Have you ever been in the midst of a group of Jeep traditionalists? If not, just memorize the phrase "change is bad." Repeat as necessary until you can be heard saying it in your sleep. You're now ready for a proper dyed-in-the-flatfender Jeepin' conversation. To test your Jeepthenticity, keep an eye peeled for a half dozen traditionalists drooling over vintage Jeepin' iron at a trail event. Take a few mental notes, make a friendly comment or two, and slink away from the traditionalists. It's time to expand your horizons.
While the Jeep brand is strongly identified with the short-wheelbase, trail-crawlin' machine that sports the boxy, seven-slot grille, Jeep-branded vehicles have explored and conquered every continent at speeds both high and low. The "go anywhere" heritage means that for a Jeep to be a Jeep, it has to be good at a little of everything.
JeepSpeed founder Clive Skilton is a hand-in-glove fit for the "go anywhere" motto. His racing resume includes 500cc Superbikes, sports car road racing, and NHRA Top Fuel drag racing in addition to many an off-road rally in various corners of the globe. Specifically, those corners include the southern tip of South America in 1995 with a three-Jeep (two Wranglers and one Grand Cherokee) American Racing Wheels World Expedition racing team, and building and racing a Kia Sportage in the 2005 Barcelona to Dakar rally.
Jeep threw the traditionalists into cardiac arrest in 2005 when the company did away with the time-proven solid axle at the front of the Grand Cherokee in favor of A-arms and CV shafts. Clive, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to prove the adeptness of the new Grand platform. The phrase for this Jeep is "multipurpose." Multipurpose in this case means that this Grand Cherokee could begin a journey on the freeway, hit the Rubicon Trail, race in a rally, go prerunning in Baja, and generally tour and explore from the Tropic of Capricorn all the way to the Arctic Circle.
We caught up with Mr. Skilton one weekend in Baja while covering the SCORE San Felipe 250. This thing is a lot of fun. The first part of the fun starts with a turn of the key when the Hemi comes to life under the hood. We've driven the Hemi-powered Dodge Power Wagon and felt that the engine's soft low-end torque wasn't the best match for the 3/4-ton truck platform. The Hemi is a perfect match for the Grand Cherokee and smoothly propels the SUV to extra-legal speeds. The horsepower and torque estimates are 400 ponies and 400 lb-ft of torque, and when in the Grand chassis the Hemi feels every bit as powerful as the numbers claim. Clive thought that "Hemi Challenger" would be a fitting name for this Grand, and so do we.