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5 Forgotten Jeep Concepts That Were Never Built (And What We Got Instead)

Jeep is a brand with a wild history of corporate acquisitions and outside-the-box thinking, and its unique journey through the auto industry has led to some of the most enduring and iconic 4x4 designs ever produced. Equally interesting are the paths not take by Jeep, as the company has built a long list of concepts that provided enticing 'what might have been' looks at a future that ultimately didn't happen.

Jeep on Nittos

Which Jeep concept SUVs spark the most excitement? Which ones hint at models that should have been, but didn't quite make it to prime time? Here are our 5 favorite forgotten Jeep concepts that were never built, and what we got instead.

1. Jeep JJ

What Was It?

With Jeep's parent company, AMC, fully under control of French automaker Peugeot by the mid-'80s, the trio of brands began to percolate some trans-Atlantic synergy. Noting the popularity of cute utes like the Suzuki Samurai with the American off-road crowd, development began in 1986 on a pint-size 4x4 that would fit in under the Wrangler.

Jeep JJ sketch

Dubbed the 'Junior Jeep' or 'JJ' for short, the idea was to offer a more affordable (in terms of purchase price and production) model that would give Jeep a wider line-up.

Why Was It Never Built?

The JJ saw as many as 60 prototype models constructed before the plug was pulled for a variety of reasons. Chrysler, which would purchase Jeep in 1987, didn't want to have to configure a new factory to produce a single model like the JJ, which had been designed using a unique modular 'snap-together' process.

Jeep JJ concept

Then there was the question of capability: cobbled together from existing the Chrysler parts bin (including low-buck hatchbacks like the Dodge Omni), the Junior Jeep lacked low-range capability from its all-wheel drive system. This made it incapable of completing the Rubicon trail, which would be a major issue when marketing the JJ to the Jeep faithful.

What Did We Get Instead?

Jeep made the choice to spend its infrastructure bucks on building an assembly line for the soon-to-be-introduced Grand Cherokee instead of the JJ, a wise decision that generated significant income for a brand that was about to walk away from its other family hauler, the Grand Wagoneer.

Junior Jeep prototype

The JJ stands as a missed opportunity that was simply ahead of its time, with Toyota, Suzuki, and Kia pulling in respectable sales with their own mini-utes starting in the mid-'90s.

2. Jeep Willys / Willys 2

What Was It?

Jeep has a rich history to tap into even when producing concepts intended to show the way towards the future. Wrapping updated ideas in a retro package was at the heart of the Willys and Willys 2 concepts that appeared in 2001 at the Detroit and Tokyo auto shows, respectively.

Jeep Willys Concept

One featured an open plastic body, the other a coupe-like carbon fiber design, but each delivered chunky, retro styling that called back to the original Willys go-anywhere SUV.

Why Was It Never Built?

The in-your-face Willys twins were clearly intended to attract attention with their designs, but the real meat was the 1.6L four-cylinder engine that powered the vehicles.

Jeep Willys Concept top view from behind

Jeep was hoping to introduce a new line of more affordable (sound familiar?) sport-utility vehicles that would combine off-road chops with reasonable fuel mileage.

What Did We Get Instead?

The small-displacement four-cylinder Jeeps were coming, but they took a while to get here.

Jeep Willys 2 Concept

The Jeep Compass is perhaps the most closely-linked model to the Willys in terms of drivetrain, but it traded all of its aluminum and carbon fiber glory for a decidedly low-end platform with an equally humdrum driving experience when it arrived in 2007.

3. Jeep Quicksand

What Was It?

Jeep fans have been howling for a Hemi since the mid-2000s, and in 2017 the Quicksand concept gave them what they were asking for.

Jeep Quicksand concept front

At its core, the Quicksand was a chopped top Wrangler featuring a 6.4L V8 and a six-speed manual transmission. Absent the open headers and the velocity stacks protruding from the hood, the motor was a crate unit that could be purchased directly from Mopar, and it delivered 485hp and 475 lb-ft of torque.

Why Was It Never Built?

Jeep had a few other drivetrain updates on the way for the Wrangler, which was on the verge of a complete redesign.

Jeep Quicksand concept rear

These included a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a turbodiesel V6, each of which would arrive over the course of the next few years. Of course, patience is a virtue… 

What Did We Get Instead?

This past year, Jeep announced the Wrangler Rubicon 392, which features a 370hp version of the same drivetrain wedged into the production Wrangler platform.

Jeep Willys concept side

The four-door Rubicon 392 represents the first V8-powered Wrangler since the CJ-8, and is intended to do battle against rivals like the Ford Bronco, which features a twin-turbo V6.

4. Jeep Ecco

What Was It?

In 1993 Jeep was still trying to figure out if it could profitably build a tiny SUV in the same vein as the abandoned JJ. It took the opportunity to both explore the market for an entry-level Jeep as well as play with advanced materials such as aluminum and composite plastics to create the Jeep Ecco.

Jeep Ecco concept

It was a major step away from the status quo in terms of styling, featuring a rounded body shape with a sloping hatchback and a canvas roof. Most unusual of all, however, was its two-stroke, supercharged three-cylinder engine.

Why Was It Never Built? 

Almost nothing about the Ecco was intended to translate into a marketable vehicle. In an era where green cred was becoming cool, Jeep preferred to highlight the 'eco-friendly' nature of the Echo's construction, particularly the fact that the entire model could be recycled at the end of its usable life.

What Did We Get Instead?

Jeep wouldn't deliver on a baby SUV until the Compass, as mentioned earlier, but if you squint you can see the beginnings of the smiling face found on the upcoming Dodge Neon compact sedan and coupe, as well as its 'cab-forward' design philosophy.

Dodge Neon

5. Jeep Jeepster

What Was It?

The Jeepster took the street performance look of the Wrangler Renegade that much further, swapping in swoopy body work that called back to the original Willys-Overland Jeepster convertible produced in the late 1940s.

Jeep Jeepster concept on beach

The vehicle featured a 300hp V8 to go with its independent suspension system and four-wheel drive, and was intended to offer at least as much performance on the road as off.

Why Was It Never Built?

The Jeepster hit the scene in 1998 just as the idea of crossovers began to percolate alongside traditional SUVs. No one really knew where the future of such vehicles was headed, and given the popularity of vintage designs like the Plymouth Prowler and the Volkswagen Concept One (which would become the New Beetle), the idea of a two-door sports Jeep with adjustable ride height and up to 9.75 inches of ground clearance wasn't all that bizarre.

Original Willys-Overland Jeepster

Still, Chrysler could only afford to stuff so many old school concepts in the showroom at once, and the Jeepster was put on the back burner in favor of more mass market-friendly options like the PT Cruiser.

What Did We Get Instead?

The Jeepster's 4.7L V8 would go on to replace the ancient LA pushrod engines under the hood of the next-generation Grand Cherokee, providing a big boost in performance and efficiency.

Jeep Jeepster rear view

Some of the Jeepster's styling cues would later appear on the Liberty compact off-roader that appeared in 2002, particularly its front fascia.

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