In a world full of car enthusiasts, Jeep fans are a unique breed. While many gearheads are forever in search of the best road, the tightest corners, or the longest straightaway, Jeep owners are on the lookout for the most punishing terrain they can find, then seeing if their four-wheelers can conquer it. The desire for a rocky ride is strong, and each spring since 1966, many of the Jeep faithful have been flocking to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, to conquer some of the most rugged terrain in America.
Beginning in 2002, Jeep has used the event to showcase its latest concepts and aftermarket performance products. It’s a way to stay connected to its fans and thank them for their loyal support, but it’s also an important way for the company to gauge interest in new products and features that could make their way into future production models.
The concepts are a major part of the events up in Moab, but it’s no auto show — each year, these one-off trucks are put through their paces alongside some of the most capable purpose-built Jeeps in the world. In its 13th year participating in the Easter Safari, Jeep has prepared seven new concepts that showcase the best it has to offer while connecting the company’s past to its present and future.
Many of the concepts borrow visually from Jeep’s storied past, but underneath, they’re some of the most modern, durable, and tough off-roaders in the world. Few, if any of these trucks will make it into production, but most of their upgrades were done with parts available through either Jeep or parent company Fiat Chrysler’s Mopar parts divisions, giving customers a firsthand look at just how rugged a “stock” Jeep can be.
While the long-anticipated Wrangler pickup truck won’t be making an appearance at Moab this year, these seven concepts offer a unique glimpse into off-roading culture and highlight just how focused Jeep is on making the best car in the world for people who don’t care about roads.
Following the Nukizer 715, Jeep J-12, and Mighty FC concepts that draw from its era as an independent automaker, Jeep has finally begun giving its criminally forgotten full-size trucks of the 1960s and 1970s some long=overdue attention. This latest concept to touch on the brands’ Kaiser/AMC era is the Chief, which is a modern interpretation of the 1974-1983 Cherokee Chief.
Beneath the pitch-perfect 1970s vibe lies a throughly modern lifted Wrangler chassis with Fox off-roading shocks, lockable axles, and rock rails. With its combination of vintage cool and off-road credibility, the Chief is too good to be true — literally. Jeep has no plans for this retro rock-crawler to see production.
2. Staff Car
While the Jeep Wrangler Willys is a production trim level that alludes to Jeep’s World War II heritage, the rugged, no-nonsense Staff Car concept is about as close as you can get to an original Willys MB Jeep this side of the 21st century. The doorless Wrangler has military-inspired features like a canvas interior and top, blackout lamps, shovels, and a vintage gas can.
Like the original Willys MB, every inch of the truck is colored in drab paint, and its 16-inch steel wheels are clad in rugged Firestone military-spec tires. With only a few modifications, the Staff Car is a great reminder of how close the modern-day Wrangler still is to the military truck that rolled off assembly lines nearly 75 years ago.
3. Jeep Wrangler Africa
While its steel wheels and khaki paint are similar to the no-nonsense 2009 Jeep WT concept, the Wrangler Africa is a rugged go-anywhere truck that could run with Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Land Cruisers all the way across the Sahara. The raised four-door Jeep is powered by a fuel-sipping 2.8-liter diesel engine and has been outfitted with an extended cap and raised roof that Jeep says will accommodate “extra supplies and auxiliary fuel tanks.” With massive 35-inch tires and a raised and stiffened suspension, this Wrangler should be able to tackle the worst Moab has to offer with ease.
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee Overlander
Think of the Cherokee Overlander as Jeep’s take on the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper — it’s a rugged truck that will get you where you need to go and give you a place to stay, too. The Overlander is powered by Jeep’s 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine mated to a eight-speed automatic transmission that’ll take you farther without having to worry about running out of gas.
Despite its unique front fascia, designed for better departure angles, the Overlander is mostly outfitted with aftermarket parts from Jeep’s performance division. With a few days of hard work, a dedicated Grand Cherokee owner could transform his truck from stock into a near-perfect Overlander copy.
5. Jeep Renegade Desert Hawk
The Italian-built Jeep Renegade is the newest member to the Jeep family, and while it’s been an initial success for the company, it still has a lot to prove to the Jeep faithful. Based on the four-wheel drive Trailhawk model, the Desert Hawk has been upgraded using only Mopar and Jeep performance parts that are currently available.
With a 2.4-liter inline-four engine mated to Jeep’s all new nine-speed automatic transmission, the Desert Hawk is the perfect example of a daily driver that can tackle some of the worst conditions on earth. After Moab, expect the little Renegade’s credibility to be thoroughly established.
6. Jeep Cherokee Canyon Trail
Like the Renegade, the Cherokee Canyon Trail has been customized using available Mopar and Jeep performance parts. Unlike the largely untested smaller truck, the Cherokee is Four Wheeler magazine’s reigning “Four Wheeler of the Year” and has a proven reputation both on and off-road. The Canyon Trail shares its 2.4-liter inline four with the smaller Renegade, but its massive wheels and raised ground clearance make sure that people don’t mistake the aggressive Cherokee with its smaller counterpart.
7. Jeep Wrangler Wrangler Red Rock Responder
On top of being one of the most badass-looking Jeeps to come along in a long time, the Responder is a purpose-built emergency vehicle designed to come to the rescue in areas where other emergency vehicles can’t. With a 4-inch lift, massive 37-inch tires, a powerful winch, and a transaxle geared for steep climbing, there isn’t much that can stop the Responder. Despite its status as a concept car, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Responder spends much of its time in Moab getting lesser Jeeps out of a jam.
The Easter Jeep Safari is a unique event where the past, present, and future of the Jeep brand converge to tackle some of the most extreme terrain in the world. Jeep’s official participation in the Safari gives it a unique link to its fans, and their feedback helps to ensure that future products will live up to the iconic Jeep name. These concepts might not make it to showrooms, but they’ll undoubtedly influence new Jeeps for years to come. The Jeep fans will personally see to it.
Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook