Jeeps of Easter: Concepts Bow at Moab
In most of the Christian world, Easter is a time of solemn religious observation, leavened by baskets filled with neon-hued eggs, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and marshmallow peeps. But in Moab, Utah, Easter week (April 8 – 16 this year) is distinguished by the arrival of hundreds of Jeeps, who descend on this vacation community for an annual rite of spring known as the Easter Jeep Safari.
The Jeepists congregate to participate in a variety of trail drives in the spectacular red terrain that surrounds Moab, a tradition that dates to 1967. And since 2001 Jeep corporate has shown solidarity with its faithful by creating a number of concept vehicles that suggest new accessories, as well as pure whimsy.
The concepts make the trek to Moab, providing eye candy for the rockers, as well as ideas for further modifying their own Jeeps. Almost all of the Jeeps that show up for the Safari are Wranglers, and it’s rare to see one that hasn’t had at least some minimal mods—a suspension lift kit, for example, and knobby off-road tires.
So as you’d expect, many of the concepts from Jeep Central are Wrangler-based. Many—but not all. When a new Jeep joins the lineup, a modified version is sure to join that year’s Safari squadron. This year it’s the Jeep Compass. And Jeep sometimes reaches into its past to supplement the show, as it did this year.
Seven Jeep concepts will be heading for Moab this April. There are commonalities across the collection—large alloy wheels, big off-road rubber, high-rider suspension kits, 4-wheel drive. But beyond that each has its own unique theme.
CJ is a sacred prefix in Jeep iconography, dating to the CJ2 of 1944 and carrying on through successive models to 1986, when the Wrangler series took over. Based on a Wrangler TJ frame, the CJ66 concept includes a 1966 Wrangler CJ Tuxedo Park narrow body, with Wrangler JK elements, and a 383-horsepower Mopar 5.7-liter Hemi crate motor, backed by a 6-speed manual transmission. Off-road hardware includes Mopar Dana axles fore and aft, a 2-inch lift kit, Mopar Rubicon 10th anniversary bumpers, oversize fender flares, Jeep Performance Parts beadlock wheels wearing 35-inch rubber, skid plates, and a concept air system that allows the driver to alter tire pressures to optimize according to terrain. The CJ66 was first shown at last November’s Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas.
Jeep Grand One
This Grand Cherokee returns to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when then Chrysler VP Bob Lutz drove the new Jeep up the stairs and through a plate glass window at Detroit’s Cobo Arena, making a spectacular debut at the 1992 North American International Auto Show. The Grand One is a 1993 original, acquired by the Jeep team for the Moab show.But this blast from the past isn’t exactly a restoration. The wheelbase has been stretched,the track expanded, there are Dana axles front and rear, and the interior carpeting has been removed. The original 5.2-liter V8, a 1993 option, is stock save for a new cold air intake and free-breathing exhaust. Remember Jeep’s 2001 lawsuit against General Motors, over the H2 Hummer’s seven-slot grille? Jeep claimed trademark rights for the design, and lost, though Hummer’s subsequent demise restored exclusivity. But count the number of vertical slots in this original Grand Cherokee. Do you see more than seven? Yes, you do.
It should come as no surprise that when the sun sets in the wild, driving becomes correspondingly tricky, especially in terrain of the creepy-crawly variety. The Wrangler-based Luminator concept addresses that challenge by bringing daytime to the darkness with a retina-frying array of LED lights. This includes projector beam headlamps, A-pillar-mounted spotlights, upper bumper lights, cornering lights that respond to steering angle, fog lamps, and a hood-mounted light bar with active spot and dynamic following features, all LED. A CHMSL above the rear-mounted spare tire displays four colors to let following drivers know what’s going on—red for stop, amber for very low speed (1 to 3 mph), green for higher speeds (3 to 25 mph), and white for reverse. There’s also an underbody light array. The roof rack contains a solar panel and a drone landing pad, and the spare tire is also home for a drone storage case. The lighting was developed in league with Magneti Marelli, a Fiat subsidiary.
At some level, any Jeep Wrangler is an attention-getting device, but this one is impossible to ignore. The classic hot rod styling includes a roof and windshield chopped four inches, open wheels, a hood with an opening for eight velocity stacks assisting in the nourishment of the 392-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) Hemi V8 crate motor, and headers feeding short exhaust pipes that exit just behind the front wheels. As you’d expect, there’s nothing subtle about the Hemi’s exhaust note. The V8 feeds power to the staggered BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM2 tires (32-inch front, 37-inch rear) via a 6-speed Getrag manual transmission, and the suspension features coil-over shocks. It’s the first staggered-tire setup on any Jeep concept vehicle. Inside, the treatment is minimalist—flat aluminum door panels, low-back bucket seats, open windows, a rollover bar, and a tilt-out windshield. Other neat stuff: the front-mounted Moon tank conceals a Warn winch, and the drag chute package at the rear actually contains a tow rope. Conceived for bashing around in sand dunes, the Quicksand could just as easily star at the Woodward Dream Cruise or any hot rod show.
The idea here is that Jeeps can take folks into magnificent scenery, and this concept allows occupants to see all of it without leaving their seats. It’s the terrestrial equivalent of a glass-bottom boat, with plastic windows covering the aluminum frames. Zippers controlwindow opening, should those within want a little fresh air to go with the view. Rear-hinged rear doors improve access to bucket seats that rotate slightly outward, to enhance the view, and the roof is translucent. Interior features also include a dash-mounted iPad. A hand-wrought double-deck aluminum roof rack includes docking for the incorporated drone. Wrangler-based, the Safari has the usual off-road enhancements—Dana locker axles front and rear, 2-inch lift kit, custom full-length skid plates, 35-inch BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 tires, and steel front and rear bumpers. The off-road goodies are from Jeep Performance Parts. Many of the Jeep custom features created for Moab find their way into production. However, the likelihood of vast plastic windows is less than nil.
The Switchback is basically a showcase for a collection of Mopar and Jeep Performance Parts designed to augment the off-road prowess of Jeep Wranglers. Mopar goodies include floor mats and a swing gate storage rack with first aid and roadside safety kits. The Jeep Performance Parts inventory is more extensive with front and rear Dana 44 axles, 37-inch BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 tires, a 4-inch lift kit, Fox remote reservoir shocks, heavy cast differential covers, 10th Anniversary steel bumpers, a Rubicon winch with winch guard, and cold air intake for the 3.6-liter V6 engine. Exterior features include a concept hood with a power bulge and heat extractor vents; half doors, and a concept hard top with an integrated roof rack system. An interesting touch with the windowless doors: their lower halves are distinguished by large openings, supposedly to enhance the connection with the great outdoors. The benefit in dusty terrain was not mentioned. Illumination includes Jeep Performance Parts LED head and fog lamps, a windshield light bar, A-pillar lamps, and taillamps. The minimalist interior has a spray-in bed liner, concept grab handles, and, mitigating the rather stark appointments, Katzkin leather bucket seats.
Compass is the newest member of the Jeep family, sized to slot between Renegade and Cherokee, sharing foundational elements with both and replacing a pair of vehicles—Compass and Patriot—that were hard to perceive as bona fide members of the clan. Moab Easter mods include the predictable—a lift kit (1.5 inches), rock rails, and Continental TerrainContact off road rubber. Aside from a basket-style roof rack from Mopar, other elements of the Trailpass treatment are cosmetic. Based on the Trailhawk-rated (the rating distinguishing Jeep’s most off-road capable offerings) version of the new Compass, the Trailpass treatment extends within to Katzkin leather seats and center armrest, body color bezels, and floor mats from Jeep Performance Parts.