For the past 53 years, Jeep enthusiasts have made a pilgrimage to Moab, Utah, not merely to take in the majesty of its monumental red-rock scenery but to drive up it, over it, and on it. What started as a one-day trail drive in 1967 with a handful of local Jeep owners has grown into a nine-day event with thousands of participants from all over the country. For the past dozen or so years, Jeep, as a brand, has been leveraging the Safari by unveiling concept vehicles to the throngs to gauge interest, prove their commitment to the niche endeavor, and gather trail cred in the process.
Jeep concepts aren’t merely fragile show queens. They’re a legitimate “trail-rated” show of force. And because the 2020 Gladiator made its debut this year, all the concepts this year were truck-based. Three were built from available-at-launch Mopar/Jeep Performance parts, and three are outrageous concepts with a good amount of fabrication, but all are wholly capable. Let’s take a look at each one but dive deeper into two in particular.
The Jeep team located an original 1968 M-715 military vehicle, based on the original Gladiator, and reimagined it as a monster desert runner and rock crawler. More than just a resto-mod, the Five-Quarter is so named as the original was rated to carry one-and-one-quarter tons. Unlike the rest of the concept Gladiators, which were all powered by 3.6-liter V-6s, this stunning machine gets a 6.2-liter supercharged “Hellcrate” V-8 engine producing 707 horsepower going through a TorqueFlight 727 three-speed. Everywhere you look, there are fascinating details. The sheetmetal grille surround was replaced with carbon fiber, its convertible top was dropped by 3.5 inches, and the rear features a custom-fabricated perforated 6-foot aluminum/wood bed of water jet-cut panels and wood slats. The floating Jeep tailgate is also water jetted aluminum.
The truck’s original rockers were replaced with functional rock rails, and modified front Gladiator Rubicon steel bumpers have been installed. New HID headlights along with LED auxiliary lights provide excellent illumination. LED halo lights have been installed in the original taillight buckets. Original leaf springs and suspension bits were replaced with a heavy-duty link/coil suspension system and axles with Dynatrac Pro-rock (60 front/80 rear). The entire thing sits on 40-inch tires riding 20-inch wheels. Inside, repurposed Wrangler seats, free of headrests, are just the start. Also, water-jetted aluminum components make up the instrument panel and the Design Operations Jeep Division door panels. A repurposed, vintage 8-71 supercharger housing encases the transmission and transfer case shifters. The truck’s original spec placards have been lovingly restored to new.
Driving, even on a short, unchallenging off-road course, was harrowing. Just thinking about the amount of time and money put into the Five-Quarter served as its own organic-based stability and traction control system. The throttle pedal was light and very sensitive; just a fraction of an inch produced an immediate and loud response from the Hemi. The ultralight power steering was almost inappropriate for the hulking truck that originally had no assist. Once underway, bouncing on the top few inches of the purpose-built suspension, I could tell we weren’t coming close to Five-Quarter’s capabilities. As if they weren’t even there, the one set of rock steps it crawled up and over wasn’t a challenge in the least. The drive was over too quickly, and I asked the Jeep folks if they had yet “opened it up.” The said the day before we arrived, they’d seen 75 mph on flat stretch of desert, and I believe them. At least I got 10 minutes in what is already a Jeep icon.