Jeep Shows Off Concepts at 2018 Easter Jeep Safari

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A typical concept vehicle on an auto-show floor looks very shiny and stylish, but it's not likely to start up, move on its own volition, or perform well on a track or trail. Not so for Jeep's annual concept bonanza at the Easter Jeep Safari[MP1], this year celebrating its 52nd official event. For the last 10 years, Jeep has allowed its hard-core employees to build top-secret project trucks (like a kind of Skunk Works[MP2]) and bring them to the trails of the supremely beautiful and treacherous backcountry of Moab, Utah.

We've shown you this year's selection of impressive vehicles from the floor of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles design dome[MP3], but now we're just back from driving these technological and design experiments in the environments for which they were designed. "Jeeps on dirt" only begins to explain what is going on here; in many cases, these are important chances for Jeep engineers and marketing folks to hear directly from the brand faithful and get their direct (and brutally honest) feedback of what might lay ahead in our future. In short, this event is a kind of test bed for the Jeep folks to find out if what they have in mind will actually fly with real customers.

Although Jeep and Mopar brought out several cool concept vehicles, there were two that stood out to us.

 

Jeep Sandstorm

Sandstorm Wrangler 008 II

Clearly the closest thing to a pickup truck this year (ironic, since Jeep will be debuting an all-new Jeep pickup truck later this year[MP4]), the Sandstorm is a cross between a desert buggy and a mountain rock crawler, with a monster 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood mated to a heavy-duty six-speed manual transmission.

The core upgrade to the vehicle is the twin-shock setup at each corner (coil-over and remote reservoir shocks to split the workload). Additionally, to help improve approach and departure angles as well as give it a unique look, both front and rear Dynatrac 60 (5.38:1 gears) axles have been pushed (the front by 4 inches forward; the rear 2 inches back) and given re-arched wheel wells with massive flares. The overall effect allows for four 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawler tires on 17-inch custom beadlock wheels.

Inside, the Sandstorm has a minimalist feel and features a custom roll cage and leather-trimmed seats, open-air rear bed area and Mopar-designed spare tire carrier, as well as a heavy-duty air compressor with an exterior hose fitting access to air up the big tires at the end of extreme trail expeditions.

Driving this vehicle over trails and through sand washes, as you might expect, is amazing. We have to give the Jeep engineers a ton of credit for making a highly modified Jeep smooth and forgiving even though it has tons of torque and a stiff clutch. And the noise it makes when running at 3,000 rpm is gorgeous. Sure, we know this vehicle will never get made, but the fact that Jeep is experimenting with a Baja-style suspension makes us think there's a reason for all this learning. If an F-150 can turn into a Raptor, no doubt a Jeep pickup could transform into a high-speed desert racer. That would be fun to see.

 

Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip

Roadtrip Wrangler 019 II

Each year, the Jeep designers love doing some kind of "resto-mod" concept truck that gives them a chance to recondition and upgrade a classic Jeep. The strategy is twofold: One, it will always make the hard-core Jeep fans happy to see the corporate guys appreciating the heritage and classic lines of old iron, while at the same time giving its (sometimes very young) designers and engineers a chance to see where the current products are coming from. This is a chance to engrain and expose its people to the Jeep lineage. This Wagoneer project vehicle does just that — a tip of the hat to the old and[MP5] new at the same time.

This Wagoneer project started life as a 1965 model — the Wagoneer itself was built from 1963 to 1991 — that the design team found and bought in Arizona, then proceeded to find ways to improve the chassis and suspension to help raise it to some of the familiar quality levels of today. The wheelbase has been stretched a few inches, and the suspension was converted from the old-school leaf springs to the more modern four-link setup with coil-over shocks. The live axles are both Dana 44s with 33-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires.

In many ways, the original Wagoneer was the first luxury 4x4 SUV with four doors and many of the features and conveniences (automatic transmission, radio, cushioned seats, seat belts, etc.) only pricier vehicles at the time could offer. This model also includes a new 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and a more time-period-appropriate four-speed automatic transmission.

Inside, the Wagoneer features the original front and rear bench seats, door panels, kick and rear panels, all trimmed in Oxblood-colored leather with wicker headliners. The rear storage area has been sprayed with pickup truck bedliner. And sitting in the bed area — along with the oddly frightening stuffed doggie in the backseat — is a custom-made toolbox constructed from the valve cover of the original engine that came with the Wagoneer, the Jeep/AMC Tornado straight-six[MP6].

When we got our turn behind the wheel, it didn't take long before we realized that the Jeep builders did an amazing job of keeping every squeak and rattle from the original, along with the giant-diameter steering wheel; we loved both. The handling and feel of the truck is wonderfully vague and numb, with the only saving grace being the quick tip-in (and throaty sound out the tailpipe) of the throttle.

This is the time machine of the group, giving you a quick ride in a vehicle that transports you more than 40 years back in the past. Our guess is that this was meant to be a quick refresher for those of us who are likely to see a new Wagoneer from Jeep in the not-too-distant future. No doubt it will be a vast improvement; our hope is that it still looks as cool as this one.

Cars.com photos by Chris Collard

 

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Sandstorm Wrangler 020 II

Roadtrip Wrangler 004 II

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Roadtrip Wrangler 020 II

Roadtrip Wrangler 010 II

Roadtrip Wagoneer 019 II

Roadtrip Wagoneer 029 II


Comments

For a second I thought FCA was bringing back the Wagoneer. A real SUV

Really neat. Nice to see this Wagoneer. The Jeep is also neat.

I can notice the people sitting in the cab look small

Love the toolbox. Jeep - please make those and sell 'em.
And the Wagoneer is very cool.

If would be nice if that Jeep was called Darude Sandstorm :D

Jeep should win the award for best concepts that never happen.



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