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2018-12-03 07:29

Lance Branquinho

Jeep Comanche

Image: Supplied by Lance Branquinho

If ever there was a brand which could justifiably leverage its history to build a desirable double-cab bakkie, it’s Jeep.

And yet the symbol of American off-road motoring has confusingly been doing anything but build a bakkie in the last few years, despite double-cab demand growing globally.

READ: All-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator: The most capable, mid-sized bakkie built on a tough heritage

This 2018 Los Angeles auto show finally saw Jeep’s bakkie strategy come into focus with the new Gladiator, a double-cab Wrangler. It’s a product evolution so obvious you can’t imagine why it took Jeep so long to execute. 

The new Gladiator blends all the reputable off-road ability of Wrangler (front- and rear-lockers, sway-bar disconnect), with a loadbin and double-cab passenger accommodation.

Jeep single cab SA

                                                                    Image: Supplied by Lance Branquinho

Engines are Jeep’s 3.6-litre V6 and a new 3-litre V6 turbodiesel. Due for global distribution in 2020, these Gladiator bakkies could become immensely popular in South Africa.

With the Defender 130 double-cab retired, the only real rival to a Gladiator would be Toyota’s Land-Cruiser 70 Series V8 double-cab, and that’s quite an antiquated design, shaded in overall refinement and cabin comfort by the Jeep. 

How did Jeep get to the Gladiator? Well, here’s a history of Jeep’s bakkies, including a little-known prototype which nearly became a South African special forces logistics vehicle. 

Willy’s Overland (1947-1965)

A loadbin version of the original post-war production Jeep, featuring solid axles and leaf springs. Think of this as an American Land Rover.

1950 Willys one ton pickup lft

                                                                 Image: Supplied by Lance Branquinho

Powered at first by a 45kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, it was rated as a 1t workhorse and shifted via a three-speed manual gearbox. Jeep interestingly also produced a rear-wheel drive only derivative, which was rerated to 750kg load capacity.  

Jeep Gladiator (1962-1988)

The most iconic of all Jeep bakkies, with its gaping mouth grille and inverted slanting shark nose front styling. This original Gladiator was renowned for its AMC 401 engine, which was a 6.6-litre V8 good for 430Nm, and capable of ridiculous mileages if one merely kept it up to date with easily replaceable service parts.

Jeep Gladiator

                                                                   Image: Supplied by Lance Branquinho

If you need confirmation of how successful and popular these Jeep bakkies were, consider the Gladiator 1.0’s production run: which was an unprecedented 26 years, during which very few mechanical upgrades were ever requested by customers or applied by Jeep. 

Jeep Commando As Toyota and Nissan launched their original Land Cruiser and Patrol off-roaders, Jeep realised it finally had competition. Chrysler’s response was the Jeepster Commando, which debuted in 1966 and amongst its four configurations, featured a bakkie variant. 

Jeep Comanche (1986-1992)

A very handsome bakkie conversion of the legendary XJ-series Jeep Cherokee. Evolved from perhaps the best American SUV ever built, the Comanche was an attractive, square-proportioned bakkie that was manufactured to rival a flood of increasingly capable Japanese rivals in the American market.

Comanche featured proven Chrysler engines ranging from 2.5-litres and four-cylinders to 4-litres and six-cylinders. Equipped with the Cherokee’s coil-sprung front suspension and Dana rear axle, it was a lot more comfortable on-road, and better in the rough stuff, than most competitors. Rated to carry a proper 1t payload too. 

Jeep J8 (2008)Around the time of the 2008 Aerospace Africa Defence exhibition, we spotted something of great interest in one of the hangers: a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited single-cab.

Jeep Comanche

                                                                   Image: Supplied by Lance Branquinho

Well, technically it was a 'no-cab' open design but featured two access doors in the manner of a traditional single-cab and also loadbin. After some deft negotiating we got to drive the vehicle, which was powered by a 2.8-litre diesel engine - and proved fantastically capable.

The ladder frame had been strengthened to make it deliverable by parachute, and with heavy-duty Dana 44 and 60-series axles front and rear, it was virtually unbreakable when negotiating rough terrain. 

Special bumpers with enormous shackles (for helicopter portability) gave the J8 18% better approach and departure angles than a standard Wrangler Unlimited and customer air filters meant it could run with ease in sandstorm conditions.

And if you needed to go patrolling for a long time, it featured a 1300kg payload, which was plenty. Never adopted by the South African military, Jeep’s J8 tantalisingly proved that a right-hand drive Wrangler bakkie was possible - ten years ago. 

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