June 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Soup it up

Enthusiasts get tools to jazz up Jeeps

Engineers show mild to wild on- and off-road modifications possible with Mopar accessories

This Cherokee Adventurer has the mildest refinements, such as a prototype roof basket, different tires and under-body rock rails. (Chrysler)

Like Legos, Jeeps seem designed to be taken apart and put back together in various configurations. And it’s not only off-roading Jeep owners who do such things. Each winter, Jeep and Mopar engineers, designers and product planners take a group of spanking new Jeep vehicles and modify them.

Some of the parts used come right out of the Mopar Performance Parts catalog. Some of the pieces are prototypes just about ready for production.

But before production tooling is ordered, the modified Jeeps are taken to the Jeep Safari held each spring on the slickrock off-road trails at Moab, Utah. This spring, Chrysler sent six modified vehicles to Moab for the 48th Safari, an event that draws Jeep enthusiasts and their vehicles from around the U.S. and beyond.

This spring, the official Mopar-modified Jeep contingent included three Wranglers, a Grand Cherokee and a pair of the new Cherokees. Modifications ranged from mild to wild.

Regarding the most wild, Skip Olson, head of the Mopar accessories and performance portfolio, noted that such modifications were “a project of passion, not a project of fiduciary responsibility.”

For example, he said, the creation of the Cherokee Dakar was “an exercise in the art of the possibility.”

Should you want to build your own copy, know that, “This is going to cost you some money and you better have some technical aptitude or have someone who can do such work for you,” Olson said. He explained that the Mopar team cut the Cherokee to create enlarged wheel wells, then created wheel-well overlays to cover larger wheels and tires, and also did some “axle work” to achieve a 48:1 crawl ratio and a 32-degree approach and 39-degree departure angle for extreme off-pavement challenges.

But you don’t have to go so wild, Olson added, pointing to the Cherokee Adventurer, which other than its prototype roof storage basket was modified only with different tires, protective under-body rock rails, custom paint and graphics and a Katzkin leather interior.

The idea behind the Adventurer, he said, was to have a vehicle that could be used for daily commuting while providing worry-free weekend adventures away from pavement.

Asked which vehicle he’d suggest as a model for duplication by Jeep owners, Olson pointed to the Wrangler Level Red because it’s ready for “very serious off-roading but is still a daily driver.”

Equipment on the Level Red — which features TorRed prototype graphics and Pitch Black paint — includes a 2-inch lift kit (for more ground clearance), Dana front and rear axles (for enhanced traction), prototype beadlock wheels (for maximum off-pavement grip), and a prototype cold-air intake and low-flow exhaust (for a slight horsepower boost).

All of those components are bolt-on and thus that can be installed without the need of an advanced degree in mechanical engineering.

The result, he said, is a vehicle that is “great looking and extremely functional as well.”

Olson said the new 2-inch lift kit and the new Dana axles will be available this summer and that a new 4-inch lift kit “is in the pipeline.”

He also said a version of the new Jeep Cargo Management System launched in the Cherokee was showcased on Wranglers at Moab and was well received by owners (which means it likely will be available very soon).

For more information, visit the www.mopar.com website.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.