Old Outside, All New Underneath
Pinup girls have enjoyed a big resurgence in popularity over the past decade. Today you see girls dolling themselves up like Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, Bettie Page, and Brigitte Bardot did in their heyday. And you can’t hit a hot rod show or browse an auto parts catalog without ogling dozens of car models in clothing, makeup, and hairstyles reminiscent of these icons of the ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s. In fact, there’s a whole counter-culture associated with it, including makeup artists, hairstylists, and reproduction and vintage clothing vendors. But while the styling and clothes that these babes hung on their chassis 50 or 60 years ago works when applied to the lovely ladies of today, let’s be honest—nobody wants to see a current-day Lauren Bacall sprawled out in a negligee. And today Brigitte Bardot looks like a hot chick sundae that was left on the counter overnight. It’s a look better left to present-day hot chicks like Sophia Verga or Olivia Wilde or Sophia Verga.
So, given that old-school styling goes best when draped over a modern undercarriage, we weren’t too surprised when we were introduced to the Mopar Underground’s PPG Hot Red J-12 concept rig—or its uber-cool Willys wagon. Both take different approaches to wrapping modern Jeep underpinnings with vintage style.
Despite the throwback vibe, the J-12 is a completely new vehicle. The Underground guys took a ’12 Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and violated it in the best way possible. From front-to-back, the team first manipulated the CAD program of the Nukizer concept vehicle front clip to make it more civilianesque, with squared-off wheel openings and J-truck-like flares. The hood is straight from Nukizer files. The front clip, hood, and grille were laid out in carbon fiber and the headlight trim rings and pie plates are custom aluminum pieces. The aluminum parts and carbon fiber grille got dunked in chrome. For the cab, a proper windshield brow was laid out in carbon fiber and the window height was reduced at the top to visually thicken the roof. The roof is from a JK8 pickup kit that’s been shortened in length by chopping out the side windows and cleaned up by shaving the roof drip rails. Out back, the team wanted to be able to run a full-size spare under the bed like a real J-truck, so it used two JK8 bed kits to get the additional 18 inches in length required for the effect. The bed floor comes from a Ram 1500 and the bed is a JK tailgate that was hinged at the bottom and covered with a carbon fiber outer piece complete with Kaiser-era Jeep font.
The interior is fully Walter Matthau from the movie Grumpy Old Men. First, there’s a bench seat modded from a couple of JK buckets. Like the Mighty FC concept, ski resort apparel was sourced for affect. A plaid snowboarder’s shirt gave its life for the seat covering, complete with buttoned breast pockets. The shirt inserts are flanked with white vinyl and black suede. According to Mopar Underground chief headhunter, Mark Allen, “Plaid is the new plaid.” We can’t argue. Like any good pickup, there’s a gun rack, but this one holds a fly rod. The tranny shifter was lengthened and topped with a genuine 8-ball from (we assume) the executive break room, and as Allen says, “was modified to accept a highly inaccurate bubble compass just like Grampa Joe had in his ol’ truck.” The dash was sprayed red to match the exterior.
Underneath, it’s mostly Unlimited Sahara…to a point. The 3.6L Pentastar does a more-than-admirable job of motivating the little retro rocket. Those who cried foul that a diesel or V-8 wasn’t used in this thing probably haven’t driven a Pentastar V-6. They’re pretty fierce, especially when paired with the A580 five-speed auto. The standard 2.72:1 NV241 splits power to a pair of Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts hooked to Dynatrac axles. Up front, a ProRock Dana 44 was stuffed with 4.10 gears and an ARB Air Locker. Out back, a 35-spline ProRock Dana 60 with 4.10s and an ARB is on hand for gnarly trail use or heavy towing—it cares not which. The axles are located below a 4-inch Mopar suspension system with Fox reservoir shocks. Between the lift and generous fender openings, there’s just enough clearance for the 36-inch-tall 9.00-16 Super Lug retro tires from Universal Tire mounted on 16x8 Wheel Vintiques steelies. It’s funny to us that months before anybody knew about the J-12, Jp Feature Editor Verne Simons chose nearly identical wheels and dog dish hubcaps for his Ground-Up early CJ project—although everything about the J-12 including its custom Jeep stickers in the wheel centers are admittedly way cooler. Allen says he’ll send Simons some stickers for his rig, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
The truck is comfortable, looks like it’d be obscenely useful in the real world, and is beyond drop-dead gorgeous. We can’t tell you how hard we’re leaning on Mopar to make the front clip and hood a reality that JK owners can buy at their local dealership. During our time behind the wheel and on the trail with the J-12, not one single person we drove past failed to ask, “When are they actually gonna build this?” Sadly, right now the answer seems to be never. But it sure is nice to know they built at least one.