Jeep found a mucky way to celebrate 75 years of four-wheel-drive dominance, military history and outdoor adventure.
SHORTLY after oh-nine-hundred, somewhere deep with Woodhill Forest, north of Auckland.
We’re sheltering from the steady rain in an old army tent, awaiting orders. A Sten gun-wielding military policeman in 1940s’ uniform, who alighted from a genuine dubbya-dubbya-deuce Willy’s jeep, one of two in the compound, has just checked my documentation. There’s an issue with the surname. German? When I affirm, he grunts something to a fellow GI about “watching this one.” War is hell, right?
But Jeep is having fun. To mark 2016 being the parent brand’s diamond anniversary year, it’s decided to issue some special edition commemorative ware - versions of its top models, the Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee – and to take invited journalists out into a secluded area known for association with past criminal activity for a refresher course on what makes its products special.
Someone in our crew mentions something about there being unmarked graves out here. Hopefully one of them isn’t mine. Jeep has been through the wars over the years and not all its product has been as fit for duty as it should have been. While I cannot speak for the other invitees, I’m guilty as charged about questioning the qualities of some past stuff.
Fortunately, Jeep seems to accept it has one or two dullards among its front-line troops. That’s affirmed by the absence of the Compass (well, it’s excused by being pure front-drive) and Patriot … which went AWOL a new months back. No-one talks about Patriot now. Instead, we’ve only got the front-line fighters: Wrangler, Cherokee Trailhawk, Grand Cherokee (diesel, not SRT). And the new ‘little guy’ of Italian extraction, Renegade.
So, off in the forest we go. Today’s video shows what we did and how the product fared. Rain, low cloud, mud up to what’s known in American vernacular as ‘your wazoo’ … it was hell out there. Nothing but the worst for the best, right?
Before we broke camp, the brand’s commander in chief for the New Zealand battlefront gave the lowdown on how the campaign has been going.
It’s positive news. Unlike Australia, where Jeep has been retrenching, here it’s a story of advancement: No big victories, but no defeats, either, affirms David Smitherman, Fiat Chrysler New Zealand’s chief executive officer and a guy not shy about laying down some stirring rally-the-troops rhetoric.
“Jeep invented and defined the authentic SUV as well as setting the benchmark for off-road capability and freedom since the first Jeeps rolled off the production line in 1941.
“Today Jeeps continue to deliver 4x4 leadership, as well as fuel efficiency, world-class craftsmanship and premium on-road dynamics.”
And it’s not just an American story. Smitherman’s intelligence officer, PR expert Edward Rowe, has determined New Zealanders have been driving Jeeps right from the birth of the first Willys Jeep MB, the iconic Jeep that was born in World War II. New Zealand armed forces receiving their first Jeeps in 1941, just months after production started. He has a photo from Libya, showing what appear to be Long Range Desert Patrol members.
Anyway, in 2016, 75 years later, New Zealanders are buying Jeeps in unprecedented numbers, Smitherman says.
He reckons the current lineup is well-suited to our needs. “Whether it is the agile, compact Renegade as happy on Auckland’s busy roads as it is romping across open fields; the iconic Jeep Wrangler using its unrivalled off-road ability to go everywhere in New Zealand or the luxurious Jeep Grand Cherokee swallowing with ease the distances across the country, regardless of road or weather conditions.”
So to those special editions, a 3.6-litre Grand Cherokee Limited at $84,990, a 3.0-litre at $91,990, a Wrangler Unlimited Overland 3.6-litre at $67,990 and a Cherokee Longitude 3.2-litre for $52,990.
All are four-wheel-drive and in Bright White (to play on that ‘long white cloud’ thing) with Low Gloss Bronze wheels, Bronze and Orange exterior accents, unique interiors, including exclusive seats with embossed 75th Anniversary logo or one-of-a-kind Ombre Mesh fabric, open-air freedom and a 75th Anniversary exterior badge.
Take no prisoners …