Jeep Chief Concept
Nostalgia is a powerful force, capable of inducing wistful pangs of desire in otherwise sane individuals. More than one Evel Knievel Canyon Sky Cycle action figure owes its survival to some poor sucker dealing with his mortality by assembling a well-curated collection. (FYI: Evel’s helmet is missing—they’re always missing.) The designers at Jeep are well aware of this phenomenon and, judging by the sheer number of retro-themed Jeep concepts they’ve cooked up over the past years, are themselves likely experiencing this affliction. The difference, of course, is that while our small-scale exploits rarely extend past the display shelf, Jeep designers are actively encouraged to explore the past as a portal to the future with full-size hardware.
Blessed with the ladder frame and solid-axle underpinnings from the current-generation “JK” Wrangler as a canvas to build upon, Jeep has a leg up on the competition when it comes to making fully functional, turf-tearing concept vehicles. In the case of the Chief, the Wrangler Unlimited frame required very little modification to fit the one-off bodywork aside from removing the front and rear frame extensions. Although all four doors and the A-and B-pillars are essentially stock metalwork, the C-pillar has been chopped at sill height, and the bodywork from there on back, including the tailgate, was laid up in fiberglass. To keep the proper proportions, the designers called for a two-inch reduction in the roof height, so the windshield and doors all went under the knife.
Speaking of sleek profiles, you may have noticed that the designers removed the exterior handles on the rear doors, which, combined with the aforementioned chopped C-pillar, gives the Chief the appearance of a two-door vehicle. Closer inspection reveals that the rear doors are still very much in place, but the glass that would normally reside in the window openings is MIA, as is the glass that normally would fill the window openings aft of that point. As such, the Chief not only looks cool but literally is cool, as the fully functional heater had a hard time keeping our feet warm when we rendezvoused with the Chief and Jeep designer Jeff Hammoud on a cold Michigan morning.
Climbing up and into the Chief requires a bit of contortion due to the lowered roofline and raised altitude provided by a two-inch lift kit and the 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires. We found the best method of ingress is to pull your legs up and over the sill as you simultaneously lower your head and then slide/hop your posterior into place. Once seated, it’s straight-up Wrangler, only viewed through a Hawaiian-beach-themed lens. We detailed the Chief’s distinctive styling flourishes earlier, so we’ll just say here that it’s difficult, nay impossible, to be in or around the Chief without a grin on your face; individuals of a certain age might even shed a tear of joy.
As with the Jeep Mighty FC and J-12, two equally inspired Jeep concepts we’ve had the pleasure of driving, the Chief was built not only to look good, but also to soak up real-world abuse without complaint. In that respect, the decision to rely on the corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, six-speed manual transmission, and Dana 44 front and rear axles equipped with Mopar locking differentials was a sound one. Grab the carved-wood tiki shifter, place it into first, and the Chief moves out with the authority one would expect given its Wrangler mechanicals. Grabbing second gear and applying a healthy dose of throttle and steering input lets the Chief kick sideways, sliding through the tall, wet grass in a well-controlled arc. Jeep tells us the only modification to the engine is a cold-air intake.
The roll bar, a custom-made unit that hugs tightly to the B-pillar, suggests an attempt to address the structural compromise introduced by the removal of the C-pillar. The small incline on our drive site is easily ascended in two- or four-wheel drive, in any gear, at any speed; selecting a gear and rolling against engine compression regulates descent speeds. Given a wide swath of uncharted territory and a weekend pass, we’d roll through to Monday stopping only for food and gas—and to give rides to ecstatic spectators like the guy we met in the Dairy Queen parking lot.
On country roads of the sorta-paved variety, the type that haven’t seen so much as a shovelful of fresh asphalt in decades, the Chief wants to wander. Steering inputs are but mere suggestions interrupting a highly animated conversation already taking place between the aggressively lugged tires and the crumbling pavement surfaces. The rosewood slats in the cargo area and on the ceiling that looked so cool when the Chief debuted rattle incessantly; Jeep says the Chief’s schedule has been a busy one, and the constant vibration has eased them free from the adhesive that formerly kept them quiet. The mellow, ’70s beach vibe? Well, that part of the experience remains untainted.
Familiar yet unobtainable, the Chief—whose name and vibe honor a trim level on the 1970s Jeep Cherokee—is a time machine, no flux capacitor required. One piece of advice for Jeep: Keep an eye on that carved-wood tiki shifter; you don’t want anybody stealing your dreams.http://love4x4.net/index.php/2017/12/06/jeep-chief-concept/http://love4x4.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/jeep-chief-concept-driven-feature-car-and-driver-photo-662466-s-original.jpghttp://love4x4.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/jeep-chief-concept-driven-feature-car-and-driver-photo-662466-s-original-150x150.jpgJeep