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What's Jeep's 'Easter Safari' all about?
If you like Jeeps, you'll love the annual celebration of everything... Jeep
Jeep Town, USA. Otherwise known as Moab, Utah during the annual Easter Jeep Safari. A single-marque gathering in which precisely not one single car is actually the same. A theme borne out by any evening walk in downtown Moab during the event, where you’ll find everything from original, patina-sweated WWII Willys light-utility military vehicles to lifted, lit and loud custom rigs that make your eyes hurt.
There are road-biased ‘mall-crawlers’ - though far less of these neon-accented trailer queens - right up to Mad-Max-style rigs whose only purpose is trail running, beauty coming some way past purpose on the priority list. And it is utterly brilliant. As long as you like Jeeps. If you don’t… probably not so much.
It’s grown, this fiesta of four-wheel drive. Back in ’67, the Moab Chamber of Commerce organised a little Jeepish ride-out along a single Moab trail the Sunday before Easter, just for fun. Now it’s a nine-day extravaganza with thousands of participants and 40-odd trails, organised ride-outs and general gentle mayhem. Moab is the perfect theatre, slap bang in some of the world’s best off-roading, though it’s mostly sand, rocks and brain-melting views rather than mud.
It’s a bit tribal, but in that jolly, interested way that Americans seem to do so well - everyone checks out each other’s cars in a non-judgemental fashion, flashing a version of the two-fingered ‘victory’ sign at other Jeeps. As previously mentioned, you find yourself doing this quite a lot. Enough to make your fingers ache, but it seems a bit churlish to stop.
And it appears that everything Jeep ends up in Moab at this time of year, a street-based car show with only one badge. Jeeps on every size of tyre, from standard to what look like 42-inch monster rubber, every body configuration you can imagine, and every paintjob. We find a longnose parked by the side of the road that initially appears to have a V12 (six open headers poking through each side of the comical bonnet), but later transpires to be a twin-engined Frankenstein.
There are plush rigs, polished newbies, rats and shortened, bumperless stumpy freaks that appear to have precisely zero approach and departure angle, and a breakover that would only be troubled by trying to drive over an actual pyramid. Motors range from original 60bhp four-cylinders to sixes and V8s of wildly varying capacity and output, several sporting north of 800bhp. And everyone is happy to chat. It’s a core-market fishbowl of ownership.
And Jeep isn’t stupid. One of the great joys of Jeep ownership - particularly in the case of the Wrangler and its forebears - is the built-in modularity and breadth of aftermarket. It’s a multi-million dollar business, and FCA (which owns Jeep), recognises that this core market spends happily on a vehicle which they then move quite a distance from the original specifications.
Which is why, for the last few years, Jeep has brought a selection of ‘concepts’ to Moab at this time of year, to make use of such a concentrated market research opportunity. To ponder directions, and gauge reactions, figure out what buyers really think and really want. Engage and inspire. This year, there are seven.
The bald stuff first. There’s a little Renegade, called the ‘B-Ute’, a teaser of the incoming refreshed version and sporting some choice upgrades (lift-kit, roofrack and other bolt-on goodies) that passes by otherwise unnoticed. I can’t get over the fact that it’s based on the Fiat 500X, but that’s probably just me. The more interesting stuff was based upon Jeep’s new car, the all-new ‘JL’ series Wrangler - and a whole raft of new bits from MoPar.
First up is the ‘J-Wagon’, a thoughtful trawl through possible future upgrades. Farrow&Ball-esque paint finishes - the wheels are what they call ‘Brass Monkey’ hued - subtle rock sliders on the sides, big chunky bumpers with bright orange tow hooks, snorkels and intakes. It’s a good-looking all-rounder with a bit of urban style thrown shawl-like around the shoulders of what is, in essence, a fairly robust off-roader. The ‘Nacho’ looks more extreme, but is pretty much more of the same. The tube doors are actually a MoPar official option (hitting the US in May), and the extra lighting, two-inch lift kit with 2.5-inch Fox shocks and 37-inch BF Goodrich tyres will be available soon after. Throw in a few of the other additions and you’re looking at about eleven grand’s-worth ($14,000) of optional extras that make your ‘normal’ JL look like a HotWheels toy. My favourite is a high-level brake light that changes colour the harder you brake.
Both the J-Wagon and the Nacho react pretty much the same when you drive them, although it has to be said that we were limited to a short off-road course designed to take in the view while not allowing journalists to break things. Thus, the cars were tested well within their abilities, so it’s not really possible to work out if they’re actually any good or not. They’re based on the new JL, though, and as you’ll read elsewhere on TG.Com, that car has been thoroughly overhauled to great effect.
After that, things get a bit more interesting. The ‘Jeepster’ nicks retro colour schemes and adds them to a chopped ‘screen and fastback body, with two spares carried where the back seats would be. Massive tyres (BFGs again), beadlock wheels and big suspension mean that it looks short and stout, and Jeep insists that if the short back body proves popular, it’ll go into production. The ‘4-speed’ is more of the same, riffing on a lightweight theme, and dropping over 400kg from a standard Wrangler. Unfortunately, it broke before we could get to it, meaning that working out whether a lightweight Jeep is any good off-road will have to wait a bit.
But there were two concepts that stood out above the rest - ones that we actually spent some time in: ‘Sandstorm’ and the ‘Wagoneer Roadtrip’. One a very modern fast-attack desert champion, the other a kind of excellent resto-mod.
You can read about them on TopGear.com…