I AM AMERICAN, so it’s easy for me to talk about Jeeps. You know the drill. The first Jeep, the ancestor of today’s Wrangler, helped win a war. An entire marque from the crucible of wartime engineering. Early Jeeps were once derided as little more than farm implements, but there are now family Jeeps, comfy Jeeps for old folks, cheap Jeeps for young people. There is the Wrangler, the base model of which makes 270bhp and can literally climb mountains, but there is also the 700bhp Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, with the kind of elephantine accelerative violence that makes you wonder if Detroit engineers snort ground-up hallucinogens for breakfast.

Because I am American, I once attempted to eat a hamburger while launching a Trackhawk at full blat. Flecks of bun flung into my nose.

(There is probably some choking-on-excess metaphor here, but discussing it sounds like zero fun, so simply keep picturing a human face with bun up the honker.)

The Jeep story is all of this – honest purpose, absurdity, simplicity. Change a few details, you have Land Rover. Another lore-heavy marque inseparable from its homeland, but there are key differences. The world was gifted a redesigned Wrangler in 2018, 2006, 1996, 1986. Contrast that with the deeply similar Land Rover Defender, which sprung from the thigh of a Land Rover Series III during the Silurian period and went out of production in 2016 still wearing parts designed by oil lamp.

Early images of the next Defender show a vehicle resembling the old Defender like shoe leather resembles a steak dinner. CAR’s editor tells me the country lies in wait, wondering how much the new Defender will be… new. Wrong, in other words. But change doesn’t have to be negative. Every new Wrangler has managed to be new and good while also feeling like its predecessor. So now, live from Jeep homeland, pithy teachings from Wranglers past about what it takes to reinvent a legend.

Don’t undo what you don’t have to. Consider Leica cameras, Fender guitars, other clichés of the cultural firmament. Change in iconic consumer products is really only necessary when the government dictates it. Like the original Mini, small off-roaders are an affordable-practical luxury. When you remake an icon, either throw everything away, build on the good bones, or both. The latter is harder but usually more satisfying. (And possible. Witness the Leica M9 digital camera, the Fender Stratocaster following the Fender Telecaster, the declaration of the 13 American colonies as a new country, etc.)

Embrace raw-bone silliness. Last summer, I drove a Wrangler to the Arctic Ocean. Eight hundred miles on dirt with no doors, windshield folded, because it sounded stupid. It was stupid. Cold, deafening, dirty. Also mind-blowingly good and impossible with any other new car. In 2018, who needs a folding windshield? Who needs removable doors? Unique pulls people in; silly fun keeps them there. Lean on silly fun.

Disposability is a pox. We now design almost everything to be thrown away. Partly because it’s good business sense; partly because fashionable things sell, and fashion demands frequent change. This is all dumber than a bag of beans. Most designs work best when they feel eternal. If the apocalypse comes and a Defender and a Wrangler aren’t down at your local the next day, parked next to a couple of pints, we have failed as a species.

Eschew faddery. No one ever looked at a Jaguar E-Type and thought: ‘Nice, I guess, but it really needs a set of wing vents.’
Function, function, function. You can still buy a base Wrangler with hand-crank windows. More to the point, people in America would complain if you couldn’t. The 2018 model has a steering box because boxes work best with a live axle, and live axles are part of what make Wranglers durable, functional, cheap. The steering box is an atrocious dynamic solution but also goofy, trucky joy on a B-road. The most satisfying engineering answer doesn’t always spit out the best numbers. And no one buys a Jeep for the numbers.

Unless you’re chasing that old bun-in-the-nose. In which case, carry on – America salutes you. And remember to breathe. It only takes a moment, and then you can go back to Jeeping or eating. Here, they’re equally necessary for continued existence.


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