SINCE its inception, the Easter Jeep Safari has captured the attention of the off-road world.
What started in the 1960s as a local trail ride with a few Jeeps, Scouts, Broncos and Land Cruisers has morphed into a massive American spring gathering and draws more than 20,000 four-wheel drive aficionados from around the globe.
Each year, Jeep, along with its underground team of mad engineers, rolls into town with its latest batch of concept vehicles. The word ‘concept’ is a little deceptive, as one might be misled into believing these creations are in the works for the general market. While some – or variants thereof – do eventually see the light of day on showroom floors, most remain eye candy for all to drool over and dream of.
As the hired gun responsible for photographing these works of art, I’m often able to talk the top dogs at Jeep into letting me take one or two out for a private day on the trail. All of this year’s concepts are worthy of a good romp in the bush, but it was the Crew Chief that caught my eye. It’s based on a late-model Wrangler Rubicon chassis, although it radiates DNA from another era – one of olive drab green and the Kaiser M715.
With keys in hand I headed for the Sand Flats Recreation Area in the lee of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains for a relaxing day on Moab’s expansive slick rock.
Eaton ELockers are fitted to Dana 60 axles, to send torque where it’s most needed.
Jeep’s underground team began by slicing the frame in half and adding 585mm in front of the rear axle. The cab was chopped off behind the rear doors and replaced with a 1525mm steel bed fitted with a hardwood floor, mesh side panels and a pair of jerry cans. The front clip was removed and sent to the body shop, where the grille, hood and fenders were reworked with the design lines of the M715. When complete, a custom ragtop was stretched over the top, windows were removed for an authentic open-air feel, and door panels were sealed up.
The final package was trimmed with Jeep Performance Parts 10th Anniversary Rubicon bumpers fitted with Warn winches fore and aft, JPP Rubicon rock rails, and bed-mounted lashing points.
The Crew Chief rolls on 40-inch NDT military tyres wrapped around 20-inch beadlock wheels. Supporting the additional weight are a pair of JPP Dana 60 axles fitted with Eaton ELockers, 5.38:1 gears and Warn hubs. Prop shafts from Tom Woods tie the axles to the reliable 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. To keep the tyres in contact with the surface, the underground boys installed a four-inch suspension from JPP, and FOX remote reservoir shocks.
Rolling down Main Street gained me no less than celebrity status. The thumbs-up was the ubiquitous gesture from passersby, intersections became autograph sessions, and I nearly had to peel lookyloos out of the cab when I stopped for fuel.
Pentastar V6 engine with JPP cold-air intake is mated with a five-speed auto transmission.
Across the dash sits the control centre with its full-size nautical compass and toggles for the ELockers, ARB air compressor, and a mysterious button labelled ‘auxiliary.’ Hmm, maybe a rocket-propelled grenade launcher?
A cool Utah breeze rolled through windowless doors as a friend and I scaled the Fins & Things Trail. The Katzkin leather seats felt good and the lockers kept the square-cut military treads turning evenly. The Crew Chief’s wheelbase, which is about a gazillion inches long, actually helped when surmounting some of the larger ledges. However, the turning radius was akin to the Titanic.
By the end of the day I wasn’t ready to hand the keys back to the Jeep boys; rather, I was thinking about filling the tank to take a leisurely 1600km dirt trek back to California.
JEEP CREW CHIEF 715 CONCEPT
Engine: 3.6L Pentastar V6 w/JPP cold-air intake
Transmission: five-speed automatic
Colour: Tactical Green
Axles (f/r): JPP Dana 60, 5.38:1 gears, Warn hubs
Lockers: Eaton ELocker
Suspension: JPP 4in with FOX remote reservoir shocks
Tyres/wheels: 40in NDT military, 20in beadlocks
Bumpers: JPP Wrangler 10th Anniversary
Winch (f/r): JPP/Warn Rubicon
Onboard air: ARB compressor
Bed: custom 1.5m steel
Canvas top: custom