It doesn’t fly – why is Jeep at Farnborough?

Tackling the ramp without taking off in the 2014 Wrangler

Tackling the ramp without taking off in the 2014 Wrangler

Simon Truscott

With the majority of the defence press and aviation enthusiasts keenly covering a certain aeroplane which is yet to fly – ahem F-35 – I thought I’d take a look at the other very much grounded attractions on offer at Farnborough this year.

Located near the flight line and the main pavilions no visitor can miss Jeep’s stand. Parent group Fiat are official event sponsors which means that around the show their models from Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep can be seen patrolling up and down complete with Farnborough logos. Nobody is quite sure who is eligible for a lift with them or if this is just an excuse to ‘put the brand out there’.

I sampled the Jeep experience and asked Nick, chief driver trainer at Fiat UK, about the relevance of their placement here. He explained how the brand ties in with the military world since Jeep’s original conception was derived from the need for troop transportation across rough terrain back in 1941. Aviation connections? The original Jeep was light enough to be transported by plane and delivered to the front line.

At the show I took the modern 2.8 litre Wrangler 4×4 over a 26 degree sideways incline using hill descent control and across a rocky ‘ravine’ 1 foot above the airport grass. However Nick assured me that in the right hands it could manage inclines of up to 48 degrees; its two axles independently manoeuvring the chassis effortlessly and in opposite angles with all four wheels still firmly gripping the ground. Its military pedigree and potential capability in hostile terrain are pretty clear.

On an off-record basis, in between some off-road driving tips, the staff told me how, with all the big money changing hands elsewhere at the show and the high footfall of potential customers dropping in, it makes absolute sense to be displaying the group’s line-up of rugged and luxury 4x4s here.

The Wrangler has so far proven the most popular vehicle on display amongst the Jeep product family, and Nick puts this down to its looks, which have barely altered externally in 70 years and it still promises the customer off-road capability and the chance to experience a drive totally different to their everyday commute – ‘rock climbers and outdoors people love it – or I’d like to think so’ he added.

The Wrangler gets through the tough stuff using a low range gear box and chunky robust tyres which mean the car pulls itself along through the rubble and the driver just brakes softly. Although the car has many modern refinements, it’s still very squarely proportioned both inside and out and would be totally recognisable to the US troops familiar with its predecessor during the Second World War.

Golf carts and Mercedes Benz saloons are the other must-have way to travel around for the Farnborough big wigs during show week. If you have access to either, you are invariably a ‘Quite Important Person’ here. I spotted a chauffeur-driven golf buggy with a police escort of three motorbikes! The golf carts and black German saloons of various makes actually outnumber the many Alfas and Fiats (which will probably annoy Fiat PR bosses).

Jeep is just providing some light relief from all those things with wings and blades.

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