For the last couple of years Chrysler has brought a bunch of cool concept vehicles to Moab Easter Jeep Safari. We drive them, photograph them, drool over them, and when nobody's looking, we lick the paint and upholstery. They're built by a self-described lunatic fringe within the company called the Mopar Underground. Led by Head of Jeep Design Mark Allen and crewed by a very talented team of engineers who toil (nearly thanklessly) weekends and late nights to make these concepts reality, the Mopar Underground gets it. They know what true Jeep enthusiasts want and they build it. They draw the line long before these concepts become goofy, glitzed-up nightmares that looked like they raped the air freshener aisle of the local K-Mart.
Think we're exaggerating? Remember the Jeep/Mopar Fender Guitar-edition? It sported a real Fender Strat and was festooned with chromed guitar-shaped bumpers. Gack. Or how about the Tabasco-Brand Wrangler with chili-pepper interior and dual tube bumpers? Lamosayswhat? Both are a far cry from the JT utility pickup from three years ago with its tan paint, beige steel wheels, and half-cab/pickup bed arrangement. Or last year's Lower Forty concept with a warmed Hemi, manual tranny, and 40-inch tires with no lift. Add to that impressive pedigree this year's crop, some of which you'll read about shortly.
But there's a problem with all of these cool concepts of late- and we've got a bone to pick with the Jeep higher-ups, bean counters, and big muckity-mucks. Plying us with all these Jeep builds in Moab is kinda like bringing us to a strip club. There's lots of really desirable stuff to drool over, but at the end of the day, you're not going home with any of it. We wind up leaving Moab Easter Jeep Safari as disgruntled and frustrated as that weird IT guy from your building who has lunch at the Cheetahrama Club every Friday afternoon.
Only when we leave Moab, we don't have all that glitter and coconut-scented body oil clinging to our clothes. So here's our plea to Chrysler: Build it. Build it all. Make a Nukizer front clip and put it in the Mopar Performance catalog. Offer a J7 Stripper with no carpet or useless amenities. Stick a gas engine in a J8 and let us buy one from our local dealership. Offer us the JT pickup ute. Give us plain-Jane wheels and a tailgate that'll hold a 37-inch tire without falling apart. Just do something to quench our thirst for these cool products that you keep showing us. Trust us when we tell you that you'll sell all you can make. Otherwise, these little Moab excursions boil down to little more than a $30 lap dance. It's fun to pretend for a while, but at the end of the day, you're left frustrated and just a little bitter. But don't stop. Don't you dare stop.
It's not a 3/4 scaled down copy of a Kaiser M-715. It's more like a variation on a theme. As Mark Allen put it, "This is what I see in my head when I think of a J-truck or an M-715." Cool. And you know what's cooler? The whole carbon-fiber front clip bolts right up to the JK cowl and tub. In fact, Allen says you can unbolt the Nuke's front clip and bolt a JK front clip on in under 40 minutes. But why would anybody in their right mind want to do that? The chopped windshield frame is in keeping with the M-715 vibe. As the OEM manufacturer of Jeep's soft tops, Bestop was called in to stitch up an M-truck-esque top over the custom bows. A roll-up rear window and a Garmin 640 GPS make this M-truck a little more luxurious than your average Vietnam-era model, but we're not complaining.
The same 2.8L VM Motori diesel engine that powers the J8 resides in the Nuke. Some electronic shenanigans up the power of the punchy diesel to 187hp and 460lb-ft. An Atlas II T-case backs the factory five-speed auto.
Have you ever logged onto jeep.com to spec out your dream Jeep? Often if you want all the cool mechanical gizmos like sway bar disconnect, locking diffs, and Dana 44 axles, you're steered straight into a Rubicon package. But if you want the off-road-friendly half doors and soft top with minimal amenities, you're bumped down to the base models with no cool drivetrain options. But what if you could order a bare-bones JK with none of the useless fluff and all of the ga-ga drivetrain components? That's the theory behind the J7 Stripper. While the Stripper's moniker is fitting for this story considering the analogy used in the opening diatribe, we can see where it'd be a marketing nightmare in middle America. So call it the Bare Bones or the Off-Road Utility package. Whatever-just offer it. While the Stripper may or may not actually be offered, that cool orangey-yellow hue will be. Look for it as an option on '11 model Jeeps. Allen calls it Dozer. We're down.
Half-doors offer up better visibility and exposure to the elements than the more common full doors found on most JK four-doors. Toss the uppers in the rear and throw 'em on only when the rain or snow starts. Wheels are bling-less steel units from the J8. Why is it that we can't buy a 3.8L-powered J8 again? No, really.
Or do you think they meant Immortal? Meh, we figured maybe they're just humble. Anyhoo, not to be outdone by the Jeep Design Studio guys, the Mopar Performance gang whipped up this big, green monster. And while we can't forgive them for festooning the side of an otherwise clean and impressive Jeep with a goofy name (no, no, no-bad team-no cookie), we do appreciate what's between the 42-inch Goodyears.
Built in conjunction with AxleTech International Motorsports and Dynatrac, the axles of the I'm Mortal feature bolt-on portal boxes for factory and aftermarket JK axle housings which may soon be available through Mopar Performance. The full-size portals on this vehicle sport a 1.5:1 ratio and offer a 5-inch lift. However, AIM is currently working on a 3/4-scale version for production that will feature a 1.25:1 ratio and will offer only a 3-inch lift. It's these 3/4-size versions that will most likely make it to the Mopar Performance catalog.
To paraphrase Mark Allen, this is one of Jeep's 30mpg-capable vehicles, so it's not going anywhere and we may as well get used to it. We sort of tuned out after that and stopped listening to the theory behind the build. Allen's team slapped a bunch of skidplating underneath it and bumped the ride height with some 2-inch-lift spacers. We weren't interested in trying to crawl rocks in it. We wanted to haul ass and drift sideways rally-style. Unfortunately, wheeling this thing was kind of like trying to ride an anemic kitten with a gimpy leg across your living room floor. While the potential was there for some adrenaline-fueled high-speed fun, the ESP, CVT tranny, and need for more horsepower made this thing just too "safe" to have fun in.
Listen, we don't actually hate the Patriot. It just suffers from misapplication. It's like trying to use a sewing needle to pound in a nail. It's not the needle's fault. Go get a hammer, dummy. To that end, despite generous skidplating underneath, the Patriot's very low breakover angle shows it's really better kept out of the rocks. Yep-it's hammered. The 225/75R16-size tires on TJ Rubicon wheels are about as large as we'd want to see stuffed under the Patriot's wheelwells.
After all, it's not a crawler or mud machine. With IFS and IRS suspension, the platform is sound for an all-wheel-drive rally car or other off-road go-fast fun. We'd stuff a turbo'd 2.4L from an SRT-4 Dodge Caliber between the fenders, back it with a manual tranny, turn off the ESP, and go try to kill us some Evos and WRXs.