A Dream Come True: Cruising Woodward in Jeep Concepts

Woodward 2013 II

By Aaron Bragman

Every third weekend in August, southeast Michigan hosts what must be the largest gathering of automotive aficionados anywhere on the planet in the form of the Woodward Dream Cruise. More than 1 million people bring more than 25,000 classic, unusual, performance or just plain interesting cars and cruise the 20-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue from the border of Detroit north through half a dozen communities, ending in Pontiac. It's an amazing counterpoint to the hoity-toity Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance that happens the same weekend on the central coast of California. The Michigan event offers a more open and affordable atmosphere that celebrates all forms of automotive enthusiasm.

For the last three years, the folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have been kind enough to loan me a hot Mopar vehicle. This year's ride was a 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, but as cool as that was, it wasn't as cool as the other three cars FCA let me drive during the Dream Cruise. Behold three of Jeep brand's concept cars constructed for this past year's 2015 Moab Easter Jeep Safari: the Jeep Chief, the Jeep Wrangler Africa and the Jeep Staff Car. Jeep invited a handful of automotive journalists to take these three fully functional off-roaders for a cruise down Woodward Avenue, and I happily obliged.


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Of the three, my favorite to be seen in was definitely the Chief. With inspiration taken from the late 1970s' SJ Cherokee Chief, it's a stunning modification of a lifted Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon with a six-speed manual transmission and beefy 37-inch tires on 17-inch slotted throwback mag wheels. Done up in gorgeous Ocean Blue paint, the "surf-rated" Chief is a rolling homage to Pacific surf culture with a tiki idol shift knob, hula girl on the dash and floral print seat fabric inspired by Tom Selleck's shirts from the 1980s' "Magnum P.I." show. An image of Thomas Magnum even appears affixed to the rear cargo area. The Chief is no different to drive than any other highly capable off-roader. It's geared crazy tall — featuring 4:63 gears — so you're shifting that six-speed manual frequently. The knobby tires set up a decent buzz at speed, but you're looking so amazingly cool that you don't care in the slightest.


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My favorite to drive was the Africa concept. Also based on a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, the Africa's most noticeable feature is the permanently affixed hardtop and extended cargo area, giving it the appearance of a Land Rover Defender. The overall length of the Africa is no different than a regular Unlimited, according to Jeep chief designer Mark Allen. But the extended cargo area allowed Jeep to relocate the normally external spare tire to under that rear cargo area. It's powered by the 2.8-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that you can get in the current Wrangler if you live anywhere but North America. Driving the Africa was a treat — the diesel is smooth and quiet, but not especially fast (not that any Wrangler is especially fast unless it's had a Hemi engine swap). Allen was insistent that this style of Wrangler, with its fixed roof and extended cargo area, is being closely considered for the next-generation model, due sometime in 2017. And given the fact Jeep recently trademarked the Africa name, we're guessing that's a good bet. 


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Finally, the best throwback model to date is the Staff Car; despite its vintage World War II look it is a fully modern Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon as well. It's had its doors and even the B-pillar removed, but all the running gear is left in place. It's the more challenging one to drive, given its minimalist — yet still surprisingly comfortable — bench-style seats and super-tall, super-loud skinny military-spec tires. It's also the one you're most likely to fall out of since it lacks three-point safety belts and B-pillars, but it's filled with as many surprise-and-delight Easter eggs as the others, from the fun stencils to the cooler masquerading as an ammo crate in the back.

It's great that Jeep is allowed to have so much fun with its heritage and vehicle fleet, something few other automotive brands can duplicate. The Jeep folks have already begun thinking about what they're going to do for the 2016 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, given that it's the 50th anniversary of the event. We're hoping for more spectacular concept vehicles, but maybe this time at least a few will have pickup beds. Check out the gallery below to see more of these three Jeep concepts.

Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman


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I like all of them. Excellent job FCA to design cars and trucks with NA heritage in mind. All other manufacturers forgot their roots already and produce generic cars without soul. I am glad , that FCA is still here and saved Chrysler. We all would be missing this fun in the life.

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Bring on the Africa! I notice that it has the wrap around lamps which has already been confirmed by an insider. I love the extra cargo room.

Best Jeep concept yet IMHO

A Gladiator Pickup resurrected from 1971 would be nice.

J ust E mpty E very P ocket

I like the Africa concept very much.

I do realise it is a concept, but it's a pity the interior is quite poor matched in style and colouring.

The Africa needs the 2.8 diesel in it with an ARB's Old Man Emu 2 inch lift to finish of the "Expenditionary" approach.

Maybe even additional fuel would be nice with Jerry Can holders and a decent off road roof rack, oh and a snorkel for those river crossings in the shopping malls you guys have in the States.

I am with Texas Bob, Love the front end and hood design from the Gladiator inspired Chief. The staff car was inspired by Dodge's 3/4 ton command car from the 40's used by General Patton used in World War Two. I agree with Somar. Chrysler has tons of American History. Would have been bad to lose Chrysler.



I like the SJ Cherokee Chief.

@HemiV8, for once I agree with you. Someone take a picture!!

If one looks at the Jeep Staff Car you will notice the front bumper is a C Section, rather flimsy at that.

Also, the axe on the driver's door sill is dangerous. If the axe is sharp as an axe should be, ie, razor sharp, it will cause some serious damage to a person.

Yeah yeah what a crock. Fiat teases us but will not build a tough non-luxe Jeep pickup. I am ready to buy such a truck.

Slow news day?

All of those Jeeps were featured here a while ago.

Big Al from Oz - actually the sharpness or shaping of the cutting edge of an ax all depends on what it will be used for.

Thanks for pointing out that sharp objects should be kept away from FCA fans.

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