IT’S A TALE AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF. 135 COMPANIES were invited to bid in an auction to build an LRV (a light reconnaissance vehicle) for the US Army in 1940. The tight deadlines and the very specific requirements meant that only two companies called back — Willys-Overland and Bantam. At the end, Bantam’s design was selected but the Army handed out these blueprints to Willys-Overland and Ford so that war-time demand could be met. It was a simple, four-wheel-drive SUV, before the term SUV was even coined! — and weighed no more than a quarter of a tonne. Just months later, Willys refined the design and put together the MA. A year later came the iconic MB which featured axe and spade mounts, a larger fuel tank and even machine gun mounts! This helped Willys bag an order of 16,000 MBs (vehicles, not data) for the Army. Any guesses on how much each cost? $738.74, approximately Ì€ 10 lakh in today’s money. The MB paved the way for all Jeeps to come — the MC that followed, the CJs (Civilian Jeeps) and of course, the Wrangler. Since the CJs in the 1940s to the JL in 2021, there have been just three other generations in between. None of them however stray as far away from their roots as this Firecracker Red Wrangler Rubicon in front of me. Because this one isn’t from Detroit. It’s made right here in India. We’re only the second market outside of the USA to manufacture (okay, assemble) the Wrangler. But from where I’m standing, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
The Wrangler looks spectacular. The bright red paint pops with the black details and the chunky off-road tyres and tall stance really set it apart. I struggle to stop walking around it in circles without filling up my phone’s memory with pictures. In the United States, among a sea of other massive SUVs, this might not seem too out of place. But here in India, it looks like a search and rescue vehicle gone wild! Of course, every panel, shut line and crease is up to the mark — India is a manufacturing powerhouse after all. The door handles are plastic, but there’s a solid, tangible clack felt when you pull on it. The door shuts with a reassuring thump. And the locks have an audible click once they latch. Even something as mundane as getting in has a sense of occasion in the Wrangler. More so because the Rubicon doesn’t have a side-step which means getting in isn’t something you can do with your eyes closed. Once you’re in though you could tell with your eyes shut that this is a Wrangler. All the switchgear feels rugged, built to last. And there’s a lot of it. The entire centre console is festooned with controls ranging from the HVAC to the save-me-I’m-stuck-off-road buttons; even the window switches are there. That’s for good reason though. The Wrangler carries forward a lot more than just its looks from the MBs and CJs, it still allows you to indulge in al fresco motoring. Four latches and 10 seconds is all it takes to get the roof panels off. Use the supplied tool and you can take off the entire roof (and when you put it back it remains waterproof). The doors have integrated T50 Torx bolts and a supplied tool lets you unbolt these and take off the doors. Four more bolts and the windshield folds down out of your way — a nod to the past where Jeep windshields were folded down so they could fit in the crates that they were shipped in. And because Jeep doesn’t want you to call a service team to undo the electrical connections every time these need to come off, most of the electrical bits connecting these parts have been given safe haven somewhere else in the car.
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