One of the easiest tasks in the world of marketing is to take two separate components that are equally endearing on their own merits and put them together to create something new that everyone is sure to adore. Case in point is an old commercial from a time gone by when colors were a lot less vivid and collars had a wingspan; in a place where two hip cats are walking along the sidewalks of Anytown, USA, each with their own special eating disorder. Our male specimen is indulging himself in the luscious goodness of a milk chocolate candy bar; and who can blame him. While the attractive but slightly more perturbing female is gorging herself on the gooey contents of an entire jar of peanut butter. While I, myself, do actually enjoy a healthy dose of peanut butter from time to time, I can’t even comprehend what mental instabilities might cause someone to feel that consuming an entire jar of Skippy while in public view is even remotely acceptable. Whether due to their obvious personal afflictions or their headphones masking their surroundings, the cute couple collide in a calamity that had us all licking our collective chops. Clearly, the folks at Reese have had little trouble convincing viewers that combining two such goodies into one delightful consumable cup is a no-brainer and guaranteed to please anyone who finds themselves a fan of either part of the tasty equation.
Winning combinations don’t even have to be the product of calculated marketing. Take, for example, ham & cheese sandwiches or turkey & dressing. Sometimes the chemistry between two individual things is so undeniable that they virtually become paired more predominantly than they appear separately.
In 1970, while American Motors was looking to assume the Jeep product line from Kaiser-Jeep, designers made such a calculated conglomeration in hopes that America would be dazzled by the possibility of blending the vastly-popular muscle car with the off-road sensibilities of the prized short wheelbase CJ5. A medley that may have proved to be more a potential inspiration for the upcoming AMC Pacer than the newest automotive talk-of –the-town they had hoped for. While most concept cars aim to deliver something to the consumer that is highly desirable yet currently less than common, the Jeep XJ-001 seemed to strike a chord of confusion in the potential marketplace. Since there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these individual pieces, the sum of their parts must certainly be above reproach, or at least in this case, just beyond our scope of comprehension. Exactly what is it that we should do with this really fast, really short car with no roof or doors that has limited agility and handles pretty poorly? Nothing pleasurable seems to come to mind…
The Jeep XJ001 was clearly by appearance built on the CJ’s tiny 81-inch wheelbase but that’s where the similarities seemed to cease. Even the swooping door openings look more akin to a carnival bumper car than any Jeep of memory. When the new Jeep prototype was revealed at the New York Auto Show in July of 1970, the crowds seemed to eat it up, albeit in very small portions. Maybe not as ravenous a reception as though they were treated to a luscious peanut butter cup, but response was certainly deemed better than unfavorable, certainly in comparison to the other show floor spectacles of the day. Like the new Ford/Mercury Capri or the all-enthralling “Seat Belts Save Lives” display held in the lobby.
While the prospective Jeep never really shied away from the sudden media spotlight, this new look was, in all honesty, completely unfamiliar digs. The XJ-001 was, in essence, a compilation of gawdy pinstriping, glossy paint, chrome wheels, glistening adornements and go-fast goodies wed with a stubby car-like body that seemed oddly disproportionate to the wheelbase. In all fairness to the concept car, the only way I can find acceptance of it is to completely remove it, at least in my mind, from the name ‘Jeep’ altogether- an undertaking that I find nearly impossible to accomplish given the comical wheelbase and the telltale ‘Jeep’ badging that graces the B-pillar. On second thought, if that was a B-pillar it would match the windshields elevation, which it doesn’t. This odd rooflike section is barely higher than the dash, making it more of a sport bar. But it’s height being considerably shorter than the bucket seats, makes it’s existence an even bigger mystery than the Pinto-inspired sloped rear deck opening that trails it; a visual borrowing that predates the Ford Pinto by a year.
The Jeep XJ-001 must have been a feast for the eyes as spectators stood in dazed bewilderment at the styling quirks of this strange prototype. The CJ that had just received side marker lights a year or so prior, had now bore offspring bearing large trapezoidal chrome-bezeled lights on the front corners to offset the gills placed conspicuously on the front fenders. The giant air intake scoop on the hood hinted at what power lurks beneath. While Jeep CJs were treated to the customary civility of a 134 cubic inch engine and the occasional 6 cylinder powerplant, the XJ-001 had a surgically-implanted 360 cid V8 right out of one of AMC’s fabled tire shredders which seemed almost inappropriate. With a uniquely contoured dash that cascaded downward into a custom console that housed the ignition switch, 4 speed shifter and even the radio, the XJ-001 found ways to distinguish itself from the pack of Detroit’s latest iron. Different? Sure, but not necessarily desirable.
Although the 1970 Jeep XJ-001 was a staple of the auto show circuit throughout the year, it never rooted any significant interest, certainly not enough to encourage the powers-that-be at AMC to procede with production. Unfortunately, the solitary XJ-001 prototype was lost to a fire when the car carrier that transported it overturned after an appearance at the Texas State Fair. With it’s body made primarily of fiberglass and plastic, there was very little reminder left of the peculiar protoype that had once been. It seems as though, at least for the time, Jeep was set to continue being simply a Jeep and the role of being a car would be left up to those better suited at pulling it off. The XJ-001 was in many ways a precursor to the hybrid cars of today, or cross-overs, as they are commonly referred to. Designs where multiple functions join to find one form. In the end, while the combination of two great things can be good, the greatness in the individuality of each is beyond compare. Jeep is undeniable proof of that. OlllllllO