Before he became King of the Hammers, Shannon Campbell took Jeeps past their limits. He wo
To celebrate 70 years of Jeeps, we wrap up our series with recent vehicles, events, and the people who helped distance the brand from its imitators. The year 1997 was significant for two reasons. First and foremost, the TJ was introduced with eye-raising quad-coil suspension and a welcome return to round headlights. Also introduced that year was the Scorpion MK1. Soni Honnnegar and Heath Biggs’ long-travel, tube-framed rock buggy went way beyond the limitations of stock-framed vehicles.
“Extreme” Jeepers, many of whom began entering rockcrawling competitions in the mid to late ’90s, came to a fork in the trail. They had to either “keep it real” and see how far they could go in a still-Jeep vehicle (Ned Bacon is an example) or stay on the cutting-edge of trail-based technology and go the rock-buggy route, like Shannon Campbell did.
(Note: A common denominator for long-travel Jeep experimentation was Editor Rick Péwé’s former Republic Off-Road shop in Tempe, Arizona. Innovators who worked or hung out there included Ned Bacon, Shannon Campbell, and Randy Ellis. Wide-track axles, SOA conversions, and the discovery that aggressive mud tires excelled in rock are part of the shop’s legacy.)
Ned Bacon’s Killer Bee flatfender is constantly evolving. It was an early coil- converted
The Death of Leaves
The quest for maximum suspension travel/articulation defines Jeep performance. Jeepers in the Rockies and Sun-belt in particular wanted to be the first to scale certain natural obstacles. Aftermarket kits were engineered for broad appeal and easy installation. Leaf limitations were pushed with innovations such as spring-over-axle conversions, shackle reversals, and race-inspired quarter-elliptical springs.
By the mid ’90s, leaves had reached their limits. Ned Bacon was one of the first enthusiasts to replace leaves with coils. In 1996, the industry’s first coil-conversion kit, the Black Diamond XCL, hit the market. That and the OE coils on the ’97 TJ confirmed leaves as antiquated technology for short-wheelbase Jeeps.
Clifton Slay’s Bruiser also pushed the limits of CJ performance. It was one of the first s
Competitions advanced Jeep trail technology. Although not limited to short-wheelbase vehicles, the first Four Wheeler magazine Top Truck Challenge (1993) attracted extreme Jeepers Rick Péwé and Ned Bacon. In 1998, the BFG National Rockcrawling Championship brought trail riders together to see who could conquer Las Cruces’ natural obstacles the most elegantly. The field included Randy Ellis, the late Harold Off, Shannon Campbell, Ned Bacon, Rod Pepper, John and Frank Currie, and Dan Mick. Jeff Waggoner ended up taking the title.
Like war, competition brings people together. The Rock Crawling Champion-ships and series they spawned (ARCA, ProRock, W.E.Rock, UROC, CalRocks, XRRA, Ultra4) put the innovators in the same place at the same time. Media coverage allowed all enthusiasts access to what worked, won, and why.
Beyond documenting the advances in the field, the media also attempted to influence Jeep trends. Magazine projects combined influences from top builders and technologically advanced manufacturers. Jeep itself eventually embraced this approach, creating its own project vehicles through its Skunkworks/Mopar Underground division.
This concludes our aftermarket tribute to 70 years of Jeep action. The utilitarian World War II weapon went on to become the catalyst for uncivilized automotive adventure. Thankfully, Jeep enthusiasm seems poised for many more years of defining 4x4 capability and customizing. No other vehicle’s enthusiast base has influenced the assembly line as much as Jeep’s. We attempted to present a slice of the people and vehicles that helped make Jeep much more than just a badge on a 4x4.
Randy Ellis used Jeeps as guinea pigs for developing innovative 4x4 accessories. His ’80 C
Jason Bunch of Tri-County Gear was running nitrous on his flatty in the 1980s. He competed
Sam Patton helped popularize extreme-trail Jeeps in the Midwest and Southeast. Hardcore He
Freiburger also gave the M715 market a boost with his military Kaiser project. Other magaz
Our Elvis project ’97 TJ contained many of the features that later became part of the fact
Superlift’s YJ, dubbed Woods Ready, explored the limits of that platform, competing in ear
Former 4WOR Editor-in-Chief David Freiburger ignited interest in the Scrambler with his ma
Rock competitor/Ultimate Adventure regular Chris Durham got enthusiasts’ attention with hi
Universal-based pickups have attracted attention since the CJ-6 and Scrambler came out. En
Initially, unibody Jeeps weren’t accepted as hardcore trail material. Once the “why not?”
Currie Enterprises evolved from golf carts to street rods to Jeeps. Before the company dev
Aftermarket JK development hints that the Jeep Universal will continue to be the preferred