A a few weeks ago i was roaming around delhi in a big SUV, and after stopping at a friend’s house, his driver had to move this vehicle around. Curious about his thoughts on the vehicle, I asked the driver about his experience behind the wheel. He said, “Yeh farji maal nahin haigenuine Hello.” This is not a rip-off, it’s genuine. Make of that what you will, because the vehicle in question was the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the latest iteration of a vehicle that has a tangible history.
Many brands and products try to create a myth; a story of how something was invented, how inspiration suddenly struck. A lot of this is PR mombo-jumbo but sometimes a brand or product comes along that really has a good background. In an age when cars are mass-produced by robots, few brands have Jeep’s epic background.
The original Jeep’s blueprints were completed in just two days by designer and engineer Karl Probst in 1940. He worked for the American Bantam Car Company and, as this was a wartime requirement, his design was shared with Willys and Ford. Willys, adapting its ‘Go Devil’ engine for the vehicle, would take it further.
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The journey from the drawing board to the Willys MB took over a year and in mid-1941 the first jeeps started rolling off the production line. That is why, even today in the memorabilia distributed by the company, “1941” is celebrated as the year of the Jeep’s birth. It was the first mass-produced light 4×4 vehicle, and US President Dwight Eisenhower considered it one of the most important pieces of equipment in the European theater of war. It is considered an “International Mechanical Engineering Landmark” by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Thousands of Jeeps also came to India to serve as support vehicles for the US Army Air Force operating on the “Hump Road” to China as well as in the Burma Theater.
There is indeed a large market for old classic World War II Jeeps in some parts of India, especially Kerala and Rajasthan. Although few can be considered true period parts after being modified with more modern engines and suspension parts.
The Willys MB not only gave birth to the Jeep, it also inspired a host of off-road bikers who sought to follow the same lightweight four-wheel drive philosophy. Some got a little bigger like the Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, but the basic concept was the same. And to this day, militaries and paramilitaries around the world value such cars not only as support vehicles but also as offensive vehicles. After the war, returning American servicemen from Europe clamored for a vehicle like the Jeep and the “Jeep CJ” (civilian Jeep) was born. It is the Jeep CJ3A that Mahindra manufactured under license for many years. The same evolved into the modern Thar, although Jeep and Mahindra are in a long-running legal feud.
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First Wrangler to Rubicon
Willys, the original manufacturer of the Jeep, had become part of the American Motor Corporation and in 1987 the brand was sold to Chrysler, and today Jeep is owned by Stellantis, an American-French-Italian global automaker. The year 1987 was also when Jeep produced the first Wrangler. This can only be described as a lifestyle SUV, designed for people who really like to go anywhere and one that harked back to the brand’s past unlike the more comfortable American-sized giants like the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Having driven the latest version of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in Delhi, I can vouch that it can take on any terrain. Its features surpass what a regular showroom car can do.
The Rubicon is track rated and Jeep gives the moniker to vehicles that can pretty much go anywhere – off-road be damned and the ‘Rubicon’ moniker is not one given lightly.
Although this vehicle harkens back to the Jeep’s origins, it is huge. Thanks to the huge and thick all-terrain tires, you sit high like a bus driver, and when you pass other vehicles, you feel that your pedals are at the same level as the heads of those sitting in sedans and hatchbacks.
To be honest, I didn’t take the Rubicon on any adventures, but if I did, it would be comfortable. It has all the modern conveniences, including a reversing camera mounted on the spare wheel hub, and roof-post speakers, as the doors (and roof) are removable. Yes, you can climb every mountain and cross every stream with the Wrangler Rubicon, but you can do it with a relative amount of comfort.
That said, such driving experiences don’t come cheap. The Wrangler Rubicon, which has been assembled in India, is priced at a rather steep Rs 62 lakh, similar to the BMW X3 30i. Although you can’t cross bodies of water deeper than a few centimeters with the German SUV, it is much more comfortable inside. And since the Wrangler Rubicon sits on all-terrain tires, there’s significant tire noise. It is also not economical to drive in town and gets four-five kilometers per liter from the two-liter turbocharged petrol engine with 268 horsepower, which is also a good performance. While the car makes a statement on city roads and as you pull up to the hotel lobby, attendants rush you, this isn’t a vehicle you’d buy if you’re just going to drive it around town.
The Wrangler Rubicon is a worthy bearer of the Jeep name. It can create its own path and if I were an adventure junkie with that kind of money, I would jump and pick it up and explore a country like India where there are thousands of places that no other vehicle could possibly reach. And maybe one day I will. But this is not the vehicle one would buy if they live in an urban jungle and see the airport as their second home.
No matter how many potholes the roads have and no matter how desperately one would like to project that they are an alpha male.
(Editing by Ratan Priya)