What is the SUV’s ultimate form?
It’s an almost impossible question, made harder by the fact that we’re currently in the sport utility vehicle’s heyday, with Jeep making one that costs over six figures and Ferrari — whose late chairman famously said, “You have to shoot me first” before he’d sell one with his company’s name — has also succumbed to the supersized trend. But when it comes to sports cars, everyone who dreams in miles per hour has a favorite (speaking of Ferrari, Enzo was known for being keen on the Jaguar E-Type), so there must be some consensus on the apex SUV.
If you’re factoring in performance, affordability and availability, you’re obliged to include the Jeep Wrangler, which has become the de facto king of American off-roaders during its three-decade reign. And if you’re taking an anything under the sun approach, then you’ll still have to consider the Wrangler, albeit some of the automaker’s more exclusive offerings — namely, their annual Easter Jeep Safari concept vehicles.
What Is the Easter Jeep Safari?
The Jeep Safari is a trail-riding event that’s beckoned all manner of off-roading disciples to Moab, Utah since 1967. (As the website for the current host, a local club called Red Rock 4-Wheelers, notes, creating a rock-crawling pilgrimage was the whole point; the affair was originally dreamt up by the Moab Chamber of Commerce.) So while the automotive namesake didn’t start it as a brand-building exercise, they have used the occasion to trot out a handful of one-off custom vehicles.
As Jim Morrison, head of Jeep Brand North America, said this year, the Easter Safari “has long been our testing ground for both our newest Jeep 4x4s and for showcasing new Jeep brand concepts, Jeep Performance Parts and ideas that truly resonate with our most passionate customers.” That includes throwbacks to classic models like the CJ and Jeepster, but for our purposes today, we’re focusing on the Wrangler.
But calling these Easter Jeep Safari vehicles “concepts” is a little misleading, as the term often calls to mind futuristic but sedentary prototypes that get toted around to car shows with little chance of putting rubber to road, or even turning over. What Jeep brings to Moab are fully functioning dream machines; they can climb and ford alongside your Toyota 4Runner, but they’re also one-offs that usually get forgotten when Easter Monday rolls around.
In the interest of a little off-road record keeping worthy of our SUV era, and to celebrate the return of the event after it was canceled last year because of the pandemic, we’ve picked out our six favorite Wrangler concepts from over the years. Looking for some inspiration for your own desert-conquering 4×4? Here’s an Easter Jeep Safari crash course, figuratively speaking.
The Best Wrangler Concepts to Hit Moab
The 2021 Wrangler Magneto
The automaker has had a lot of grand plans for electrifying their lineup, many of which have not come to fruition. But with the Magneto, Jeep has finally delivered its first battery electric vehicle. While the name could refer to the electrical generators that do have a history with car engines, we think this Wrangler gives off more of an X-Men vibe. (Also hands down the best EV name we’ve ever heard.) While an electric vehicle may not seem suited for off-road exploration, this model features a six-speed manual transmission (paired with a clutch, no less), as well as four battery packs strategically placed to balance the extra weight and still allow it to roll through water up to 30 inches. If this is what Jeep’s EV future looks like, we’re sold.
2007 Wrangler JT
First sent to the desert in 2007, the two-door JT shares its two-letter designation with the new Jeep Gladiator pickup, as both are Jeep trucks. But we can still slot this one under the SUV column because it’s based on the military version of the Wrangler at the time, known internally as the JK. Along with its five-foot bed, it also included a number of standard upgrades, from a suspension lift to mud tires to a winch, and according to Jeep’s records, it was able to navigate some of the most harrowing obstacles around Moab. The best detail, though, might just be the color: Hearing Aide Beige.
2009 Wrangler Lower Forty
To be frank, oversized tires and unnecessary lifts are a scourge on American roads, simply for the fact that too many people indulge for no reason at all. The Lower Forty, which hit the trail in 2009, has a very good reason for its cartoonish silhouette: the folks at Mopar Underground, a design team that took on these concepts back in the day, wanted to up the ground clearance without shifting the center of gravity. The solution? Hack off a bunch of the body then hook 40-inch tires on 20-inch wheels.
2011 Wrangler Blue Crush
We’ll concede that this particular Wrangler does look like the daily driver of some rich kid villain in a teen movie, but we like it because Jeep attempted to play kingmaker for the King of Hammers, a race that requires both speed and superior rock-crawling abilities. To fulfill those requirements, there’s a Mopar 426 cubic-inch Hemi engine paired with a high-performance suspension setup, though it’s not clear what kind of sound system there is for blasting the Blestenation version of “Cruel Summer.”
2012 Wrangler Mighty FC
The FC here stands for Forward Control, paying homage to a cab-over-engine model the brand produced between 1956 and 1965. While this concept features a sizable bed, over 8 feet long, it’s still based on the 2012 Wrangler Rubicon, which is evident from its face. The New York Times wrote at the time that this style of vehicle is “beloved of a fringe contingent in the collecting community,” though this particular version may be priced out of most budgets with expensive Mopar Portal Axles that give it that extra height.
2015 Wrangler Africa
The “ultimate Jeep Wrangler for back-country and overland expeditions,” according to the company at the time, the Africa model looks like it hightailed it straight out of an Indiana Jones flick. Yes, the body is elongated to offer more cargo space, but there are a few more tricks than that, including an underbody mounted tire, fender fuel cans and lots of space on the roof. You couldn’t ask for a more timeless adventure-mobile.
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