What Makes a Jeep a Jeep

A wide-ranging discussion with the man in charge of the look of that venerable marque

By Gary S. Vasilash

Mark Allen is presently the head of Jeep exterior design.

He’s been on the Jeep team since 1994.

Which pretty much means that everything you see in showrooms right now he had his hand in.

And as Jeep owners tend to be hang onto their vehicles—and drive them, drive them in places where few other vehicles can be driven—Allen has probably been involved with them, too.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we spend the entire hour talking to Allen about the how, why, wherefore, who and more of Jeep design.

A good portion of the conversation is dedicated to the vehicles that participated in this the Easter Jeep Safari that occurred this past April in Moab, Utah. This is an annual event that Allen and his colleagues specifically develop vehicles for—bona-fide Jeeps that are able to crawl the rocks with the best of them, but Jeeps that have specific themes or techs that they want to get first-hand feedback about from the people who assemble in Moab with their vehicles.

Among the vehicles Allen describes are:

The Wrangler Magneto. This is a battery-electric vehicle. Allen is particularly interested in the performance of electric motors for Jeeps, not only because they are quiet and so when going on trails it is possible to not scare away the wildlife, but also because they allow the vehicle to be precisely controlled, which can make all the difference when making a difficult ascent or transition.

Jeeps at the 2021 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. (Image: Jeep)

The Jeepster Beach. A resto-mod based on a 1968 Jeepster Commando. Allen says they like to do at least one resto-mod per Safari.

Jeep Red Bare. A Gladiator Rubicon-based concept that utilizes a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. Highly customized, he points to the interior seat material, which resembles a lumberjack’s shirt.

Jeep Orange Peelz. This one was done by the Mopar studios. It brings in the half-doors and features a custom one-piece glass sunroof.

Jeep Farout. A Gladiator tricked out with a AT Overland Equipment Habitant Truck Topper. Allen points out that often tents on vehicles are dark and oppressive. In this case they worked to lighten things up.

Jeep Top Dog. Another execution by the Mopar team. This Gladiator-based concept is developed for mountain bikers, with a bike and gear case built onto the vehicle—as is a rotisserie hot dog cooker. (One imagines that serious mountain bike athletes probably don’t eat a whole lot of hot dogs. . . .)

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. “Wait a minute,” some of you might be thinking. That’s a production vehicle. Yes, but here’s the thing. Allen explains that it was going to be a large part of the 2020 Safari, something of a tease, but then the pandemic got in the way.

Allen also talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Mark Williams and me about the forthcoming Grand Cherokee L, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, and the absolute importance of the Wrangler to what is arguably the phenomenon that is known as “Jeep.”

And you can see it all here.

Jeep Goes to Moab

Last year they had to give it a pass. This year, the Jeep team is back in force

There are probably few people who work in the auto industry who have more fun than those who have the opportunity to work on developing Jeeps because in addition to doing their day jobs (as in “developing Jeeps”—that are destined for a dealership near you), they also do a sponsored side hack, which has them developing vehicles that are taken to Moab, Utah, for the annual Easter Jeep Safari.

Going to Moab March 27 to April 4 from Auburn Hills are (l to r) Jeep Red Bare, Jeep Magneto, Jeepster Beach and Jeep Orange Peelz.  

(Odds are that once upon a time the vehicles that were snuck out garages and shipped to Moab were literally snuck out and cobbled together from an array of parts that these designers and engineers managed to accumulate; given the great reception that these vehicles have received from the Jeep Faithful, it is now a fully legit undertaking. Just listen to Jim Morrison, vp, Jeep Brand North America: “The Moab Easter Jeep 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 — the die-hard off-road enthusiasts who attend this event every year.” The die-hard off-road enthusiasts who buy Jeeps as well as products from Jeep Performance Parts.)

While some have criticized Stellantis for being somewhat behind the curve when it comes to having electric vehicles on offer (hybrids, yes, EVs, no), for ’21 one of the vehicles for this year’s Safari is the Jeep Wrangler Magneto, not a nod to Marvel but a reference to the permanent magnet electrical generator. The motor in the Magneto is said to be equal to the output of a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6; it generates 285 hp and 273 lb-t of torque. What is unusual for an EV—though not for a Wrangler—is that it features a six-speed manual transmission. Of course it does.

Then there’s the Jeepster Beach, which started as a 1968 Jeepster Commando and was melded with a 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Here’s a fun fact about Commandos: it was the first compact 4WD with things like roll-up windows and a roof as standard equipment. A roof. (Guess what the Jeepster Beach is shown without?)

The Red Bare Gladiator Rubicon is built for dealing with the tough terrain, with a 3.0-liter diesel, an eight-speed automatic calibrated for low-RPM shifts, and upgraded Dana 44 front and rear heavy axles. It has a 91:1 crawl ratio. If you don’t know what that means, you can know that it is impressive for those who crawl on the rocks at Moab.

And the Orange Peelz. This one has things like half doors and is without things like side and rear windows. But it does have a windshield made of Corning Gorilla Glass.

Good fun will be had by all, one suspects.

A Jeep Cherokee By Any Other Name

Naming cars is hard

In light of the kerfuffle between Stellantis, owner of the Jeep brand, and the Cherokee Nation, whose chief, Chuck Hoskin, Jr., told Car and Driver that the Stellantis marque really ought to give up the name “Cherokee” for its Grand Cherokee and Cherokee vehicles as a matter of respect, we thought we would bring you names that poet Marianne Moore came up with for Ford in 1955 when it was searching for a name for what would become the Edsel.

Here are some of them, cited by Poetry Foundation (where else?):

Hurricane Accipter
The Impeccable
The Resilient Bullet
Intelligent Bullet
Bullet Cloisoné
Bullet Lavolta
The Intelligent Whale
The Ford Fabergé
The Arc-en-Ciel
Mongoose Civique
Regna Racer
Fée Rapide

Moore’s final suggestion: Utopian Turtletop.

If you think about it, “Anticipator” would be a good name for a Level 2+ or higher autonomous vehicle.

Incidentally: Moore was no poetic slouch. Among her many writing awards are the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.–gsv