A few weeks ago, I was roaming around Delhi in a big off-road car, and after pulling up at a friend’s house, his driver had to move this vehicle around. Curious to know his thoughts on the vehicle, I asked the driver about his experience behind the wheel. He said, “Yeh farji maal nahin hai, genuine hai.” 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. Much of this is public relations mumbo-jumbo but occasionally, there comes along a brand or a product that genuinely has a good backstory. In a time when cars are mass-produced by robots, few brands have the epic backstory of Jeep.
The original Jeep’s drawings were completed in just two days by designer and engineer Karl Probst in 1940. He worked for the American Bantam Car Company and since this was a wartime requirement, his design was shared with Willys and Ford. Willys by adapting their ‘Go Devil’ engine for the vehicle, was to take it further.
The journey from the drawing board to the Willys MB took under a year and by mid-1941, the first Jeeps started to roll off the production line. This is why, even today in the memorabilia handed out by the company, ‘1941’ is celebrated as the birth year of the Jeep. It was the first mass-produced lightweight 4×4 vehicle, and US President Dwight Eisenhower considered it one of the most essential pieces of equipment in the European theatre of war. It is considered an ‘International Mechanical Engineering Landmark’ by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Thousands of Jeeps came to India as well to serve as support vehicles for the US Army Air Force that operated on the ‘hump’ route to China as well as in the Burma theatre.
There is indeed a major market for old classic World War II-era Jeeps in some parts of India, especially Kerala and Rajasthan. Although few can be considered actual period pieces after being modified with more modern engines and suspension parts.
The Willys MB did not just give birth to Jeep, it also inspired a host of off-roaders that tried to follow the same lightweight four-wheel drive philosophy. Some became a bit larger like the Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon, but the basic concept was the same. And to this day, militaries and paramilitaries across the world value such cars, not just as support vehicles but as offensive vehicles too. After the war, returning US servicemen from Europe clamoured for a vehicle like the Jeep and the ‘Jeep CJ’ (Civilian Jeep) was born. It is the Jeep CJ3A that Mahindra produced under license for many years. The same evolved into the modern Thar, although Jeep and Mahindra are in a long-running legal feud.
First Wrangler to Rubicon
Willys, the original producer 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 car manufacturer. The year 1987 was also when Jeep produced the first Wrangler. This can only be described as a lifestyle off-road vehicle, designed for people who genuinely like going anywhere and one that harked back to the brand’s past unlike the more comfortable American-sized behemoths like the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Having driven the latest iteration of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in Delhi, I can attest that it can be taken on any terrain. Its functions surpass what a normal car in a showroom can do.
The Rubicon is trail-rated and Jeep gives the moniker to vehicles that can pretty much go anywhere—terrain be damned and the ‘Rubicon’ moniker is not one given lightly.
While this vehicle harks back to the origins of the Jeep, it is massive. Thanks to the huge and chunky off-road tyres, you are sitting as high as a bus driver, and when you drive past other vehicles you sense your pedals are at the same level as the heads of those sitting inside sedans and hatchbacks.
To be honest, I did not take the Rubicon on any adventures, but if I would, it would be comfortable. It has all the modern conveniences, including a reverse camera that is mounted on the spare wheel hub, and speakers that are on the roof pillar, since the doors (and roof) are removable. Yes, you can climb every mountain and cross every stream with the Wrangler Rubicon, but you can do that with a relative amount of comfort.
That said, such driving experiences do not come cheap. The Wrangler Rubicon, which has been assembled in India, costs a rather steep Rs 62 lakh, similar to the BMW X3 30i. While you cannot cross streams deeper than a few inches with the German SUV, it is a lot more comfortable inside. And because the Wrangler Rubicon sits on off-road tyres, there is significant tyre noise. It is also not economical to drive in the city, eking out four-five kilometres per litre from the two-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 268 horsepower, which is also quite an achievement. While the car makes a statement on city roads and when you pull up to hotel lobbies, the valets rush to you, this is not a vehicle you would buy if you are only going to drive it in the city.
The Wrangler Rubicon is a worthy bearer of the Jeep name. It can make its own road and if I was an adventure junkie with that kind of money, I would jump and get it and explorer in 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.
@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)