We’re driving north out of Moab to an undisclosed location around 50km from town. The road is busy with Jeeps assembling at the various trailheads for a day of off-roading. Our own convoy of five cars soon peels off the main road and follows some nondescript dusty tracks out into the scrub.
We round a couple of sharper and rougher bends. While I’m lamenting my choice of a Jeep Wrangler with no doors, we come across a wide, flat area under the shadow of a huge, layered mesa. There’s a handful of people standing around. While the huge Courthouse Rock looms overhead like a gigantic ancient battlement, my eyes are drawn elsewhere.
Jeep’s six concept vehicles for the 2019 Easter Jeep Safari are here and scattered purposefully around the area. They’re all impressive in their own way. The single-cab J6 is beautifully proportioned on a Wrangler Unlimited chassis. Two flash dirtbikes are mounted aback of the Flatbill, which sports 40-inch tyres and some pretty serious suspension mods.
The Wayout is the Gladiator’s take on ‘Overlanding’, which really resonates with Australian off-roading. The Gravity concept is Jeep’s take on a rock climber’s rig, and the Scrambler is a real throwback to Jeep’s utes of the 1980s, along with being an example of what Jeep’s native Mopar accessory list can do.
But there is one in particular that’s most impressive: the Five-Quarter. It’s a 1968 Kaiser Jeep M-715, which was a military truck derived from Jeep’s own Gladiator ute. The Kaiser had a 1.25-tonne payload, earning it the nickname ‘Five-Quarter’.
The Kaiser originally came with Jeep’s 3.8-litre ‘Tornado’ straight-six, which made 100kW at 4000rpm and 280Nm at 1750rpm, using between 14 and 16 litres per hundred kilometres. How times change.
Under the bonnet of this concept is nothing other than Jeep’s own hellishly angry and powerful ‘HellCrate’ motor – 6.2 litres' worth of supercharged V8. It makes an astonishing 525kW at 6000rpm, and slightly more than the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk that shares the same driveline. Torque? Try 868Nm at 4800rpm.
No fancy modern gearboxes, however: there’s a three-speed Torqueflite gearbox assigned to handle all of that grunt, which is loaded with old-school strength. There’s a transfer case pinched from the Wrangler Rubicon as well, giving part-time 4WD. Acting as cover and pseudo-transmission tunnel is the supercharger casing from an old Detroit two-stroke diesel, which forms a centrepiece of one of the coolest cabins I’ve ever been lucky enough to sit in.
Differentials need to be up to the task of all that power as well, especially when you’ve got a 4:1 transfer case multiplying torque. The Dana 60 is a common aftermarket rear diff for Wranglers with 37-inch-plus tyres, and the Five-Quarter gets a Dynatrac ProRock 60 up front. The rear goes even bigger with a Dynatrac ProRock 80 assembly. This is a huge, and massively strong, diff with a monstrous 11.25-inch ring gear and 40-spline, 4340 chromoly axles.
All of this means the Five-Quarter can reliably run that epic drivetrain off-road through the 40-inch Maxxis Razr mud-terrain tyres. You have huge ground clearance and decent articulation from the three-link live axles. It’s a concept, but beyond just being driveable, this rig would be incredibly capable off-road.
The end product is insanely cool, but so is the story of how it came about. This wasn’t some ground-up build or immaculate model that’d been mothballed for years. Jeep actually found the donor vehicle on Craigslist and paid around US$5500 for it. From there, it was thoroughly reworked. The chassis is still largely intact (save for those coilover and control arm mounts), but the majority of the panels have been replaced or reworked to suit the driveline and deliver that savage, snarling look.
It’s great that Jeep has held onto many of the original details, as well. The original gauges and some switchgear sit proudly amongst the original dashboard, and are augmented with some water-jetted aluminium pieces. The rear stoplights are original but gutted and refitted with LEDs.
Raw, water-jetted aluminium doesn’t stop there. It’s in the doors, in the grille, and down the sides. Most notably, it appears in the tub: parallel runs of raw aluminium and timber in an impressive patchwork. It’s not exactly practical, but gee, it’s nice to look at.
What’s water-jetting? It’s a method of cutting hard materials using up to 50,000psi of water, mixed with an abrasive material, to make clean and accurate cuts with no heat-affected discolouration.
Like I said, this one-off Jeep concept is completely driveable. And for some confounding reason, they are allowing me to have a quick steer.
Open the door, hop up and into the cab, and you’ll first notice the old-school plush seats are pretty bouncy and comfy. The steering wheel is a beautiful aluminium unit wrapped with some dark leather. Look closely and you’ll notice the heritage Jeep branding is hand-painted.
The dashboard is all steel but inset with new/old gauges mounted on some exposed aluminium. It’s simple, clean and I think beautiful. Flick a switch for ignition and press the big green button to hear those eight force-fed cylinders bark on start-up. It’s not obnoxiously loud, but it’s absolutely angry.
Mark Allen, Jeep head designer and leader of this annual concept project, cups one hand to his ear and leans in: I oblige with a few stabs of the throttle, and the engine’s guttural roar sends a shiver down my spine. It’s an intoxicating combination of classic V8 bark, supercharger whine and pure volume.
It’s cool, but it worries me. The engine is outrageously responsive, piling on revs and noise with only a cursory jab of the skinny pedal. We’ve got some basic off-roading to do, and I’d hate myself forever if I managed to do something bad in this car. Go light on that throttle!
Thanks to big 40-inch tyres and King coilover shocks, the Five-Quarter rides impressively smooth off-road. Being pretty flexy and twin-locked, it would be an absolute animal on some hard, technical driving. But I don’t think I would be game to push this one-off masterpiece too hard.
This Kaiser Jeep looks like it’s a passion project that’s simply here for people to ogle – an excuse to build something a bit crazy with a big engine. But dig into the details, and there’s more to it than that. The Kaiser was based on Jeep’s original 4x4 ute that had big payloads and towing capacities.
Unlike the new Wrangler-based Gladiator, the original Gladiator used the bigger, sturdier SJ Wagoneer as a base. You can see the similarities with the new Gladiator, especially with the long wheelbase. What Jeep is trying to tell us is that while the new Gladiator is a new model for 2020, it’s a big part of the brand’s fabric from the past.
It also shows that the people behind the Jeep brand, designers and engineers, are passionate enthusiasts of the brand that see more than just a mode of transport or medium for profit. They see the Wrangler (and now Gladiator) as the core of what the brand is all about – something they defend and promote with vigour.
And if that means they keep doing cool stuff like this Five-Quarter, then I reckon that’s good news for everyone.