Jeep fans have been heading out to Utah every spring for the last 45 years to put their off-roaders through the punishment for which they were built. Jeep has wisely followed its fans out to the Moab Easter Jeep Safari for the past few years with the kind of concepts that will excite these hardcore Jeep enthusiasts. Many times these vehicles are just used to gauge the reaction when the engineers have gone overboard with the accessory catalog. So it is refreshing that for 2011 one of these concepts is not only altering the look of the current Jeep Wrangler, but this is one that will also be ready for the road soon.
The Jeep JK-8 Independence turns a four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited SUV into a two-door pickup truck. Both the name and the body style will be familiar to Jeep fans. The Wrangler line carries the torch for the original Civilian Jeeps (CJ), and this one is very reminiscent of the CJ-8 Scrambler that has been missing for nearly 25 years.
Jeep is expected to have its own factory-built trucks out possibly as early as next year. The JK-8 package is for those who cannot wait that long or would rather convert their Wrangler than trade it in for the new truck.
Jeep will be offering the kit through Chrysler's parts arm Mopar. Jeep dealers will be willing to do the conversion for Wrangler Unlimited owners, but Mopar's hear Jim Sassorossi says owners can do it themselves in as little as a weekend. The body modification for this conversion should not take very long. Aside from the doors, the Wrangler Unlimited has only three major external side body panels. From the pictures released by Jeep, the JK-8 appears to trade the rear two for one single piece that covers the former openings for the rear doors and creates part of the truck's b-pillar. The only other outer body piece seems to be a new rear bulkhead that seals the truck cab and offers a sliding rear window.
Mopar will also provide a few new inner body panels and a bed floor to cover up the area that once held the latches for the rear seats. Jeep has not given details on the necessary modifications to the roll bar.
It is no mistake that the JK-8 looks more aggressive than the standard Wrangler Unlimited. For the concept form of the JK-8, Jeep fitted the drivetrain with a Mopar/Dynatrac ProRock 44 front axle and stock Dana 44 rear axle, both spun with 4.88 gears. Linking the axles to the frame is a 4.5-inch long-arm suspension kit and 37-inch BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM2 tires finish off the package.
JK-8 Independence is a reminder of one of the great structural elements of trucks: the ladder frame. Because the Wrangler gets most of its structural strength from its frame, Jeep is able to change out body panels without having to worry too much about the overall effect on the vehicle's rigidity. Unibody vehicles (such as crossovers) carry their vehicle strength within the body, which means a lot more engineering must go into a conversion before performing an adaptation like the JK-8.
Mopar and Jeep have made no announcements on the price to turn a Wrangler Unlimited SUV into a JK-8 truck. We do expect a list soon for in-dealer and at home conversion rates because Mopar wants the kit ready for this summer.