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Hooniverse Asks: When did the Jeep Wrangler become the TactiCOOL poster child?

Jeff Glucker October 27, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 11 Comments

The Jeep Wrangler took over for the CJ back in 1986. It was a vehicle still built upon the bones of a machine bred to serve in wartime, and then refined for civilian duty as the decades marched on. Today we have the JK generation Wrangler, and we’re all waiting for Chrysler to stop toying with us and pull the sheet back on the upcoming JL, especially the long-rumored pickup truck version.

Current Jeep fans fall into many camps, but they all seem to genuinely love their highly-capable vehicles. From the base two-door on up to fancy Unlimited Rubicons, you can take a Wrangler anywhere. Lately, it seems like more and more Jeeps aren’t really going places though, yet the owners are already prepped for North Korea to drop their Nukes on the West Coast.

Am I crazy, or does it seem like there has been a bit of a rise in the amount of heavily customized Wranglers prowling the streets? Not lightly upgraded examples, but Wranglers wearing every LED light offered in a given catalog, an angry scowling front-end half covering the headlights, and the cleanest upgraded suspension bought right off the SEMA show floor. These are Jeeps that appear ready for battle, but bear no scars from prior engagements. These Jeeps are tactiCOOL. Also, it seems to happy more often with the more expensive Unlimited over the standard two-door Wrangler.

Is the modern Wrangler Unlimited basically the AR15 of the off-road world? A good tool sullied by a handful of its owner base that seem hellbent on applying every mod with no care of how it actually affects performance. Or even making use of that performance.

When did the Jeep Wrangler become the vehicular posterchild for the tacticool amongst us?

[The Jeep above is listed for sale at ViperExhange.com …for $68k]

  • Zentropy

    You don’t see all of that garish nonsense on the trails, only the street. The people that actually off-road their Jeeps have functional mods that aren’t so obvious.

  • neight428

    It’s a visual commitment to a lifestyle that packs more of a punch than a bumper sticker. It seems to have started with the JK model and (as with the example) primarily goes with the four door version. Jeeps were always easy to customize, but as every day transportation, it had a lot of compromises. Not so much with the four door. See also, The Rise of the Brodozer with the advent of the crew cab half ton.

    All that said, a lifted Wrangler (2 or 4 door) just high enough to fit 35’s or 37’s still looks mighty good to my eye, questionable accessories being a personal preference thing, I guess. The simpler the better for me. I will say though, as a Houstonian, that snorkel does not look dumb at all anymore.

    • Mister Sterling

      Totally agree. As I kid, I loved lifted CJs. When the Wrangler name came in ’86, there was a healthy aftermarket, but lifts and light bars were all that was done. The JK has brought in so many new owners and accessory designers. The spectrum of ownership goers from Baby Boomers who got the 4-door Unlimited for a little nostalgia and practicality, to military buffs (people like me who wear Rothco gear once in a while, or an occasional M65 jacket when I attend a socialist rally) to active service members, gun collectors, and the far-right wingers who left comments on Jeff’s Rugged Ridge video. I fell in love with the JK in Vieques. I’m there every June, and I rent a JK for a week. That’s all you can rent in addition to side-by-sides, scooters, and golf carts. While I don’t own one, my wife might want to get a JL. There will be LEDs, but no survivalist accessories. I just have a Rugged Ridge beach towel for now (and it is nice).


      • jeepjeff

        TJs got a lot of really wacky after market glittery bits. Particularly wheels and trail armor with shiny chrome that would look horrible if you got any dirt on it at all. JKs just inherited and extended the trend.

  • Maymar

    To some extent I think this is regional, as only a small percentage of the JKU’s around here go this route (I think a bigger percentage are driven by reasonably comfortable 40somethings who’d look just as at home behind the wheel of a GTI). The full Bro treatment is mostly reserved for full-sized pickups.
    That said, I think the death of the full-sized 2-door SUV helped bring this about – the Burt Gummer-types don’t have the option of buying a GMC Jimmy or Ford Bronco anymore, so the Wrangler and Raptor are a natural progression.

  • 0A5599

    30+ years ago, every high school parking lot had at least one CJ with KC’s, big tires and a V8 swap, and not a scratch or scrape anywhere. Or maybe the same mods on a Toyota or Nissan pickup.

    I don’t think this is a particularly new trend. I do think there has been a broad expansion of available aftermarket products, and a willingness to buy everything in the catalog.

    • Alff

      There were a few Jeeps and other sundry 4×4’s at my HS but I don’t recall a single one that wasn’t regularly abused. Living in the shadow of the Cascades, there were too many opportunities to have fun. “Pavement Queen” 4×4 status was reserved for Mr. A’s (shop teacher) lifted bright orange ’55 Chevy pickup on a late model chassis. It was the second coolest vehicle in the lot, after Mr. O’s (other shop teacher) ’60s Maserati.

    • Zentropy

      A mild lift, big tires, and a V8 swap are actually useful modifications. My CJ had a 360, a 2″ lift, and 33s, making it more functional off-road without the ostentation. (I did, regrettably, add dual rally stripes over the blue paint, and installed ’66 Mustang tail lights– some things I would certainly do differently today).
      I think the big message here is USE the mods you add. Anything else is pure posing. Don’t put a snorkel on a Jeep if you don’t intend to cross the occasional creek. Same goes for track mods on street cars. There’s a kid down the street with a racing tow hook on his lowered Civic. I guarantee that car has never been even close to a track.

  • smalleyxb122

    I tell myself that I dislike non-functional aesthetic modifications, but that’s just what I tell myself to justify my disdain for modifications that aren’t to my liking. This kind of shit, I like. Sure, as with any modified vehicle, there are always things I would have done differently, but I don’t begrudge the desire to make a Jeep look tough. Does that mean I’ll stop making fun of purely aesthetic mods to make your Civic look fast? Hell no! I’m comfortable with my hypocrisy on the matter.

  • jeepjeff

    Garish Jeep mods have been a thing for a while. They’ve just gone from chrome armor to tactical bits. Tastes change.

  • P161911

    The Mall Ninja’s Mall Crawler.