Words and photos by Dan Sanchez for PickupTrucks.com
Chrysler Group’s Mopar team has the task of customizing and creating project vehicles that are a hit with enthusiasts. The Jeep Nukizer 715 is one of the concepts unveiled at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, that made a big impression on hard-core off-road enthusiasts and Jeep truck aficionados.
The Nukizer 715 is built on the Jeep J8 four-door military platform, a vehicle built for military and civilian government applications in Egypt. It’s a great platform to start with, but considering Chrysler’s knack for making old vehicle designs cool again, the J8 is the perfect vehicle to combine the DNA from the original Jeep Kaiser M-715 military vehicle and Jeep Gladiator, both created in the mid-1960s.
Because the original Kaiser had a pickup bed, the Mopar team thought an aftermarket AEV Brute cargo box, produced as a bolt-on upgrade for Jeep TJ models, might work well in this application. So the J8’s 116-inch wheelbase was stretched eight inches to make the bed fit perfectly. In addition, a few inches were chopped off the top of the J8’s front windshield frame to give the truck a rakish and aggressive appearance, and a custom soft-top created by Bestop was applied to the vehicle. This didn’t hurt the Nukizer’s ability to attract every truck and Jeep enthusiast who caught a glimpse of it as it managed to gather a crowd wherever it went.
To re-create the original M-715’s distinctive forward-slanted front grille, wide hood and round fender flares, Mopar engineers built a front clip out of carbon fiber that artfully accentuates the features of the original and blends it perfectly into the J8 body.
One of Mopar's goals was to make the Nukizer as rugged as the original. The drivetrain was upgraded with tough Dynatrac ProRock Dana 44 front and Dana 60 rear axles. The rear diff has super short 5.38 gears to help improve its crawl ratio. The transfer case was upgraded to a heavy-duty Atlas 2 unit, and ARB Air Locker front and rear locking differentials were also used to get the vehicle over just about any obstacle in its path.
True to its nature, the Nukizer was just like driving a modified Wrangler — strong and sure-footed, and the extra wheelbase added a measure of comfort over any type of terrain.
The 2.8-liter four-cylinder VM Motori turbo-diesel used in the J8 platform was kept in the Nukizer’s DNA, but it was upgraded with a new tune to provide more horsepower and torque while being coupled to the factory four-speed automatic transmission. Weighing in at a moderately hefty 4,500 pounds, the Nukizer still felt nimble, and there was no seeming lack of power or torque coming from the diesel.
To increase the vehicle’s fuel capacity, Mopar engineers fit a GenRight custom gas tank into the rear crossmember. This also gives the Nukizer better weight distribution, which was noticeable as we drove it over obstacles, and it never felt front heavy or unbalanced as it constantly leaped over sand dunes.
The Nukizer 715 uses the factory leaf spring suspension system with Bilstein shocks to handle a large set of 38-by-14.5-by-17-inch BFGoodrich KM2 off-road tires mounted on Hutchinson beadlock wheels. The factory front anti-sway bar was replaced with a TeraFlex dual-rate bar that gives the Nukizer more control due to the heavier weight of the fuel tank and body.
Mopar also went into its supply of products and added Jeep Wrangler rock rails and front and rear off-road bumpers to the Nukizer. The truck is also equipped with a Warn air compressor and 9.5XP low-profile winch, and Master Pull synthetic winch line. Inside, the Nukizer’s cab is basic charcoal gray and remains simple, yet functional. The only upgrade is a Garmin GPS Map 640 navigation unit, Atlas transfer case shift knobs and ARB locker switches. Yet, considering the vehicle’s DNA and heritage, it would seem wrong to set up this vehicle with leather seating and a DVD player.
The Nukizer 715 is definitely an eye-catcher, even with its dull “trash can” gray paint scheme as described by Chrysler’s Mark Allen, chief designer, Jeep/Truck Design Studio. The vehicle not only appeals to both Jeep and truck enthusiasts, it also has the real capabilities of the original.
Because the Nukizer 715 hits the mark with its Jeep heritage, and because it was a joint venture with manufacturers of hard-core aftermarket components, many off-road enthusiasts would gladly take on some trails in a well-built pickup like this one, if it were ever made available to the public.
After years of teasing truck enthusiasts and past Jeep pickup owners with cool concepts like the Nukizer and 2005 Jeep Gladiator concept, perhaps Chrysler and its partners at Fiat will respond to the pent-up demand that exists for a no-compromise, small off-road pickup and produce a new factory-built pickup with a seven-slot grille.