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The Kaiser-Jeep Bolide XJ-002 concept: 4x4 sports car in 1969?

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by Daniel W. Kunz

The only Kaiser-Jeep concept car to be built by an outside firm, the Jeep XJ-002 was also the last Kaiser-Jeep concept car - and was meant to be a prototype as much as a concept.

The XJ-001, based on a CJ-5, was destroyed when its transport crashed.

Built in 1969 using a Jeepster Commando's pickup frame and running gear provided to Borg-Warner's Marbon Chemical Division, Centaur Engineering Group, the car may be the first modern SUV concept. Kaiser-Jeep called it the first four wheel drive "Jeep Sports Car and All Purpose Utility Vehicle."

The Bolide was authorized by a vice-president of Kaiser-Jeep as a possible candidate for production, by the Bolide Motor Car Company (Huntington, New York) - a joint venture between Kaiser-Jeep and Borg Warner, which owned Cycolac Thermoplastic. Andrew "Jack" Griffith, previously of Griffith Motors (known for the TVR), was to take care of market testing and sales through selected Jeep dealers.

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After the XJ-002 was built, AMC - the merged Hudson and Nash - bought Kaiser-Jeep and purged its senior staff. Rather than being returned to Kaiser, XJ-002 was sent to Borg Warner's Marbon Division in West Virginia after its only auto show.

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The original car had a plastic windshield and no doors (doors were being worked on from photos of the molds, which have been lost). The mechanicals were basically stock and were still intact in 2009: a Buick V6, GM Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission, and 3.31 rear. The original interior, wheels, and tires were lost, but photos of the originals remain, and Daniel Kunz was able to find OEM replacements for each - including seats from the same dune-buggy shop that sold the originals to Dann Deaver.

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The designer and builder was Dann Deaver, who made it in Michigan, using fiberglass for the body though the production car was to use Cycolac thermoplastic. Only a single car was built, and then Dann destroyed the molds.

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The original drawing showed a Corvair-based car; but after meeting with a Jeep VP who wanted a unique vehicle based on their underpinnings, Dann Deaver and Jack Griffiths (famed for the TVR) decided that if they "squatted up" the Corvair design, the result would fit nicely on a Jeepster Commando chassis and look "jeepish," so that is what they did.

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The current owner is Daniel W. Kunz; there have been at least five other owners with titles, and another six without titles. The car was titled in Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia, and is currently titled in Virginia as a 1969 Jeep, after being found in West Virginia in 1996, with 9,049 original miles (documented by the various titles).

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Originally yellow, the concept has been painted, at various times, light blue, dark blue, black, hot pink, and camo. Daniel has numerous art and documentation photos, slides, and some video footage of the original vehicle, as well as an oral history by Dann Deaver regarding its design, build, testing and history.

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Daniel also has the original brochure for the car and a photocopy of the only book that had a photo layout of the Bolide - The JEEP Book; America's Premier Recreational Vehicle (Martin Schorr, Performance Publications). When he found the car, it was being used as a mud racer/bogger - hence the changes seen below.

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by the Allpar staff

The car was mentioned in the Standard Catalog of American Cars, but was assumed to have been destroyed, and no photos could be found at the time of publication. The Bolide was, in 2009, mechanically disassembled and in the western portion of Virginia, and was offered to someone who would pledge to restore the vehicle to original or near original condition. Daniel took up the challenge and brought the car, with information from its builder, to several shops. It is currently nearing the end of a rotisserie restoration to original specifications. How will it look?

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Dan wrote,

The full exact restoration will prove to be interesting for people who look for a 100 point restoration, since the frame and raw fiberglass interior were being hand painted by brush with black house paint while the Bolide XJ-002 was in the trailer on the way to the New York Auto Show. I wonder how to determine where the paint drips were?

It has rubber floor mats, a rough dash and console with cloth covering, upholstered seats (kluged from low backs to high with plywood), and no headliner (the roof was painted black).

Some think, wrongly, that the XJ-002 was tested by the military. This never happened, but there is a reason. Dann Deaver had a few Meharis in West Virginia (since lost), which were also his design; the Mahari was a sort of quasi-Jeepish vehicle that was produced in small numbers in France.
This is a unique and historic vehicle and the first modern SUV; it started the trend, long before SUVs became popular.

Other concept cars at allpar

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Concept cars are often made so a car's feel can be evaluated, problems can be foreseen, and reactions of the public can be judged. Some concepts test specific ideas, colors, controls, or materials - either subtle or out of proportion, to hide what's being tested. Some are created to help designers think "out of the box." The Challenger, Prowler, PT Cruiser, and Viper were all tested as production-based concepts dressed up to hide the production intent.

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