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Futuristic Jeeps - Jeep Autopsy: Concepts

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 20, 2008 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Courtesy of Chrysler

Now that we've spent previous editions of Jeep Autopsy dissecting production Jeeps, how about a flashback to the concept side? You may recall some of these in greater detail from our Sept. '05 article, "12 Worst Jeep Concepts Ever," and we can guarantee those headliners haven't improved with age-some still resemble a villain from Dick Tracy rather than anything you'll find one day on the trail. Chrysler is festing "20 Years of Modern Concept Vehicles" this year (part of its "Daimler Who?" campaign, we guess), and there have been some truly spectacular Jeep creations to toast-the ones we highlight in this story.

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You could say the first Jeep concept/prototype was the Willys Quad from 1940. The U.S. military was on the prowl for a "light reconnaissance vehicle" to eventually buy in Costco-style bulk, so Willys-Overland whipped up the Willys Quad, which eventually went to war. (More on that in the next issue when we Autopsy military rigs.) We're not sure who or what was on the prowl 63 years later when we got stuck with the Treo.

A concept vehicle may be designed with the sole purpose of being a shocking booth babe to help an automaker stand out at a crowded auto show, or it may be an early look at what will one day be a future production vehicle. It could be a display of cutting-edge design and technology-like carbon fiber, diesel, or a fuel cell. It may have been built to test the waters and gauge consumer interest in a type of model (is there interest in a pickup? Meet the Gladiator and JT). Some of these vehicles are called "transitional prototypes," which happen to be the most rare of the bunch. An example would be the CJ-1, which happened between the MB and the CJ-2A. And then there are the throwaway packages that display mild bolt-ons or technology, such as the '99 Journey, which to our disappointment was not a Steve Perry tribute Jeep, but rather navigation in a Grand Cherokee (and will now be the name of a production SUV from Dodge).

But as easygoing as that may sound, concepts are serious business. No matter what the theme, the hope is to build something memorable. And look, we're still talking about the dang Treo. Of course, we're still talking about a foot-long scab we once had too.

This Jeep Autopsy has a list of all concepts from Jeep's history, including from the Chrysler Group's Skunkworks/Mopar Underground team (which focuses mainly on customization of vehicles). We think we dug up even the most obscure ones but look forward to learning what we missed, especially if any involved Steve Perry.

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Recognize it? You should, because it's the mothership to the Grand Cherokee. This '89 had direct lineage to the '93-or was it direct lineage to the Cherokee? That's what was underneath. Potato, Cherokee. It launched the Grand craze.

Have we mentioned this concept in the magazine enough times yet? Hey, we think it's how we managed to squeeze the JT out of Mopar Underground, so we know in space they can actually hear us scream. It was 2005 when the tease first began, this scantily clad pickup with its removable doors, fold-down windshield, expandable bed, Command-Trac, front and rear locking diffs, six-speed manual tranny, and multilink suspension. There was the Liberty's 2.8L four-cylinder diesel running the show, which made 295 lb-ft of torque. Other specs included a 138.4-inch wheelbase, 13.7 inches of ground clearance, and 34-inch rubber on 18-inch rims.

The Bluetec Grand Cherokee was huge news when it debuted in January 2006, as it was an engineering concept that introduced a diesel engine with technology so clean it could meet emissions standards in all 50 U.S. states. People had waited a long time to say it: F-you, California, and your impossible air standards. Outfitted with an oxidizing catalytic converter, a diesel particulate filter, and selective catalytic reduction technology (an exhaust-gas treatment system), it was good. The '07 Grand Cherokee scored diesel status with a 3.0 CRD V-6 in the Overland and Limited models-but no Bluetec meant consumers in California, and its posse of New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont-had to hold off on the F-bomb speech a little bit longer.

The name may have been a little Brokeback, but the idea wasn't half bad. Either time. Yup, there were two Cowboy concepts. The Kaiser crew developed the XJ001 (XJ for eXperimental Jeep) around 1970, kind of a dune buggy that had a fiberglass body and seemingly no doors or top, based on the CJ-5 chassis. On its way back from an event, it caught on fire and burned to a crisp. Our secret source at Jeep told us, "The vehicle was insured, but the insurance would only pay for building another vehicle, and by that time, interest had waned and Jeep elected not to build a second one." Enter Cowboy 2.0. This '71 concept was AMC Hornet-based and possibly the first unibody pickup (the Ranchero and El Camino were framed), other than the South African Ford pickup. Someone who worked in the styling department actually managed to buy one of these prototypes back in the day (before the legal department made that taboo).

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Concepts aren't always reality checks. Sometimes they are just about two Hemis (5.7Ls, for a total of 670 hp and 740 lb-ft of torque), approach and departure angles of 64 and 86.7 degrees, 14.3 inches of ground clearance, the ability to travel off-road like a crab (that's four-wheel steering and zero turning radius), and a carbon-fiber body. The Hurricane featured a wheelbase of 108.1 inches, was 151.8 inches long and 80 inches wide, and weighed 3,850 pounds. An absolute show-off vehicle with a slim-to-none chance of seeing a production line? True that. But sometimes you find a dollar on the ground. You don't ask why. You take it. You like it.

Is it cool because of its plastic technology and lightweight aluminum frame? Or is it cool because it is said to be the inspiration behind the Hurricane? We'll take either rationale. There was the Willys in 2001, then the Willys 2 in 2002. They seemed the most Jeeplike in appearance of any concept to come out before and after. Both featured a 1.6L supercharged four-cylinder worth 160 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque, an auto transmission, full-time four-wheel drive with Low range, and a solid rear axle and independent short/long-arm/coilover shock front suspension. Version one ran on 22-inch wheels, while numero dos on 21s. The (removable) hardtop Willys 2 also had a curb weight of about 100 pounds more (around 3,000). They were 142.4 inches long, 70.5 inches wide, and had a wheelbase of 95 inches. With the roof rack, the overall height came to 70 inches. Top speed was estimated at 87 mph.

At the time of its unveiling, speculation was that it was a foreshadowing of the all-new JK Unlimited. See, rumors are always correct. But it was limited to appearances only. You see, if the Rescue was all brawn and beef, then the JK Unlimited turned out to be a tofurky-lovin' vegetarian. The Rescue was laid to rest on a Dodge Ram 31/44-ton pickup frame and used its drivetrain as well, including heavy-duty components such as the 5.9L turbodiesel, which equated to 325 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, NV5600 six-speed, NV273 T-case, and solid 31/44-ton axles. It had a 122-plus-inch wheelbase and was 193.2 inches long. You'd be right in thinking it must have weighed close to 6,000 pounds outfitted that way. It may have been misleading mechanically, but at least it wasn't the tease the '97 Dakar turned out to be-we waited only three years this time to get a four-door Wrangler.

The most recent cool concept was the JT. Rather than taking the traditional auto-show route, this one sneaked in under the radar (from the rest of the world) at Moab 2007 for its unveiling by Skunkworks/Mopar Underground. As Tech Editor Hazel reported back in the July issue ("Moab #41"), it was built from a model J8 Egyptian military JK body; in other words, pretty much a JK Unlimited. There was a 3.8L V-6, Dana 44s at both ends stuffed with Tru-Lok electronic lockers, a four-speed trans, and an NV241 4:1 Rock-Trac T-case. The concept here was to demonstrate the JK platform's flexibility. You did, now do.

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Concepts can cost millions of dollars to build. Sometimes that doesn't even include functional components.

Concept vehicles are built on the West Coast, and after doing the show circuit, each is stored in a warehouse until there is a request for it again, such as at an exhibition or photo shoot.

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