Military vehicle strength, functionality and styling underscore two Jeep-based concept trucks that will take on the challenging off-road trails of Moab, Utah during the annual Jeep Safari.
“It’s a very, very important event this year because it’s the 50th anniversary of the Easter Jeep Safari, and it’s coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Jeep,” asserted Mike Manley, Head of Jeep Brand for FCA Global.
The feedback provided by the thousands of Jeep enthusiasts attending the Moab Jeepfest is highly valued by FCA and its Mopar aftermarket brand.
The Renegade-based Comanche and the Wrangler Unlimited-based Crew Chief 715 trucks are among this year’s seven Jeep concept vehicles modified with Mopar and Jeep Performance Parts. They were unveiled to media recently at FCA’s Auburn Hills, MI technical center.
Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar) FCA Global, told Automotive Engineering that Jeep is a perfect match for accessory parts. “When you build a Jeep—whether it’s a big one or a small one—you always can add capability and additional features,” he said, “Jeep is a brand that is king for customization.”
Crew Chief is M715 inspired
Crew Chief is a "big one," its design inspired by the U.S. military’s Kaiser Jeep M715 of the 1960s, according to Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design. It is underpinned by a Wrangler Unlimited chassis stretched by 33.2 in (843 mm) to 148 in (3789 mm) overall.
The four-door concept’s tactical green-exterior color scheme offsets a customized steel mesh grille, and the texture pattern of the forward-leaning grill (itself inspired by the classic Gladiator-series Jeep trucks) is also showcased on the sides of the cargo bed and front fenders.
“We unbolted the Wrangler piece and put this nose on the front. The production nose and this custom nose are actually interchangeable,” said Allen, “We came up with the unique grille pattern, then folded it in a way that recalls the production Jeep’s slotted grille.”
The Mopar steel front bumper does double-duty. “We use it in the front and in the rear so we could have a winch in the back of the vehicle as well,” Allen explained. Other aftermarket parts on the Crew Chief include Dana 60 front and rear axles with air-locking differentials, and a 4-in (102-mm) Mopar lift kit with Jeep Performance Parts/Fox 2.0 remote reservoir shocks.
Crew Chief’s 40-in-tall non-directional tires (STA 9.00 x 20's) are mounted on 20-in beadlock wheels. “It’s an old-school military tire, and these skinny, tall tires help convey the attitude of this tough truck,” Allen said, “The control arms and springs are heavier than the production Jeep to handle the Crew Chief’s tire/wheel package.”
The open-air/fabric soft-top, full roll cage Crew Chief with military-styled tailgate accessing a 5-ft-long (1.5-m) cargo box featuring wood flooring. The vehicle is powered by a 3.6-L Pentastar V6 and 5-speed automatic.
Comanche reborn in Renegade-based diesel pickup
In its Comanche concept, Jeep reprises the nameplate of its last production compact pickup sold by AMC from 1984-96. The latest Comanche transforms the Renegade into a midsized soft-top pickup with a 5-ft bed.
Said Allen, “It has a full roll cage, and we built a frame where there wasn’t one. The box is composite with a steel floor underneath.”
Comanche’s cargo bed carries a spare 32-in BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A tire, unlike the spare tire-less Crew Chief. “There was just nowhere to put it. The tire is just so big,” said Allen, noting the Comanche stretched Renegade’s 101.2-in (2570 mm) wheelbase an additional 16.4 in (416 mm). The truck rides on 16-in painted steel wheels.
A 9000-lb (4082-kg) Warn rock crawler winch was fitted into Comanche’s re-crafted front bumper. The vehicle sports a modified Wrangler Rubicon steel rear bumper. Off-road capability is also enhanced via a 2-in (51 mm) Mopar lift kit.
The open-air/soft-top Comanche comes 25 years after the last convertible pickup, the Dodge Dakota Sport, of which less than 3600 units were produced in 1989-91. Comanche is powered by a Fiat Multijet II (JTD) turbodiesel that's available in the European-market Renegade. The 2.0-L unit is mated to FCA's ZF-designed 9-speed automatic with Jeep Active Drive Lock, which includes low range and a locking rear differential.
“We’re pretty excited to try this diesel-powered Comanche off-road,” said Allen. “We’ve made the suspension articulate a little more than the stock suspension system. By adding a lift kit and taking the sway bars off that allowed for a lot more flexible suspension.”
A Jeep pickup based on the Wrangler is under development, but is likely 18 to 36 months from production, according to Manley. When asked by Automotive Engineering if a Renegade-based production pickup is possible, Manley said, “I would never rule anything out. We’ll see what people think of this [Comanche] concept when it gets to Moab.”
Other 2016 Jeep concepts getting a work-out at the Easter Jeep Safari are the extreme-offroader Trailcat (powered by a Hemi Hellcat V8) and the more moderate Trailstorm; both are Wrangler based. There's also the CJ-5 inspired Short Cut, based on a significantly shortened Wrangler chassis, the mildly modified Renegade Commander, and an upgraded and customized Willys FC150 cabover that is certain to draw smiles from the Jeep faithful at Moab.