These beasts crawl effortlessly over rock piles, streams and fallen logs. They muscle through forests. They drive swiftly over desert dunes in Rajasthan and the foothills in Himachal Pradesh like no other machines can. And the incomparable charm of driving in open-top jeeps in the middle of nowhere puts them high up on any outdoor lover’s post-retirement to-do list. So why wait for the grass to grow when they are being made right next door; and can cost less than the price of your average hatchback?
Way too macho
Though they all look massive and monstrous, some jeeps are built only for looks; other are mega performers. Before you get a jeep custom-made, figure out step one: why do you want it? Do you want to show off? Or do you want a machine that can take you across the toughest terrain without getting you into an airlift situation? A bit of both is good to begin with. Look beyond the stunning bodywork and large tyres. Investing in a best-in-class suspension is worth it only if you are on a road trip that takes you as far away from the road as you can go. Jeep modification workshops address both looks and performance requirements. A jeep, after all, is built out of passion. “It is the ultimate macho symbol for many guys. It is like a civilised beast. The thrill of driving a jeep, especially when it comes to adventure sports, is amazing,” says Raj Kapoor, 49, owner of Performance Auto, a jeep modification company in Noida. “Growing up, we’ve all seen the hero in many Hindi movies drive a jeep, occasionally while singing a song, and that image remains in our heads,” he adds.
Tribes and Gypsies
Back in 1938, Popeye, still the most famous sailor cartoon character of all time, presented his girlfriend Olive Oyl with a ‘magical dog’ named Eugene the Jeep (which could vanish and was very smart). A few years later, World War II soldiers were so impressed with their new four-wheeler that they named it after him, and the Jeep was born. From then to now, we have seen the trademarked Jeep and countless other vehicles being made under licence for different countries (including Mahindra in India) . So how do you decide which jeep to get customised? And how do you get it done? To begin with, you go to the market and well… buy a jeep! There aren’t many options, but for true customisation, all you need to start with is a basic body and engine. The rest is all put together the way you want. When it comes to choosing a brand to modify, there are a few popular choices. “Although we do get a few imported SUVs like the Pajero and the X-Trail, as some people like the SUV-Jeep mix, the Maruti Gypsy has stood the test of time,” says Phillipos Matthais, owner of Street Sports, a jeep modification firm in Mehrauli.
Giving tough competition to the Gypsy in the last few years is the Mahindra Thar, a descendant of the MM550, the original jeep only Mahindra had a licence to make, back in the 1970s. In case you don’t want either a Mahindra or a Gypsy, you could get an old army vehicle. Some aficionados are even known to install a Mahindra Scorpio engine in old army jeeps.
Larger tyres for better traction, fibreglass bodywork, a more powerful petrol engine – the list of modifications is endless. What makes the difference is the result: a higher, bigger, flashier and stronger machine. “I wanted huge tyres and a completely new macho-looking bodywork for my Gypsy. It now looks like the younger cousin of a monster truck,” says Kamal Chauhan, 36, a Noida-based businessman whose modified jeep has retained the front grill and lamps of his Hummer HX. If you plan to drive away into the ‘unknown’ (for instance, the off-road trails on the outskirts of Gurgaon) you need performance (and comfort), upgrades such as more advanced suspension, shock absorbers and air filters, a roll cage, a winch (that pulls you out of a ditch) and even a snorkel (that helps the engine breathe under five feet of water).
Of course, you can come up with innovative modifications on your own, too. Hospitality entrepreneur and motorsports buff Arjun Khanna, 38, for instance, cut off eight inches from the back of his jeep and 2.5 inches from the front to give it better departure and approach angles in uneven terrain. “It has greater ground clearance and long-range shockers so that the tyres are the first things to come in contact with any rocks or obstacles. The crawl gear ratios for higher torque help my machine climb steep cliffs,” adds Khanna.
If you are building a jeep for rally racing, you would do the opposite of what four-wheeling needs. “A modified roll cage and bumper, rally lamps, seats, belts and fuel tank are a few essential components of a rally jeep,” advises Sarika Sehrawat, 31, one of the first woman rally drivers in the country.
If you are not doing off-roading or rallying, and still want a jeep – you are obviously planning on making some friends very envious soon. As for the looks, cosmetic modifications – front grille and lamps, shiny alloys, sporty seats, gigantic tyres, a padded leather dashboard – work best.
In India, the jeep culture is most prominent in cities where there is enough space to drive them, and where outdoor rocky locations are just an hour or two away. Chandigarh-based Sunny Sidhu, 37, a multiple-time Raid de Himalaya champion, for instance, grew up driving a jeep. “They bring back memories of a time when there weren’t many cars or SUVs,” he says.
Delhi and Chandigarh in the north and Bangalore in the south are the hubs of jeep enthusiasts in India, says Mandeep Singh, a businessman who split open his jeep to build it for off-roading in Delhi and Punjab. As Phillipos Matthais of Street Sports puts it, “People who come to us don’t care what car they drive through the week. Their minds are always dreaming of the outdoors.”How Arjun Khanna, hospitality entrepreneur, got his own custom-made jeep
Original vehicle>> Gypsy 2009 model
Turned into>> Ultimate Off-Roader
Original vehicle >> Rs 5 lakh
Modifications >> Rs 10 lakh
Accessories in the back
High Lift Jack to change bigger tyres
Tree Cutters to slice off overhanging branches
Shovel to remove mud in case the jeep gets stuck
Arjun chopped off 8 inches from the back and 2.5 inches from the front of the original body He also installed larger off-roading tyres to make the jeep more suitable for rough terrainHow Kamal Chauhan, businessman, got himself a custom-made jeep
Original vehicle>> Gypsy 2010 model
Turned into>> A very macho-looking jeep Approximate expense
Original vehicle >> Rs 4 lakh
Modifications >> Rs 2 lakh
Sports seats and steering to give an outdoor look (the sports steering also offers better grip)
Large side view mirror from Hummer HX for that ‘big’ feel
Big tyres and spacers so that the jeep is higher and broader
In case you don’t want either a Mahindra or Gypsy, get an old army vehicle
A jeep, really?
When you call a Maruti Gypsy a Jeep, what you are saying is that it is made by an American automobile company called the Chrysler Group, which is certainly not true. It has been made by Maruti (earlier Maruti Suzuki).
This is because the name Jeep is a trademark owned by the Chrysler Group (which was first owned by Willys-Overland in 1950) and has traded hands every few decades to finally reach them. It’s like casually calling all musical keyboards Casios, which is again the name of a company. Imagine a Yamaha keyboard being called a Casio! And when you call a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) such as a Toyota Land Cruiser a jeep, you are again mistaken.
In the early 1990s, car buyers began losing interest in station wagons (also called estate cars, where the roof of a sedan is extended till the back). So automobile companies in the US decided to put the off-roading and four-wheel drive capabilities of the Jeep into the comfort of the station wagon, and the SUV was born. Soon, they made the interiors of SUVs luxurious, too!
So the Jeep is not a vehicle type, it is a company. And an SUV is not a Jeep (unless it’s made by the company Jeep, then it most certainly is!).
Although in very basic terms, all those vehicles we casually call the jeep are tough and strong and usually 4-wheel drive. These machines are very aggressive-looking and can cover the wildest terrain with a smile. So yes, that’s a jeep!
From HT Brunch, April 7
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