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Ah, A Wagoneer. Released in 1963. What’s it doing in modern Top Gear?
Lots of stuff happened in 1963. The Beatles recorded their debut album at Abbey Road, Harold Wilson became leader of the Labour party the year before he became Prime Minister, Alcatraz Penitentiary finally closed, Bond’s From Russia With Love saw its premiere, Martin Luther King Jr gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech and a bloke called Harvey Ball invented the Smiley Face symbol, inadvertently creating emojis. But it was also the year that Jeep released the Wagoneer - pretty much the world’s first luxury SUV. Luxurious, because it featured a slick Torqueflite 3-speed auto, a speedometer and air-con. But while a modern SUV might have HUD, self-parking and enough computing power to claim semi-sentience, they’ve also become huge, complex and a bit.. chintzy.
You’ve not answered the question…
I was getting to that. You see the Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip concept fixes the chintz issue, by taking on board one of my favourite subcultures; the resto-mod. Apparently, this one’s down to Mark Allen, Jeep’s head of design. He wanted something that spoke of Jeep’s heritage, but also something that wasn’t prone to ’60’s wiring failures or carb-fed V8 miles-per-gallon. Which means that amongst the hardcore and parts-special concepts at the Jeep Easter Safari this year was a ‘Forest Service light green’ chunk of pure loveliness. And we got to drive it.
Interesting. But what’s special about it?
It is, without reservation, my absolute favourite of the 2018 Easter Safari concepts. And it’s not just because the interior is standard ‘60s simplicity - white-rimmed wheel and all. It’s because it drives like a modern car, with all the emotional touchpoints of an old one. Let me explain.
The Roadtrip is a ’65 Wagoneer that looks like a straight restoration, but features some proper mods. Underneath is a reinforced Wrangler chassis, lengthened by five inches and attached to four-link suspension and Dana 44 axles. There are locking differentials for tricky bits and modern, relatively modest 33-inch tyres wrapped around lovely-looking 17-inch steel wheels. The steel body has been tidied up and tweaked to accommodate a slightly wider track, the rear wheelarch re-shaped and new glass fitted all-round. There’s a modern, but untuned, 5.7-litre V8 under the bonnet (nicked from a Ram pickup truck, which means around 340bhp and 375lb ft of torque), a four-speed auto and a set of modern coilovers replacing the original leaf springs.
Ooh, that means it’s old-but-new?
Yep. It starts on the button and clambers around like a modern Wrangler, but does so with a serious dose of what can only be described as class. You sit, perched on the oxblood leather bench seat, gazing out over that long bonnet and casually leaning your left elbow on the side window, and breathe deep. There’a a distinct lack of competition here; it’s not the fastest Jeep, or likely to be tackling the most hardcore trails, it’s just good at pootling around the backcountry looking good.
And it manages. We drove it a decent distance around Moab, and the Roadtrip pottered around with the best of them. It squeaks a little, bounces a bit, but never, ever feels troubled. The V8 gurgles away, happily chewing through both trail and road miles, and the modern suspension adds that usability missing from the original. Weirdly, it’s actually actively relaxing, even on broken, rock strewn trails— a little bubble of zen. Even the woven wicker headliner feels right. Obviously there’s a bit of set dressing, with fishing rods on the roof, a stuffed dog hanging out of the rear window, a set of vintage luggage in the back converted into a chiller cabinet and the original Tornado straight six engine’s cam cover turned into a toolbox, but even they didn’t spoil it. I even coveted the toolbox quite a lot, but couldn’t fit it into my backpack.
It’s the best Jeep Concept by far. This, or the Sandstorm?