The Easter Safari Isn't Just About Jeeps
The Easter Jeep Safari May be teeming with Jeeps, which makes perfect sense considering the name. but don't think this hasn't drawn in other manufacturers looking to expand into the 4x4 marketplace. in the past we have caught original equipment manufacturers' (oeM) engineers and marketing folks cruising the trails, streets, and bars of Moab to get a feel for what the off-road scene is all about, and 2008 was no different. Of course Jeep/Dodge/Mopar were there in full force with concept and prototype 4x4s (see last month's story on the diesel crate engine that was revealed in Moab), as well as some exciting new aftermarket products, but this didn't stop the Ford and GM/Hummer brands from showing up as well (though definitely on a smaller scale).
We love the fact that the oeMs are out learning from the true off-road enthusiasts, and we think they could do so much more at an event like this. For example, a good portion of the people attending Moab are towing their trail rigs out there, so why not bring a few 1-ton dualies and do ride-and-drives around town? Seems pretty obvious if you want to show off your latest tow rig to the public. Also, most people think of Moab as rockcrawling, but there are also sand dunes to play on, so why not bring out your latest highspeed long-travel prerunner-style pickup or suv and let the community take a gander? of course some companies don't come to the easter safari because they think it's all Jeeps, but if you are offering- or considering offering-a vehicle to compete with the Wrangler then shouldn't you be showing current Jeep owners how your 4x4 compares? getting your product out on the trail for people to see it perform is the best way to get a following and hook some new customers. so to all the oeMs that made the trip, and those that didn't, we hope to see you next year; our readers will be there ready to scrutinize your latest offering...and so will we.
Dodge brought out a tantalizing fullsize truck that had us all drooling-a diesel power Wagon. We were told this is a feasibility research project, which is marketingspeak for "should we build this?" our answer is yes! What was also interesting is that this truck was outfitted with "Mopar performance axles," meaning that if you wanted to make your current diesel Dodge into a power Wagon you might soon be able to order these axles from the dealership as a Mopar unit, complete with selectable lockers and 4.56 gears. this oilburning power Wagon was out- fitted with 40-inch tires, a Warn winch integrated into the front bumper, custom fenders, and a KoRe suspension system.
For some reason we're drawn to olive Drab paint like flies to cow patties, so this military J8 had us hook, line, and sinker. this is the vehicle that is being offered to the Egyptian military as a light troop carrier, ambulance, or cargo truck. though similar to the 116-inch- wheelbase four-door JK Wrangler, the J8 is a two-door, runs a vM 2.8L four-cylinder turbodiesel engine producing 158 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, and features a Dana 60 rear axle mounted on leaf springs, larger front-disc brakes, and exclusive J8-only 17x8 steel wheels with a larger 5-on-51/2 bolt pattern.
Unfortunately there are currently no plans to offer the J8 for retail sale in the north American market, but we hear the egyptian military is hiring. even though the J8 won't be available domestically, there are plans to offer a Dana 60 rear axle (right) for Jeeps through the Mopar line. it is still being determined if this will be the military variant with leaf-spring mounts or a version ready to bolt into a JK, but we'd like to see both so old and new Jeep owners have another choice in rear axles. other exciting new products in the works from Mopar include a kit to transform your 241oR, 242, or 231 transfer case to allow low range in two-wheel drive, a 41/2-inch lift kit, and a stroker 4.0L engine to replace older inline-six engines.
Longer than a two-door, yet shorter than a four-door, this JK was the black sheep of the Jeep posse. in fact this evil Jeep known as the JKL brought out the devil in anyone who had the chance to drive it. the rig was stocked with a long radius-arm suspension, Hanson bumpers, and Hutchinson bead locks, but the unusual 110-inch wheelbase really set it apart. that, and the fire breathing 500+ hp 6.1L Hemi v-8 under the hood. We doubt the Chrysler/Jeep lawyers would ever let this much of a rocket get into the hands of the public, but they are able to sell the viper and once offered a short little CJ-5 with a v-8, so cross your fingers and say your prayers.
There were a number of Jeeps with a plethora of Mopar and aftermarket components. We saw chrome kits for JKs including fuel- filler door, taillamp guards, tubular side steps, exterior mirrors, tow hooks, door handles, hood hinges, and fascia overlays. there were Mopar bumpers, leather seats, floor mats, tow hooks, off-road lights (with wiring harnesses), and winches. it's pretty obvious that Mopar is serious about off- road performance upgrades. Mopar has initiated the oRt line, or off Road technology, and follows the theme of its high-performance street division known as SRT.
Hummer hit the market with the H2 and H3 a few years back and was quickly embraced by the "bling bling" crowd. unfortunately that scene shifts allegiances every six months so Hummer went looking for enthusiast buyers and found that off-roaders are way more dedicated. Hummer has nouveau-heritage in the off-road world from its H1 and has taken off-road performance seriously with its latest H2, H3, H3t, and future H4. in fact, some believe Hummer is hot on the heels of Jeep by offering 4:1 transfer-case low ranges and both front and rear selectable lockers coming in 2009.
Hummer was on hand all week showing off a cavalry of concept and future products. in downtown Moab there was a booth at the local Gm dealership showing off modified H2s and H3s as well as future H3t models. We saw an H2 with a giant retractable sunroof perfect for a safari or high-end hunting camp, an H3 with a 6.2L v-8, both modified H2s and H3s, and a Chevy Colorado that was an original test mule for the H3 drivetrain components. And if you stopped by the booth you could meet desert racer Rod Hall who has competed in every baja 1000 race, and see his Hummer race truck that he has been driving the past few years.
We got a chance to take a prototype H3t out on the trail, and we can see this truck becoming a hot commodity when it hits the market in 2009. the interior space is identical to the H3, the 5.3L v-8 is available in the Alpha package, and the bed is ideal for someone who hauls a dirt bike, camping gear, or your average around-the-house stuff. the wheelbase is long like a regular-cab fullsize truck at 134 inches, but the lockers and gearing make it better than any iFS truck GM has ever offered for off-road use. We still wish there was a little more side-window visibility.
There was a lone representative from the blue oval at Moab. We hope his peers and supervisors back at Ford headquarters in Dearborn will come with him next year because the off-road scene has been asking for a new FoMoCo 4x4 since the death of the bronco. this army of one from Ford was driving an '08 F-350 super Duty with a stock 6.8L v-10 gas engine, a ZF six-speed manual transmission, an nvg271 manually shifted transfer case, 4.30 axle ratios, and Ford's "in testing" Hoss-truck package. Most oeM drivers are on pins and needles when wheeling in front of the public for fear of any scratch or dent giving their product a bad image, but not the Ford front man in his F-250. this testdriver/engineer followed the smaller rigs almost anywhere and wasn't held back by the 142-inch wheelbase. We're not sure what his bosses will think of the body damage from some big rocks, but it's pretty darn cool as far as we're concerned. oeM public affairs people would never believe that this is what earns respect in the off-road world.
In addition to the FX4 trim, the Hoss package is outfitted with 35x12.5xR17 bFgoodrich Mudterrains, a Warn M12 12,000-pound winch, a custom modified Warn heavy-duty front bumper, and a rear bumper with bed trimming to improve departure angle that was built in-house by some Ford 4x4 engineers. We really like the rear bumper since it acts as a rear skidplate, has pockets for stable lifting with a Hi-Lift jack, and comes with side steps built in to give easy access to the bed.
Up front, snowplow coil springs were added for the weight of the front bumper and winch, but otherwise it has a completely stock super Duty suspension. both axles also have prototype electric lockers that used the Ford upfitters auxiliary switches in the cab to activate.