For over 50 years now, every Easter, thousands of Jeep and off-roading enthusiasts descend on Moab, Utah, for days of off-roading and adventure and camaraderie. And since 2009, Jeep has shown up with the best kind of treats: more Jeeps.
In a loving tribute to their fans (and no doubt a marketing opportunity for the brand) Jeep engineers have taken their wrenches, parts catalogues, cutters, grinders, and imagination and created everything from mildly upgraded Liberties and Compasses, to hot rods, to restorations, to custom builds that are pretty much unrecognizable as the Wranglers they’re based on.
There have been some years when Jeep introduced more great concepts at the Easter Jeep Safari than all the FCA brands put together at the Detroit auto show. The 50th Anniversary in 2016 was one of those, with five of them making it onto this list, although in some cases sharing the spotlight with similar builds from previous years. Beyond the crazy ideas brought to life and nostalgia they inspire, the details are a world of discovery unto themselves, with little touches like era-appropriate tech or cool craftsmanship that show just how much the people building these rigs love the brand.
Of course we have to start with something that pays tribute to the original Jeep, the CJ-5 Wrangler. There have been several that played with the theme of combining the best of many generations, but this one just seems like the essence of Wrangler distilled to its simplest and purest. The doors and roof are nowhere to be found, the body is a JK-generation shortened 14 inches to first-generation length, the wheels are massive, the rims are simple steelies and the grille was actually a preview of the new JL generation that has just launched. The interior is also properly retro with throwback plaid seats, and although the powertrain is a stock 3.6L V6 and five-speed automatic transmission, it’s beefed up with Dana 44 front and rear axles and a two-inch lift kit with Fox dampers.
The Trailcat is the stuff of dreams. Rip-roarin’ 707 hp dreams. Jeep has thrown a lot of big engines into their Easter Jeep Safari concepts, but this one takes the cake. Hellcat. Hellcat. Hellcat.
2012 Mighty FC & 2016 FC-150
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Twice Jeep has dipped into the FC well, and both times were spectacular. The Mighty FC took the idea of the original ’56–’65 Forward Control and modernized it on a Wrangler JK Rubicon platform, with custom bodywork and portal axles for near-unstoppable off-roading.
The FC-150 concept dropped a 1960 FC body on a 2005 Wrangler TJ frame, then added the beloved 4.0-litre inline-six. But the best part might be the interior, with its era-appropriate vinyl seats, duck-hunting headliner, analogue compass, and to complete the period piece, a beat-up CB radio to match the weathered patina of the exterior.
Remember that hot rod mentioned above? Well this is it, a stripped down, black and metal beast with the fenders ripped right off and the roof chopped for that classic, long, low hot-rod look. Well, low for a Jeep, but not that low, because it’s still jacked up to fit over monster staggered 37- and 32-inch mud tires and coilover dampers with stainless steel springs wrapped around the tubes. The breathing for the 6.4L Hemi crate engine is a thing of beauty too, with polished steel velocity stacks and sinuous exhaust pipes snaking out the sides to fluted trumpets on each side behind the front wheels.
2015 Chief & 2018 Jeepster
I lump these two together because both have a vintage ’60s surf-wagon vibe to them, the 2015 Chief in baby blue, with a truly aloha-themed interior and vintage-style grille. This year’s Jeepster pays homage to the Jeepster Commando in Firecracker Red, but butched up with a two-inch lift and 37-inch tires. The Jeepster is more capable of getting to remote beaches, but the interior detailing of the Chief is gorgeous, with a mini-tiki for a shifter knob, flower-pattern seat inserts, and burnished rosewood slats lining the cargo bay and roof.
2015 Staff Car
The Staff Car concept, as the name implies, is a homage to Jeep’s roots as a military vehicle; this one done up in a desert theme, doors and civilian amenities stripped away, with a barebones interior meant for hard, constant use. Well, except for the cooler box. Functional modifications are a steel roll cage, lightweight canvas roof, 35-inch military-spec tires on 16-inch steelies, painted steel floor, two-inch lift kit with Fox shocks, and front and rear Dana 44 axles. And an axe. For when the ammo runs out during the zombie apocalypse.
2017 Grand One
This isn’t really a concept, rather more of a restoration, but the Grand One is hella cool. Conceived in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Grand Cherokee, its a retro-modern update of a 1993 ZJ Grand Cherokee that the Jeep crew dug up on Craigslist. The Grand One is lifted two inches on custom 18-inch lace-style wheels wrapped in 33-inch Mud-Terrain tires riding on a stretched wheelbase, and while you can only see it in closeups, there is a subtle wood grain pattern on the upper side panels. The highlight of the interior is the plaid roofline, but eagle-eyed readers will spot the period appropriate mobile phone hanging just below the glovebox. Perfect.
2010 Nukizer 715 & 2016 Crew Chief 715
Here’s another military theme that Jeep has gone back to a couple times, first as the Nukizer 715 in 2010, and more recently the 2016 Crew Chief. The inspiration was the Kaiser M715 military pickup that was only briefly produced in the late ’60s, based on Jeep Gladiator civilian vehicles of the time. Both concepts were stretched Wrangler platforms with added functionality and capability, the Nukizer powered by a 2.8L turbodiesel, but was just a two-door, while the Crew Chief got four doors but kept the stock 3.6L Pentastar V6.
The 2016 Comanche Concept might get overlooked with all the epic Wrangler and vintage restorations, but in my eyes, the Comanche is something Jeep should build, stat. Based on the global Renegade platform, which is hugely popular around the world, it’s a properly small pickup, perhaps even tiny by truck standards these days. There hasn’t been something like this in North America since the Ford Ranger went away in 2011, and the global Ranger has grown to be mid-size. Surely there are tens of thousands of people out there that could use a tiny pickup, enough to warrant chopping the roof, sticking a five-foot bed on, and sending it out into the world with a small diesel.
Oh dear, not another retro pickup concept, you say. Well, yeah, because it’s cool, but it’s also reasonably practical. The concept was based on an existing pickup conversion kit with a stretched Wrangler Unlimited (by18 inches!), allowing a substantial six-foot bed, and the interior stripped down rather than dressed up, with bed liner covering the floor and a bench seat. From there, they went and ruined it with completely impractical white seats, but the plaid trim is too cool not to love. Capability is pumped up with Mopar three-inch suspension lift kit, remote reservoir Fox shocks, Teraflex sway bars controlling ARB air-locker equipped Dynatrac D-44 and D-60 axle assemblies. Tires are, of course, huge at 36 inches, but they’re classic Super Lug bias-ply style mounted on 16-inch vintage steelies and the grille, headlights, bumpers, and tailgate are throwback designs as well.