Double-Take: 1997 Jeep Dakar Concept

Double-Take: 1997 Jeep Dakar Concept

Story by John Gunnell, photos courtesy of Jeep

There were a lot of strained necks at 1997 auto shows across North America as Jeep fans tried to get a glimpse of the Jeep Dakar concept vehicle. Jeep designers said that they were confident that outdoor enthusiasts would stop to do a double-take at the Dakar—a dream machine that was essentially a four-door Jeep Wrangler. It was first revealed at the 1997 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.

“People will definitely look twice when they see the Dakar,” said Chrysler’s vice president of product design John E. Herlitz. “Compared to the 1997 Jeep Wrangler, the Dakar comes complete with twice as many doors and is prepared for twice the adventure.”

Jeep designers made room for the two additional doors by stretching the Wrangler wheelbase to 108.5 inches, adding almost 15 inches to the overall length of the vehicle. With the lengthened wheelbase, it was possible to offer additional interior room for passengers and their gear. Chrysler design director Trevor M. Creed pointed out that the extra length also improved the ride since it positioned rear-seat passengers in front of the rear axle, instead of directly on top of it.

To enhance the sense of being outdoors and further build on the adventuresome spirit of the Jeep Wrangler, the show car—we mean show Jeep—was given a windshield that was distinct from that of the Wrangler. It also had different side glass and an all-new steel roof.

The unique Dakar roof offered a variety of exciting features including a full-length built-in tubular roof rack, a manual sliding canvas sun roof, a front-of-the-roof-mounted rally lamp package, rooftop spare tire storage and strategically-placed access hand rails that ran the entire length of the D-pillar. The spare tire was clamped on the roof bars and featured a special sliding mechanism that allowed for easy, quick, hassle-free removal.

Other multi-purpose features of the Dakar included a folding shovel integrated into the vehicle’s front fender, jerry cans built onto the tailgate and an adventure module, designed to fit inside the rear door, that features a night-vision scope, a pair of binoculars, a flashlight and a compass. “With the Dakar, you’ll always be prepared,” Creed advised. “The concept Jeep is thought out so you’ll never know where the Dakar’s spirit of adventure may take you.”

The Dakar concept’s earth-toned interior shared the same rugged characteristics offered in the 1997 Jeep Wrangler, but also featured wood trim, woven leather seats and Berber carpeting. “We utilized wood and leather to give the interior of the vehicle more of a civilized, European-style flavour,” said Creed.

At a time when many sport utility vehicles shared the same look, the Dakar was in a class by itself. No one would mistake it for something else, because it had an authentic, instantly recognizable design execution that opened up new styling opportunities for one of the world’s most recognized brands.

Whether the show goer looking at the Dakar dreamed of being on a safari, at the beach or even just stargazing, the combination of the new four-door Wrangler body and thoughtful features made the Jeep Dakar a winner on the show circuit.

The Dakar concept led to Jeep marketing a long-wheelbase two-door Wrangler and then the four-door Wrangler. Beginning in 2004 and through 2006, the long-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited with two doors was offered. This style was available only with automatic transmission in 2004, but a six-speed manual option was added for 2005 and 2006. In 2007, the long-wheelbase Wranglers became four-door only models that looked much like the Dakar in a basic sense. They had 20 inches more length. By mid 2017, four-door models represented three quarters of all new Wranglers sold.



Overall length                       166.5 inches

Overall width                          72.0 inches

Overall height                         75.0 inches

Wheelbase                             108.5 inches

Front track                               65.4 inches

Rear track                                62.0 inches

Wheels                                   Cast Aluminum

Front                                       31 x 10.5 Wrangler A/T

Rear                                        31 x 10.5 Wrangler A/T

Engine                                    4.0L, In-line six

Drivetrain                              Four-speed automatic

Body                                       Four-door; All-steel body on frame

Front suspension                  Front carryover Wrangler

Rear suspension                   Rear carryover Wrangler

Brakes                                    ABS

Front                                       Disc

Rear                                        Drum

Exterior colour                     Desert Sand

Interior trim                           Saddle tan interior with woven leather seat inserts

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus