Each year, thousands of off-road enthusiasts converge on Moab, Utah, for a spring holiday celebration that has very little to do with jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, or egg hunts.
Hosted by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, a local but nationally known 4x4 club in Moab, Easter Jeep Safari (EJS), is a nine-day, trail ride extravaganza that draws thousands of amateur, semi-pro, and expert off-roaders and 4WD clubs from around the country. Some even come from across the globe for this annual gathering of the four-wheeling faithful, which is somewhat akin to Daytona Bike Week for motorcycle enthusiasts. And for a number of years, automakers and aftermarket suppliers have used this ever-growing event as a location to try out and show off concept trail machines, as well as display what's new in the off-road glitter and glamour department and the latest offerings of 4WD hardware.
Historically, the EJS also has been a chance for Jeep to partner with Mopar (its automotive parts and accessories supplier and performance group) and to showcase new trail concepts and vehicle equipment. This year, Jeep and Mopar used EJS for the debut of six concept vehicles: three customized Wranglers, a Grand Cherokee, a Jeep J-12 concept, and a Mighty FC concept. This year also marks the launch of an official off-road division of Mopar, with Jeep-certified OEM parts and accessories. The first offerings from the new catalogue are Pro 60 portal axles and a Hemi conversion kit for Wranglers. Jeep invited Truck Trend along for a day on the trails to get behind the wheel of the new models. We tried each. Now, you come along for the ride!
During our time in Moab, we joined Venchurs Vehicle Systems, of Adrian, Michigan, on a day-long trail ride with four new "hero-built," customized V-Werks models: the Bi-Fuel Ford F-250 Park Ranger truck; the 2012 JK 8 Limited Edition Red Jacket Jeep; the 2012 JK Recon; and the VWerks Caballo Diablo (Spanish for "devil horse"). Come along with us on these rides, as well. We even took a night-time, high-rocks run into a swath of isolated Moab back country, and were on the scene for the testing of the flame-throwing Caballo Diablo, designed as an anti-terrorist model to serve in markets like South Africa and the Gulf Coast Cooperative countries. You can feel the heat, too. See for yourself: We have photos and a video clip to prove it!
2012 Jeep Wrangler Traildozer Concept
Remember when Toyota pickup aficionados started repainting the "Toyota" on the tailgate with "Tonka"? In a similar conflation of toy-truck/real-truck love, the Traildozer concept captures the imagination of a kid pushing an unthinkably powerful dozer around the sandbox. But this is better: It's real.
Painted a screaming Dozer Yellow (exclusive to the 2012 Wrangler lineup), the Traildozer is the result of the collaboration between Jeep and engineers at American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). Delivering 470 hp, this special-edition 6.4-liter Wrangler Rubicon shares the Dodge Challenger SRT8 Hemi engine and has a Getrag 238 six-speed manual transmission.
Rubicon-specific Dana 44 axles with 4:10 gears and electronic locking differentials transfer power to the wheels. Trail debris is cleared through an AEV Dualsport RS 3.5-inch suspension lift and 37-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires. The exterior is treated with special "boulder-bashing" front and rear bumpers and corner guards, a Mopar performance heat-reduction hood, a half-door kit, and a Mopar/Warn 9.5 Cti winch. Stepping inside, you'll sit on AEV "F-1" leather-trimmed seats and rest your boots on Mopar slush mats.
2012 Jeep Wrangler Apache Concept
A Mopar imprint, this riverbed runner has a conversion kit available for Jeep owners to build their own 470-hp Jeep. Available this summer, the swap kit will be rolled out first for automatic transmissions and next for manual versions.
To handle the Hemi V-8 that also packs 470 lb-ft of torque along with its 39-inch crawler tires, the Apache has been fitted with Mopar Pro 60 5.13 front and rear axles, a 4.5-inch Stage 3 long-arm lift kit and off-road bead-lock wheels. A Warn 9.5ti XP winch will help you pull others out along the trail, while Katzkin leather seats and a Mopar-inspired interior with a locking center-console box upfit your off-road cockpit. You'll also love the Plus and the cool-blue interior accents and the "bust-a-drum' sound system. Other exterior upgrades include high-clearance flat fenders, rock rails, front and rear half-door kits, a Stinger front bumper and a full-sized spare tire.
Mopar fitted a twin-stick Atlas transfer case to the Apache. This lets you independently select drive range for the two axles for assistance with more tricky or technical maneuvers, i.e., front drive in low-range gearing with the rear axle in neutral enables very tight turns off-road.
Wrangler Display Concept; Mopar Accessorized 2012 Jeep Wrangler
Mopar's Wrangler Display Concept started life as a standard Wrangler Rubicon before Mopar added height with a 2-inch lift kit and 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires mounted on Classic 5-hole wheels; and installed Rubicon-standard Dana 44 front and rear axles with electric lockers, which are also available in kit form from Mopar. Other outside hardware includes a Warn 9.5ti XP winch and Mopar rock rails. Inside, you'll love the sound from the Kicker dash 6.5-inch two-way speakers and the muck-absorbing Mopar all-weather mats. These goodies and other add-ons can be ordered from the Mopar catalog, which now includes more than 250 items for Wranglers.
You could call the Wrangler Display Concept a trail addict's mobile mannequin or mini-size candy store as it also showcases new prototype Mopar accessories that include a locking center console box, a rear cargo cubby cover, new windshield-mounted LED lamps, a new hard-top headliner, and an "Add-A-Trunk" partition for secure storage space in the cargo area.
Jeep Mighty FC Concept
Abbreviated from "Forward Control," the name for Jeep's unique pickups built from 1956 to 1965 is applied to an all-new 2012 concept model. Beloved by many, the chunky little trucks now are reborn through a modified Wrangler Rubicon engineered with its cabin positioned over the front axle. It's been moved 21.6 inches forward, but the engine and transmission are in the same location as in a regular Wrangler, behind and under the cab of the FC. The roof is borrowed from the Mopar JK-8 conversion kit, and there's a custom front clip. A longer wheelbase measuring 117 inches and a drop-side, full-width cargo box add to this pickup's utility; the bed is more than 8 feet long. The FC's windshield and doors are from the Wrangler, as well.
Mopar's Portal Axle set, which offers the most ground clearance available without a full lift kit, is part of the package, and axle movement is controlled by King coil-over assemblies with reservoir shocks with upgraded Terraflex control arms and track bars. The FC has Hanson bumpers and rides on massive 40-inch tires mounted on custom Hutchinson 17-inch bead-lock wheels and sports a Warn 16.5 winch and Corsa stainless steel exhaust system. The Portals take up so much space in the wheelwells that there are two small calipers per corner, as opposed to one large one.
Hauling yourself inside this colossal truck with a Unimog-like front face, you'll find the Wrangler-based cockpit has been trimmed in a ready-for-work-duty Katzkin leather, with a bold color scheme, unique to this concept model. Motoring it is surprisingly easy, once you're situated at the controls. Steering, braking, and overall maneuvering have been engineered for an ease of operation that will make you forget it's truly oversized. During our drive on the Dome Plateau Trail of Moab, we were impressed by its handling along tight and twisty sand-washed tracks as well as its rock-crawling talents, with its great angles of approach and departure, reminiscent of a Hummer H1. Among its best surprise and delight features is a bottle opener located on the bed of the truck.
** Mopar's Front Portal Axle (8-lug, part number P5155670) is available at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $12,500, and the Rear Portal Axle's (8-lug, part number P5155671) MSRP is $11,000.
Jeep J-12 Concept
An eye-appealing Mopar pickup conversion, the Jeep J-12 concept has been crafted on the extended version of the new 2012 Wrangler Unlimited-4-door-frame, which has been lengthened by 18 inches. Actually a buildout of the JK-8 conversion kit, the J-12 has a six-foot cargo box with the spare tire relocated under the bed floor. Its custom hood and front fenders were created as a nod to fans of the Jeep Gladiator series.
A word about those Gladiators, which were built from 1962 to 1971: Actually based on the old Wagoneer platform and featuring a "rhino" grille, these trucks were considered full-size, thanks to a regular cab and long bed. This version has a retro-cool look that was dubbed "OMT" ("old man truck") during the design and production process.
The J-12 gets additional off-road panache as it is lifted 3 inches with a Mopar kit and uses Teraflex anti-roll bars tied to ARB air-locker-equipped Dynatrac D-44 and D-60 axle assemblies. It rides on 36-inch tires with 16-inch steel wheels. Other highlights include a Mopar fuel-filler door and slush mats, Tom Woods driveshafts, and Katzkin seats.
The cabin has been "dressed down" to imbue a basic-truck theme. Carpet is traded for a rugged truck bedliner, and the seat buckets have been redesigned into a modern bench seat, with a whimsical plaid pattern, set off by white trim
Grand Cherokee Trailhawk Concept
Among the bevy of Wrangler-inspired trucks is a solo Grand Cherokee concept, elements of which Jeep indicates will be in production by late 2012. Projecting a no-bling image that puts it at home on the trail, as well as on the urban streets and highways where many Grand Cherokees prevail, the Trailhawk is Stone White with Mineral Gray and Red accents, including a contrast-color hood treatment and red tow hooks protruding from below the front fender. Red "Trail Rated" badging and a unique "Trailhawk" logo adorn the exterior, along with black headlamp surrounds, black front and rear badging, and a rear light bar. A glare-reducing red trim outlines the matte black hood applique aids with off-roading in bright light.
Power comes from the Grand Cherokee platform's Quadra-Drive II 4WD system. Added are air suspension, Selec-Terrain traction control, a rear electronic limited slip differential, and an Off-Road Adventure Package.
Boosted by 18-inch Goodyear Wrangler SilentArmor off-road tires with 5-spoke Mineral Gray wheels, and Jeep logos in the wheel center caps and bolt holes in the alloy wheels. Trailhawk has Mopar-modified rock rails to protect the lower body from the rigors of backcountry terrain.
BI-Fuel Ford F-250 Park Ranger Truck-2012 F-250 with Gaseous Prep Package
VWerks' bi-fuel, gas-Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) pickup started life as a Ford F-250 modified by Venchurs, Inc. for the Blue Oval. Built initially as a search-and-rescue vehicle for Yellowstone National Park Rangers, the truck has been modified to enhance off-road capability, especially for the extreme conditions in this national park that receives heavy snows throughout the winter.
The truck is powered by a 6.2-liter engine with a gaseous prep package. It rides on BFGoodrich LT 325/60R20 T/A Mud Terrain KM2 off-road tires, and sports a roof-mounted light bar with strobes, an on-board air compressor, a special front bumper guard, IPF driving lights, a 16,000-pound-capacity Warn winch and has a set of retractable side steps from AMP Research. The front and back suspension systems are lifted with a 2-inch front replacement from Superlift and a 1-inch rear block kit; Superride SS/Bilstein shock absorbers help smooth the ride. It also gets underbody protection from an Asfir skidplate, while Fab Fours heavy-duty front and rear bumpers safeguard the body.
Venchurs' bi-fuel system has "on-the-fly switching" capabilities that allow you to flip a switch while you're driving, changing back and forth between the two fuel types depending on conditions and needs. For example, a search-and-rescue mission through snowdrifts on a remote park access road might benefit from CNG motoring to help protect the fragile ecosystem from polluting emissions. Once back on the open road, switching to gas can bring more power and get a rescued victim to safety sooner. The Bi-Fuel system also enables a drive range of up to 650 miles, a boon in remote park areas, where gas stations are few and far between.
2012 VWerks JK8 Limited Edition Red Jacket Jeep
The cult-favorite Jeep Wrangler CJ-8 Scrambler pick-up is the granddaddy of VWerk's JK8 Limited Edition Red Jacket, a custom showcase vehicle for both VWerks and the Red Jacket Firearms company featured on The Discovery Channel's "Sons of Guns" reality TV series.
With a 285-hp, 260-lb-ft. torque-producing 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood and 40-inch tires (BFG 40x14.50R17/C Krawler T/A KXs) with Hutchinson Bead lock rims under the chassis, this truck is to the original Army Jeep what a semi-automatic pistol is to a turret shooter -- smaller and sleeker, but still awesome in its firepower.
The highly modified Jeep is built on the platform of the four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The JK8 conversion kit turns the truck into pickup with a 50-inch bed that's 44 inches wide between the wheelwells. The Red Jacket version is treated with a sleek, high-touch Candy Apple Red paint, special badging and lots of off-road add-ons from VWerks and Mopar. It sports a Warn 9500 winch.
Gearing comes from a five-speed auto transmission with 5.38 gears, and the modified Mopar 4-inch short-arm lift kit, VWerks lift modifications and a Big Brake kit. All help the Red Jacket easily climb hills, conquer boulders, and trundle along off-road trails. Special VWerks bumpers and rear differential covers make the Jeep stand out, as do a frame extension (part of the JK8 6-inch-plus package) and a custom spray-in bedliner. Custom tie-downs and modified box sides are part of the conversion; leather Katzkin seats and a blowout, Kicker custom sound system complete the package.
2012 VWerks JK Recon
This Jeep-based, special-duty vehicle looks like it would be at home patrolling a military command compound -- and it likely will be. Like the VWerks JK8 Red Jacket pickup, this 'ute has a Jeep face and a pickup bed. Unlike its sibling Red Jacket, it is painted in muted shades of green and dark khaki to help with camouflage. The Recon is meant to be used, not seen.
Protected by IED-resistant plates in the bed, which also allow for a better standing place for gunners, the Recon has an ultra-tough rollcage as well as rock rails, Mopar half-doors, and specially designed headlamps. A 9.5 self-recovery thermometric Warn winch is accompanied by a military trailer Pintle Hook Hitch Combo to enable towing up to 16,000 pounds. A collection of military-specific accessories are included, from weapons stands and machine-gun mounts to ammunition cans.
Under the hood is a 5.7-liter Hemi that produces 390-hp and 407 lb-ft of torque mated to a five-speed tranny; the drivetrain includes Dynatrac complete high clearance, high pinion ProRock 60 front assembly with an ARB air locker, competition axle shafts, and CTM u-joints. The rear axle is a Pro80 with a Detroit locker and competition VWerks axle shafts.
Tires are 39-inch BFG Krawlers with Hutchinson 17-inch beadlock rims; a high-lift jack is onboard for backcountry tire changes and mechanical repairs. Accessories include military shovels and pick-axes as well as Jerry cans and an air compressor. While comfort and style aren't the first priorities for most riders who will be climbing into the Recon, the vehicle features comfy forest-green Katzkin leather seats and VWerks custom floormats.
The PIAA 520 All-Terrain Pattern Light is powered by PIAA's proprietary ATP technology, and delivers a beam with the perfect combination of height, width, and distance. This lamp is designed with a 12-volt Xtreme white H3 85-watt comparable to the illumination of a 135-watt bulb.
2012 VWerks Caballo Diablo
You wouldn't expect to see the Caballo Diablo trotting past your home -- unless you happen to live near a combat zone or in a third-world country, where safety for many executives, dignitaries, and political figures is an everyday risk.
Based on the Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab Short Bed pickup and the Mopar Ram Runner kit, the Caballo Diablo (Spanish for "Devil Horse") was designed for secure transport of dignitaries and their families as well as military and police use. It also can come equipped with flame throwers that shoot fire from the sides of the vehicle (VWerks calls it the "Dragon's Mouth).
Caballo Diablo is powered by a 5.7-liter Hemi making 390 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque; it is mated to a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Optional is an 8.4-liter Viper V-8 up to 710 ho and 664 lb-ft of torque; a heavy-duty four-speed transmission and heavy-duty axle package also are available.
Specialized suspension components begin with a KORE "Tactical Series" framework and include 14 inches of front and rear wheel travel, race-series control arms, rebuildable high-angle ball joints, and a five-link, coil spring rear suspension.
The exterior features a "Dragon Skin" ballistic armored cabin. Kevlar fiber front and rear body panels protect the vehicle and its occupants, but can be sloughed off during what VWerks calls "aggressive tactical driving." In fact, the front bumper is specially designed to "permit aggressive contact with other vehicles." We're not talking about everyday defensive driving here.
A 6-inch spotlight and wide-angle high-intensity headlamps are standard issue; an infrared auxiliary light package can be ordered. Tires are 35-inch BF Goodrich off-roaders with 17-inch rims. And those flame throwers? They're available, too, as an optional add-on, but, sorry, not in the U.S.!
Moab: Many say Moab is America's top off-roading location. What all agree on, though, is that Moab boasts some of the best and most varied four wheeling in the U.S. There are hundreds of miles of backcountry trails, most are left over from mining days. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore the mixed topography of deserts and canyons, motoring on tracks that range from a difficulty of a #1 (unimproved or rarely graded roads, 4WD or extra clearance needed at times; no special driving skill required) up to a #5 (locking differentials and tow hooks, front and rear, are necessary. A winch is urgently recommended, unless you travel with someone who has one. Expert driving skill is critical!).
If You Go: During Easter Jeep Safari, there are 4WD runs from sun-up to sundown each day. There will be some of the most sophisticated trail-vehicle technology you'll ever see. But it's also a down-home event, highlighted by camp-outs and cook-fires. Participants provide their own four-wheel-drive vehicles or rent them from a number of purveyors in town.