Of all the factory-created concepts presented by Jeep at the annual Easter Jeep Safari, the “restomods” that combine classic bodies with modern running gear and interiors are usually the most interesting. The 2023 Easter Jeep Safari was no exception, with a restomod based on a 1978 Cherokee arguably the highlight of the seven concepts unveiled at this year’s 57th annual event for Jeep owners and enthusiasts in Moab, Utah.
A staple of Jeep’s lineup today, the Cherokee debuted for the 1974 model year, using the same SJ Series body-on-frame platform as the Wagoneer from 1963, but where the Wagoneer was about luxury and comfort, to appeal to a more mature buyer, the Cherokee put out a sportier, youthful image, with front bucket seats and a sports steering wheel as standard, along with striping and other cosmetic changes externally to make the decade-old body look fresh.
On the market for a decade before it was replaced with the monocoque XJ Series Cherokee for 1984, the original SJ Cherokee is a popular vehicle today, which explains why it’s been used as the base for an Easter Jeep Safari restomod concept on at least two occasions in the past.
For this year’s Easter Jeep Safari restomod, Jeep designers sourced a 1978 Cherokee two-door off Craigslist for just US$2,500. Apparently, this concept was meant to debut at last year’s Easter Jeep Safari, but the amount of work needed to marry the ’78 body with the chassis and drivetrain of a 2022 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe pushed the timeframe out and it debuted this year instead.
Originally, the Jeep team were going to shorten the Wrangler’s wheelbase to fit the Cherokee body, but when body and frame were separated, it became clear that it’d be easier to modify the Cherokee body to fit the Wrangler wheelbase – which is 8.0 inches longer. As such, the Cherokee’s front and rear wheelarch openings were pushed fore and aft, respectively.
The wheelarches were also enlarged upwards and outwards to accommodate the Wrangler’s wider track and a set of big 37-inch BFG Mud Terrain II tyres for the concept. Those tyres are fitted to 17-inch ‘jelly bean’ alloys with old-style Jeep centre caps to keep the retro look going.
The roof was too poor to be refurbished, so refabricating it in carbon fibre was an easier solution and also allowed its thickness to be reduced by about 3.0 inches. The bonnet and front guards were replicated in carbon fibre, too, while removing the C-pillar and all the rear side glass gave the concept a Wrangler-esque open air feel.
Like the roof modification, changes to the Cherokee’s ‘razor’ grille were subtle. It’s been angled forward, with the outer trim removed and modern LED lighting fitted, while the front panel below this has been cut to accommodate a Wrangler Rubicon bumper with winch.
At the back end, a Wrangler Rubicon rear bumper has been fitted and re-fabricating the roof allowed the rear screen to be angled forward. The Cherokee tailgate was heavily modified, with a repositioned latch and “ventilated” portion that was never part of the vehicle’s original configuration, but in this instance was a clever workaround for a badly rusted lower section.
Subtler additions outside include the fuel filler cap from an AMC Gremlin (AMC had purchased Jeep in 1970) and the charge port for the 4xe hybrid drivetrain ahead of the nearside A-pillar. Butter Yellow paint with red and orange stripes gives the finished concept a ‘70s vibe, which was continued inside, with similar colour themes and graffiti art on the headlining.
The Cherokee’s rear bench seat was removed and the expanded cargo space given over to storage of a toolbox and an oversized spare wheel. Factory-look low back bucket seats were trimmed in distressed-look leather, with the same applied to the doorcards. Orange stitching was added to the former, with splashes of the red/orange striping from outside on the latter, while the dash, steering wheel, centre console and controls were all taken directly from the M22 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe that supplied this concept’s chassis and drivetrain.
The advanced Wrangler 4xe powertrain provides a unique on- and off-road experience through the combination of two electric motors, a high-voltage 17kWh battery pack and a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Wrangler Rubicon’s eight-speed automatic transmission is retained for the concept, mated to a 4:1 transfer case for the four-wheel drive system.
For an overview of the 2023 Easter Jeep Safari concepts, click HERE.