Until recently here in Australia, if you were going to customise or modify your Jeep Wrangler, chances were you'd turn it into the ultimate off-roader.
For certain fans of rugged, ready for anything machines, the Wrangler is a logical choice. Whether it’s covered in mud crawling through the bush, or sparkling clean cruising by the beach, for fans of the open-top 4WD it doesn't get much better.
Now, there is a completely different option. Chelsea Truck Company Sydney is now open for business in Australia with a showroom in Brookvale that garages its first complete project, the Black Hawk Jeep.
Afzal Khan founded the Chelsea Truck Company in the UK in the 1990s. The British automotive designer is also the force behind Kahn Design and Project Kahn.
Kahn's car legacy began when he designed an alloy wheel in 1996. He then expanded into other custom-designed accessories and by 2002 he was doing total vehicle upgrades.
CTC turns Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Defender and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen vehicles into customised creations that combine glamorous finishes with bold body work – but you'd want to be okay with attracting attention if you were to buy one. These things turn heads everywhere they go.
We took the company's first, and so far only, Black Hawk for a cruise around Sydney, from the Northern Beaches to urban areas around the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is, according to CTC, where the Black Hawk will most likely found. Despite the Wrangler's predilection for off-road adventures, the CTC version isn't geared for dirt, dust, mud or sand.
Based on the 2016 Jeep Wrangler Sport, the Black Hawk is just as capable as the standard offering, however the body panels and interior finishes are a little too pretty to want to put it through the wringer off the blacktop.
The paint is a special, custom design that is scratch resistant with a Chromax finish so that's not the issue. Dents in the body panels or damage to the undercarriage however, are.
There are no changes under the bonnet, no sense in voiding the new car warranty – unless of course you really want to, and then CTC Sydney can assist with further modifications. Instead, it retains its original 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine, teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission.
But essentially, the conversion doesn't include an engine tweak, a lift-kit or heavy-duty suspension upgrade, though the 20-inch wheels with Cooper tyres are certainly a lot bigger than the standard offering. The work is all superficial and therefore the vehicle isn't any more powerful or capable than its donor car.
In fact, it still drives like a Wrangler. Exactly like a Wrangler. Sure the bigger wheels with more rubber improve the ride quality and noise a fair bit, the exhaust sounds better now that the standard system has been replaced with a quad crosshair system, but that renowned Wrangler steering feel and wallow is still present and accounted for.
It still steers like a barge and bobs about like a pontoon, but it’s full of character and that’s what so many fans love about the Wrangler.
In order to meet Australian regulations, the vehicle can't be made any less safe than it already is which means that steering wheels with airbags can't be swapped out, neither can seats with built-in side airbags.
Custom parts that include airbags may be produced in the future, but for now, the Wrangler's seats can only be upgraded by being covered in beautiful, colourful leather with contrast stitching.
The same leather – in this case Burgundy – is also used to wrap the roll-bars and the colour is used on a few of the cabin trims on the dash and armrest. Among the other interior changes, there are drilled metal pedals, and the infotainment system has been upgraded and now includes satellite navigation.
The interior colour combinations are almost endless, as are the exterior paint colour options. Aside from the impressive finish to the paintwork, the body kit includes new bumpers, grille, chunky flares and a beautifully moulded bonnet.
It's designed to create a shorter, wider profile and pay homage to Jeep's military roots. If that wasn't enough to set it apart from the crowd, the original headlights have been ripped out and replaced with shadow chrome headlamps and retro Tron ring lights.
Being the first project completed in Sydney, this Black Hawk took more than two months, but a normal build should take just a few weeks as the process becomes second nature for the new team here in Australia, headed up by director Evan Wilson.
It is quite a process; it takes a lot of time and attention to detail to ensure all of the pieces fit together perfectly. You'll pay for perfection though; the two-door Black Hawk is $150,000 while the Limited four-door is $155,000.
That price includes the new model Jeep Wrangler, but even if you were to bring your own vehicle you could still expect to pay around $100,000.
The Chelsea Truck Company Black Hawk Jeep is built for attracting attention around the city and would be best kept in urban environments. It is still a Jeep though, and more than capable of a little adventure should the need or desire arise.