A few weeks ago, I finished up the Dream Garage series, laying out in detail what dream cars I could actually afford and why I chose them. Part four covered the ideal tough toy, that rugged, go-anywhere truck or SUV best suited to haul your stuff and hurl you into adventure. I chose an old Toyota Pickup for its staggering durability and cool, Back to the Future ‘80s look.
Not much could persuade me to change my mind, but a certain concept vehicle from Mopar and Jeep might do the trick, especially if they ever put it into production. It isn’t often that a concept vehicle gets past my watch, but somehow Mopar’s NuKizer 715 did. For over a year. It first showed up at the 2010 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. And had I seen it then, I would have been just as amazed.
The NuKizer is an homage to Jeep’s Kaiser M-715 truck, a Gladiator-based military spec pickup introduced in 1969. It had a cloth cab roof, four-wheel-drive, and a payload of 1.25 tons. Under its olive drab hood was a 230 straight six firing out 140 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. But that wasn’t enough for the rigors of Vietnam, and it was discontinued after only two years.
So when Mopar started the NuKizer project, they needed a modern alternative for the platform. They turned to the J8. Based in turn on the Wrangler Unlimited chassis, the J8 is a pickup (or SUV, depending on how it’s outfitted) marketed toward foreign military forces. No, it can’t be sold here, as it doesn’t meet our stringent emissions standards, but it is service-ready, complete with aircraft tie down hooks on the bumpers and a 7,700 lb towing capacity. The J8 is assembled in Israel and Egypt.
The platform in place, Mopar went to town, and came back with the NuKizer. It’s a 4WD pickup truck built for rock crawling, exploration, and a lot of fun. First off, it looks like the old Kaiser. The custom front clip has been sculpted of carbon fiber into a throwback fascia, sure to stir the memory of any Vietnam vet. Further back, the cab is covered with a Bestop cloth top (though Mopar seems to have demurred on whether or not it’s actually removable). The windshield itself has been edited a few inches for a shorter, sportier look. Finally, for a pickup bed, Mopar bolted on an AEV Brute cargo box designed for TJs.
Under the hood crouches the J8’s 2.8 liter diesel four (sadly paired to a slushy autobox). This one, however, has a turbo and an ECU remap that help boost horsepower to 187. It doesn’t sound like much, but torque matters much more in this game, and the NuKizer has a molar-pulling 460 lb-ft of it. Transferring that kinetic goodness to the rock, sand, snow, or mud is an upgraded drivetrain with Dynatrac ProRock Dana axles, 44 up front and 60 out back. There’s also an ARB Air Locker differential system. Now, I’m not really sure what any of that means, but it sounds awesome.
What I do know is that the 38 inch BFGoodrich KM2 tires will get the NuKizer wherever it feels like going. There are other little goodies, too. The spare tire, for instance, sits low in a divot against the cab. And the Warn winch hides neatly behind the front bumper.
Should it prove to be tough enough, the NuKizer might just make the ideal tough toy for the Dream Garage. Sadly, it will probably never reach production. The truth is, Mopar and Jeep sling concepts in preparation for Jeep events like Little Caesar’s does Hot n’ Readies in preparation for a high school half-day.
Still, we’re allowed to dream. Since I know the now heavily accented executives at Fiat Chrysler follow my articles quite closely, I’ll offer them an action plan. First, test the NuKizer for a million miles and reinforce it until it’s indestructible. Next, offer a manual option. I don’t know much about rock crawling, but I have picked up a thing or two about driving stick, and I know it’s just more fun. Put it into production as the new Jeep Gladiator. Finally, sit back and watch the profit roll in! Come on, guys, I know what I’m talking about, here!
Er, well, like I said before, we’re allowed to dream.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.