviously the smaller sibling of the Grand Cherokee with such similar styling. And the Trailpass should be the vehicle that Subaru owners look at when they want to switch to a Jeep. For dirt road exploring and car camping this little Jeep would be a great fit for an outdoors couple.”