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Mopar Underground Vintage Vestments Concept Jeeps

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2012
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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.

The J-12
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.

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The Willys Wagon
Mark our words. You haven’t seen the last of this vehicle in the pages of Jp magazine. It’s a bit early to tease you now, but we’ll be getting behind the wheel of this throwback machine for some old-timey road trip fun. Until then, enjoy a little peek at when new and old Jeep worlds collide. Deep in the heart of Michigan lies a top-secret private warehouse where old Chrysler vehicles and parts of vehicles of significance are laid to rest. We’re not joking. It really does exist and it really is top secret… kind of like the ending sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The warehouse scene…not the Nazi face-melting scene. But anyway, the Underground team procured a completely stock ’62 Willys wagon with just over 65,000 miles on the clock and a never-used TJ Unlimited chassis. It didn’t take a scientist to figure out that the 104.5-inch wheelbase of the Willys was pretty close to the 103.4-inch wheelbase of the Unlimited.

Nobody ever bothered to determine exactly from what year the TJ Unlimited chassis was, but it sported an NV3550 five-speed manual. Since the six-speed NSG370 came along in 2005, that makes it from an ’04.5 Unlimited. The framerails, fuel tank, coil-on-plug 4.0L engine, NV3550 transmission, NV231 T-case, and Dana 30 front and Dana 44 rear are all stock, with the exception of the front and rear ARB Air Lockers bolted to the factory 3.73 gears. The TJ body mounts were cut off of the frame and repositioned or rebuilt as necessary to meet the contours of the Willys tub. Surprisingly, the body only required a little massaging inside the rear fenderwells to clear the frame kick-up above the rear axle and some minor nipping up front for the front coil buckets and shock towers. A small firewall doghouse also needed to be built to make room for the 4.0L’s number six cylinder. Otherwise, the body tub is exactly as it came out of the warehouse—original paint, seats, glass, and all. The TJ master cylinder and throttle/brake/clutch pedal assembly were mounted on the firewall and under the dash. Other reused Wrangler parts include the radiator, ECU, and portions of the electrical system, although much of the factory Willys switches and electronics remain.

Aesthetically, the yokel-correct interior is augmented by various campy buttons, pins, and stickers that Allen collected in his travels or already had on display in his office. We’re not quite sure which. In a stroke of brilliance, a belt buckle hides the ARB switches just to the left of the speedometer. The roof rack was custom-built by some hippy who builds them for VW micro busses. The rack was artificially aged and then loaded up with vintage camping gear that Allen dragged back from swap meets and flea markets. Like that original tire cover? They built it out of burlap and then burned, stained, dragged, and artificially aged it to look the part. It fooled us even close up. The whole thing rides on skinny 16-inch steelies wrapped with vintage 7.50-16 Super Traxion bias-ply tires from Universal Tire.

Aside from the squirmy bias-ply tires, driving the Willys is as easy and drama-free to drive as taking your TJ Unlimited to the store for milk. Our only gripe was the throttle pedal is awkwardly positioned. If it were our vehicle, we’d move it closer to the firewall to prevent calf cramps and we’d probably fix the windshield wipers that didn’t work during our drizzly day of driving it. But otherwise, everything is there and works, from the hood and rear tailgate prop struts to the directionals to the door and window mechanisms. When you think about it, it should since the ’62 has fewer miles on the odometer than most TJ Unlimiteds do at this point. In our perfect dream world, you’d be able to go into your local Jeep dealership and choose between a brand new Jeep Grand Wagoneer (actually coming next year) or a Willys Wagon just like this. Oh, what the heck; why not one of each.

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