Pull out your yearbook or virtually any photos from childhood and high school, and you'll be sickened that you were out in public looking that way, let alone allowed yourself to be photographed. Proms, graduations, birthdays - you may have seemed happenin' at the moment, but time reveals you were fairly hideous. And a walk down Jeep's past can offer up a few examples of automotive leisure suits, man-perms, and double-wide ties too.
It was around 1950 when the first "idea car" was born at Chrysler. Since then, we've seen many experiments in advanced technology, environmental overreaction, and out-there design. Some have actually changed the automotive world forever, while others have led us to believe that Jeep has an "organic garden" on the premises. For every mind-blowing Hurricane revealed there's a mind-exploding Varsity trailing enthusiastically behind in its cowboy boots and football helmet.
While Jeep lately is getting the demand/supply game (the so-doable-it-hurts Gladiator pickup), we got an urge to flip through the photo album of the bad ol' days when Jeep didn't get it. Remember, the company will keep building these things for your sake to see what sticks, so if you want the Gladiator and like the Hurricane's features - or any concepts revealed down the road - let Jeep know!
Jeep Wagoneer 2000
With one eye toward the future - and the other oozing from a brutal case of conjunctivitis - Jeep envisioned that the modern Wagoneer would have "traditional Jeep Grand Wagoneer attributes with the kind of innovative features that would launch it into the future." But all it really did was force consumers to launch their lunches in a very projectile fashion as they headed for the hills - without the Jeep suppository. Its sporty and sleek exterior may have seemed fairly Orwellian to engineers in 1991, but hello? Where's the "traditional" Jeep? Sure, it did show some forward thinking, including room for six passengers (with an optional 2 plus 2 plus 2 configuration), an entertainment system with a TV and VCR, solar panels that would activate an air-evacuation system to cool the interior, and a tailgate with removable stadium seats. But the built-in steps that dumped out of each door for entry and exit made us long for a time machine.
We have an affinity for the non-Scoutish versions of Jeepsters, so when we'd heard rumors of a Jeepster concept debuting in 1998, we waited like kids for Christmas - until we heard the fateful words "crossover vehicle." It was like getting hit in the stomach with a festively wrapped box of tube socks. The designers took their "What if?" thoughts to paper and unfortunately doodled what was essentially a Wrangler sports car. Citing the original-Jeepster's car-like build but pure-Jeep prowess, they figured that this late-model pile was no different from the rest of history. The mad scientists mated electronic independent suspension (which would raise and lower for 5.75 inches of ground clearance on the street, 9.75 inches off-road), a 300hp 4.7L V-8, and a Quadra-Trac II with on-demand high range to 19-inch cast-aluminum rims, towhooks that were incorporated into the hood hinge, and a leather interior. Hey, at least something was able to make the Jeepster-Scout seem good.
Jeep Cherokee Casablanca
Here's looking at you, Jeep! Sometimes it's just the name of a concept that can make it super dorky, like Casablanca. This round-headlight 1997 Cherokee was European-spec'd and included a 2.5L turbodiesel. While plugging the familiar "go-anywhere capability" of all Jeep vehicles, the Casablanca was set to "extend the Jeep spirit into even more exotic, new territories. Jeep Cherokee Casablanca is designed to travel long distances under extreme conditions." And no long-travel, extreme Jeep should be without an exoskeletal roof rack - with built-in driving lights, apparently. There was also a canvas sunroof that slid back to open up the entire vehicle - perfect for the 12-foot bugs sure to be a part of the new lands the Casablanca would see. Bonus items included a tubular bumper and side steps, an integrated winch, a 2-inch suspension lift to make for 9.5 inches of ground clearance, and 31-inch rubber.
As part of the Helen Keller Signature Series of Jeep concepts, the Treo (which means "three" in multiple languages - just like "freakish, frightening, bite-size piece of machinery" does) is proof that sometimes designers will call just about anything with a seven-slot grille a Jeep. Bolt-on fenders, oversized towhooks, "tapered tail," "spar wings," and "fluid imagination" were among the things that made Jeep proud of this aggressively unattractive compact vehicle. At the time of its presentation as an 2004 concept, execs promised that it "grows more interesting every time you look at it - from every angle." We got dizzy from attempting this pointless exercise. The Treo's bio reported it was a look ahead to the next decade or more and was meant to "extend the Jeep brand's customer base." At least it had a nice smile: the ability to use fuel-cell technology.
Jeep Wrangler Tabasco and Fender Jeep Wrangler
The 1997 Sell Out and 2003 No Integrity were both examples of "image" vehicles. The Tabasco-branded debacle was produced jointly with McIlhenny Company, the maker of Tabasco-brand products, while Fender Musical Instruments, manufacturer of guitars and related products, was responsible for the other example of Jeep's public de-pantsing. Despite a 5.2L V-8 and Grand Cherokee/Cherokee Selec-Trac transfer case, there was no hiding the trifecta of hell surrounding those mechanicals: the chili-pepper tread pattern, the graphics scheme, and the Tabasco-bottle-shaped nitrous. The Fender, meanwhile, continued the ad-nauseam advertising theme with the "Spirit of Rock & Roll" Wrangler and went on tour. Yes, it's the tie-in that hurts like a hangover, thanks to the guitar-shaped bumpers, guitar-strap seatbelts, and built-in guitar racks and amps. As Editor Cappa says so eloquently of this endeavor, "What a f*#@ing stupid Jeep!"
Jeep Rubicon Wrangler
True, we are big fans of the Wrangler Rubicon, but this is the Rubicon Wrangler, the hideous inspiration for a hideous Wrangler YJ package, the hideous Renegade. The 1989 Jeep Cladding's tag line was "proving that a Jeep Wrangler can not only go uphill but upscale." Yeah, upscale like a pimp coat. The "outstanding" feature in Jeep peeps' minds was the sculptured body side panels "needed" to accommodate beefy tires and wheels.
But Wait - More Concepts
-In 2002, a Grand Cherokee became a three-namer, in the form of Concierge, designed to show off cutting-edge convenience, safety, and comfort. It included radar-based parking aids, precrash detection (maybe a computer-generated "Oh my gawd! Watch out!!"?), a voice-activated key fab, and - no, we can't make this stuff up - an integrated heart defibrillator.
-In 2002, the concept Compass made its first appearance. It was inspired by another concept, the Jeepster. What's in a name? They claimed it was "pointing consumers in its segment toward tomorrow." And that meant a real-life, all-wheel-drive Jeep (without low range), the first entry-level Jeep - without a Trail Rated badge - due in dealerships soon.
If any concept sent a tsunami-sized wave of panic over enthusiasts, it was the 1997 Icon. Specifically, it was the promise that the Icon was "a creative exploration for a next-generation Jeep Wrangler." Even recently, more blood-curdling screams could be heard over rumors that the redesigned 2007 Wrangler would be a mix of both the Liberty and the Icon. On paper the Icon sounded fairly decent, basically a harder-core Wrangler. It would have a wider track than the Wrangler, as well as 5 inches trimmed from the length and 2 from the overhang, and it would score 10 inches of wheel travel. In addition, it'd have supersized bumpers, tires, and wheelwells. Once the public got to see it in the flesh, those overgrown parts, the IFS, and its overall industrial look resulted in some subtle feedback: "ugly" and "no thanks." Expecting the verbal flaming poop bags, Jeep execs went into spin overdrive, announcing back then, "As we move closer and closer to the next century, Jeep enthusiasts will be happy to know their Jeep will still look like a Jeep." And they're right - we will be happy, as long as we're not wheeling something that looks like it belongs in a body cavity.
This is what happens when you build a vehicle around recyclable aluminum, plastic body components, and an engine. In 1993, the British International Motor Show was host to what the Jeep of the future could look like and be: disposable. The environmentally friendly eyesore was promoted as being nearly all recyclable but also as having a two-stroke engine: a modified Chrysler Series Three. The lightweight, lean-burn mill was developed by the Alternative Engine Task Force, which was leading a worldwide race to produce the first two-stroke that would meet 1994's new, low-emission regulations but still put out - power, that is. The Jeep was given thin roof pillars, a "slippery, aerodynamic shape," and a Cab-Forward design. To justify the use of the Jeep name, it had permanent four-wheel drive, a wide track, and high ground clearance. They said it would be quick and easy to put the Ecco into production to meet public demand; the public did not seem to demand a rolling Hefty bag.
Jeep had tried trash-ready concepts, adventuresome concepts, and modernized/futuristic concepts, but 2000's Varsity was the sedan concept. Marketed for "urban adventure" (which we all know simply means sitting in traffic), Jeep had tried to sell the public on the idea that the Varsity would appeal to "young professionals who want the status and 'string-free' image of a European sports sedan." But the 166.3-inch, 3,400-pound car with 19-inch wheels shared direct lineage to the Grand Cherokee, so of course it would be just as rugged as any other Jeep, the company promised. This was a no-go for consumers, who preferred to derby rental cars on the dirt track, not Jeep cars.