AUBURN HILLS, Michigan – Jeep does this every year. Fiat Chrysler’s most storied, and most profitable brand manages to customize a handful of its production models to show off each year at the Moab Easter Jeep Safari. And by “show off,” we mean that Jeep brings these special models to Utah to be driven off-road. They’re not just for show.
These customized Jeeps use a combo of off-the-rack aftermarket parts from Fiat Chrysler’s own Mopar division, as well as independent suppliers like Fox Shocks and Dana. They also use specially fabricated parts and prototype parts, but they never are trailer queens. They’re to be driven off-road.
Five of the seven custom specials built for the 52nd Annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari are based on the all-new JL Wrangler. The other two include a resto-mod Jeep Wagoneer and a Renegade. So if you’re in Moab, Utah anywhere from March 24 to April 1, you need to keep an eye out for these:
1. Jeep 4Speed
“This is the one to have,” says chief designer Mark Allen, and you’ll find no argument here. Like the 2011 Pork Chop concept and 2013 Stitch concept, 4Speed is all about light weight. It has a carbon-fiber hood, high clearance carbon-fiber fender flares, a carbon-fiber rear tub and perforated aluminum panels, plus a raked windshield, extended door openings and swept back custom cage. It’s a two-seater, with the rear seats removed and a bedliner floor and perforated aluminum panels in place of the stock footwells. A welding curtain serves as a bikini top. Wheelbase is unchanged, but overall length is two inches shorter thanks to shortened fenders, and everything taken off the nose and tail.
Powered by the new (for Jeep Wrangler) 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 feeding the four wheels through an eight-speed automatic, the 4Speed is 950 pounds lighter than a stock two-door Wrangler, Allen says, and consequently rides two inches higher than stock. It has Dana 44 front and rear axles, a 4.10 gear ratio and 18-inch lightweight monoblock wheels with 35-inch outer-diameter Goodyear Mud Terrain tires. When Colin Chapman advised sports and racecar builders to “add lightness,” he probably wasn’t thinking about such serious off-roaders.
2. Jeep Sandstorm
Ford gave auto reporters a sneak peek of its upcoming Bronco, and Bronco Jr., last week. While the upcoming Ford Bronco, especially, looks like it’s designed to compete directly with the Jeep Wrangler, Ford says its new model coming next year is designed more for faster off-roading, like the Raptor, with good on-road manners. Intentional or not, the Jeep Sandstorm seems ready to take on that Bronco.
Powered by a 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox, the Sandstorm, a chopped-down Wrangler Unlimited four-door, is “aimed at high-speed off-roading,” such as the Baja and Barstow races, Allen says, but with the luxurious ride of a street vehicle.
Custom pieces include a vented carbon-fiber hood, vented high-clearance front- and rear fender flares and a cage with a rear-mounted “lay down style” spare tire carrier. Front axle is four inches forward, with a heavy duty longarm four-link suspension and track bar, and the rear bar is two inches further back, with a triangulated trailing arm four-link suspension, plus custom coilovers, and bypass shocks.
Front travel is 14 inches, while there’s up to 18 inches in the rear. Front and rear axles are Dynatrac 60s, with a 5.68 gear ratio, 17-inch beadlock wheels and whopping 39.5-inch BF Goodrich Krawler tires—perfect for Pothole Season in Metro Detroit. Carpeting and plastic trim are replaced with a floor bedliner, and the rear seats are unupholstered. “It’s kind of like a roller-coaster,” back there, “I’d guess,” Allen says.
3. Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip
The Jeep team chose the best original Wagoneer it could find, a 1965 model, and retro-modded it. “It looked and smelled terrible,” Allen says, “but it was mostly rust-free.” Jeep added five inches of wheelbase, with body mods for additional length, a wider track and custom fender flares. The wheel wells and bumpers are reshaped, and it has integrated rock rails. The “razor”-style grille comes from a later model of the Wagoneer, which Jeep first built from 1965 to 1973.
It now has Bottle Green architectural glass, and it has been repainted from its original National Forest Service-style drab green with what the paint color boffins at Fiat Chrysler call Mintage Green. Seats have been refinished in oxblood leather. The interior headliner is made of wicker. This Wagoneer’s single-overhead cam six, first U.S. mass-produced OHC engine (predating the Pontiac OHC six by a couple of years) was removed in favor of, ironically, the OHV 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. Allen showed off a metal toolbox stowed in the rear, made of the Wagoneer’s original 230 Tornado OHC-6 valve cover. There’s also a custom cooler from period-correct luggage. Alas, the German shepherd in the second-row seat is a stuffed toy—in this regard, Subaru still is ahead of Jeep. The Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip is customized to evoke “nostalgic memories of going to Yellowstone National Park on a summer family vacation.”
4. Nacho Jeep
This one’s “mostly Mopar parts,” says the parts division’s Todd Beddick. A prototype hood has functional air inlets and heat extractors to keep the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 cool. There’s a satin black grille to contrast with the yellow Nacho paint color above a steel Rubicon bumper with a Warn Winch kit. Magneti Marelli provides the A-pillar and brush-guard mounted LED lights, and there’s Automotive Lighting LED header lights under the windshield header, for a total of “about 40,000 Lumens,” according to Beddick. “It’ll actually help you see.” An antenna-style rear off-road scouting light uses four-color LEDs to communicate trail conditions [red for “stop,” amber for “1-3 mph,” and green for “3-25 mph,” plus a white flood light] to off-roaders behind you. The Nacho features exclusive 2-1/2-inch (diameter) Fox Shocks and a two-inch lift kit. The rock rail tube doors will be available from Mopar in May, and a tailgate reinforcement relocation kit keeps the 37-inch spare tire in place. There’s a fold-down tailgate table (but don’t sit on it). Inside, seats are Katzkin leather, and the all-weather mats have drain plugs that line up with the floorboard’s drain plugs. Customers can recreate the Nacho Jeep for about $14,000 over the price of the stock JL Wrangler, Beddick says.
5. Jeep Jeepster
Like the Wagoneer Roadtrip, the Jeepster is designed to evoke the era of the early years of the Easter Safari, though in this case it starts with a new JL Wrangler, with its windshield raked back by 2.5-degrees and with a two-inch lower roof. Painted Firecracker red and bright white in the style of the original, 1966-73 Jeepster Commando, this Jeepster looks the part of a boulevardier rather than a serious off-roader. Looks deceive, though – it has a two-inch lift kit and 2.5-inch-diameter aluminum body shocks, with oversized 37-inch BF Goodrich KO2 tires on Beadlock-capable 17-inch wheels. Other features include a black fuel door, grab handles and all-weather floor mats. A concept tubular rollbar replaces the JL’s sport bar, and a custom in-cabin spare tire carrier with 38-inch spare replaces the Wrangler’s rear seat. This also makes space for concept storage packs attached to the tailgate. The combo rock rails/side steps are a concept part, says Mopar design chief Joe Dehner. Seats are Katzkin black leather with Rubicon Red Jeep grille logos.
6. Jeep B-Ute
Though based on the humble Renegade, the B-Ute (“bea-ute!” get it?) is an attractive not-so-soft-roader, featuring such Jeep Performance Parts as a 1.5-inch lift kit, custom roof rack and rock rails. Powered by the standard 2.4-liter Tigershark I-4 mated to a nine-speed automatic, the B-Ute rides on 17-inch wheels with a 30 mm offset and BF Goodrich Comp T/A Baja Champion tires. Seats are custom-trimmed with Mineral inserts. There are Mopar all-weather floor mats, and a MOLLE system [MOdular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment] on the rear seatbacks.
7. Jeep J-Wagon
Dehner calls this four-door JL Wrangler Sahara an “urban off-roader.” It features Rubicon fender flares and 35-inch tires, but no lift-kit, for easier ingress/egress for your daily commute. There’s a snorkel kit to a cold-air intake, and a replacement airbox with a high-flow filter, so you might be able to cut your commute time if there’s a shortcut through a shallow river. A version of the JPP hood design has a cutout kit for the snorkel. There’s a Brass Monkey hood latch and black Willys logo and five-inch LED lights mounted on JPP brackets. The black grille is from the Wrangler Rubicon, with body-color matching bezel trim. The 17-inch slot-design wheels are also finished in Brass Monkey, a design treatment from the 2017 SEMA Show. Paint is Warm Neutral Gray with Orange Crush accents. The 35-inch KM3 BF Goodrich spare mounts to a tailgate hinge reinforcement, and includes a JPP Center High-Mounted Stop Light relocation kit. Seats are camel-color Katzkin leather, with stark brown piping and plow-through inserts. This, apparently, is the ticket for riding the 52nd Annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari in style.