“Lunatic Fringe”: Jeep employees put up their own money to feed Rubicon

Rubicon is an important model in the Jeeps range and would not have happened if not for the “Lunatic Fringe.”

The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon model is about to celebrate 20 years to be the ultimate off-road vehicle from the factory. How the Rubicon Model came to be is a story of passion and commitment from a group within the company (not so loving) called “Lunatic Fringe.”

In the video below, Jeep Head of Design Mark Allen sits down with Gone-GPN’s Chris Collard in Jeep Rubicon 20th Anniversary Concept on Easter Jeep Safari to talk about Rubicon’s history. The two talk about the original Jeep Rubicon, the future of the vehicle and the history of the Rubicon Trail.

Allen describes the team that worked on the original as “hobbyist mountain bikers.” After adjusting to trends in the terrain industry, they modified their jeeps into more capable terrain animals.

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The team knew what rock-crawlers wanted, and they wanted to give it to them.

A 4: 1 transmission case for low range would add torque multiplication at the wheels as well as finesse at low speeds. Higher tires would help increase ground clearance and allow a vehicle to roll over obstacles instead of dropping into them. And underbody protection would help prevent track damage.

Allen said team members used their personal credit cards to help pay for their ideas – not something that would work in corporate America today. The name Lunatic Fringe (check out the team logo video) was given to the team “because everyone thought they were crazy to even try to do it.”

Jeep thought no one wanted to ride off-road for fun

2022 EJS Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 20th concept; (photo / Jeep)

Allen admits that it sounds strange today, but at the time, he said, Jeep companies saw them as strange because they wanted to ride terrain for fun. The company knew that buyers engaged in hardcore off-roading, but they thought it was a small segment.

But the group eventually got approval to do what would become the Jeep Rubicon, based on the 2003 Jeep TJ. It had Dana 44 axles with air-activated Tru-Lok differentials front and rear. It also had that 4: 1 transfer case, stone rails with diamond plate and 31-inch Goodyear MT / R off-road tires. (Do you remember when 31-inch tires were considered high?)

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The brand’s marketing team predicted that Jeep would sell 3,000 in the first year, and then sales would fall off a cliff after that. They could not have been more wrong.

Ten years later, Jeep launched the 10th anniversary edition of Rubicon. It got the same gearbox, the same Dana axles and now had 32-inch tires, plus special seats, interior details and unique bumpers.

Rubicon now accounts for a third of Wrangler’s sales

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Today, more than 30% of Jeep Wrangler the sale is Rubicon trim. That’s more than 60,000 rubicon a year! That’s why Jeep is getting ready for the 20th anniversary of Rubicon, which is next year.

Jeep will not confirm exactly what the plans for next year’s 20th anniversary model Rubicon are, or even if it will officially offer a special model. But the Easter Jeep Safari concept is likely to be pretty close to the goal.

Last month we spent time behind the wheel of the concept. The basics are steel bumpers, an integrated winch and air compressor and 37-inch tires. If this is how you measure progress, it’s 6 inches in 20 years and would tie the jeep to the highest off-road tires – they Ford Raptor also available with 37s.

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Rubicon Trail: The route that borrowed its name

Of course, the Jeep Rubicon could not exist without the Rubicon Trail. In the previously mentioned video, Collard discusses the history of the trail, from the early days when it was a trade route to when it could be driven by early cars and had a hotel.

The 220 km long route, now mainly a 4 × 4 trail, is located between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento. It was where Jeepers came to play and has been home to a Jeep Jamboree since 1997. It has long been a test site for Jeep and for aftermarket suppliers working to make jeeps more capable.

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