Story and Photos by Dan Sanchez
Throughout the company’s long history, Jeep has brought pickup trucks to market and later shelved them. More recently, the introduction of the Mopar JK8 conversion kit for the Wrangler became so popular that Jeep engineers have again toyed with the truck idea. This time they created the J-12 Concept truck that debuted at the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. This new Jeep captures the vintage look of the Jeep Gladiator, with the performance and capabilities of a 2012 Wrangler.
So, what’s cool about the J-12? Imagine taking your grandfather’s old 1960s Jeep Gladiator pickup truck and handing it over to automotive designer Chip Foose for a few weeks. While Foose may have added a flashier paint job and billet wheels to the J-12, Jeep engineers should be proud that they created a flawless truck with classic styling and combined it with the modern drivetrain and chassis of a 2012 Wrangler.
If the idea was to bring back the vintage appeal of a reliable pickup that can be used for both work and play, the J-12 is on target. With its bright red paint, 6-foot bed and chromed Gladiator-style front bumper, fenders and grille, the J-12 looks the part. On the inside, there’s a bench seat with plaid interior trim, a fishing rod hung across the rear window and a large floor-mounted shift lever with a compass shift knob that adds to the truck’s vintage style. The bench seat was adjustable, but it took a while to get used to sitting up straight because non-extended-cab trucks with two seats are almost extinct. You end up hitting your elbow when you rest your right arm across the top of the seat.
That’s where the J-12’s vintage look and feel stops. It’s when you get behind the wheel that the truck’s modern attributes come into play. The first thing you notice is the dash, controls, steering wheel and doors are all Wrangler pieces that remind you this isn’t a restored truck, but a serious, yet familiar, off-road vehicle that’s worthy of the Jeep name.
On the trail, we released the vehicle’s TeraFlex anti-sway bars to allow the large 36-inch- diameter Super Lug off-road tires to grip the rock and articulate over extreme terrain. Mounted on 16-inch steel rims with chromed hubcaps, the extra tire sidewall makes the J-12 crawl better than what you would expect it to. The addition of a front Dynatrac D44 front axle and D-60 rear axle -- both equipped with ARB air-lockers -- allows the J-12 to power and gain traction over some of the toughest terrain we could put it through.
Despite the rocky path to an abandoned cabin and mine shafts, the ride was smooth and predictable. The rock crawling is precise and easy, especially with the longer wheelbase that’s been stretched 18 additional inches. The longer wheelbase also allows a full-size spare to fit under the bed, which the Jeep engineers wanted to include on this particular concept.
A Mopar 3-inch suspension lift gives the truck extra ground clearance. But during our drive, the J-12 never scraped the frame or any other portion of the chassis. On the highway, the J-12 drives better than any old pickup. That’s partly due to the well-tuned suspension that also included a set of Fox reservoir shocks. Shift the transfer case into two-wheel drive and the ride on the pavement is the same as any four-door Wrangler -- quiet and ready for a long-distance trip.
While the truck only has the front portion of the Jeep’s original hardtop, it isn’t removable. Despite this, the J-12 to seem less top-heavy and felt lighter and more nimble, especially when taking corners at higher speeds. Because it uses a stiff Wrangler frame, road oscillations and noises were not an issue with this concept truck.
The only negative point we discovered while driving the J-12 is it won’t be in production anytime soon. Nevertheless, we’re aware that these design experiments are meant to develop components and ideas for future vehicles that will make it into the showroom floor.
We can only speculate that a Wrangler pickup truck may be in the works, and the extended wheelbase and 6-foot bed on the J-12 is an indication of what may be included. If the J-12 does provide any hints at what a modern Jeep pickup would be like, you can expect there will be many off-road enthusiasts signed up to buy one.
Although it looks like a truck, the J-12 rides like a Wrangler and has very similar off-road capabilities. A set of 36-inch diameter Super Lug off-road tires are mounted on 16-inch steel rims with chromed hubcaps.
No vintage dash here. The steering wheel and instruments are all from the Wrangler, which allow the use of full electronics accessories. The center console houses the transfer case shifter, as well as the floor-mounted automatic shift lever, complete with vintage-styled shift knob with compass.