Today the Jeep XJ-001 exists only in photographs, but it was a fascinating project from the little Toledo automaker that’s well worth checking out.
By 1970, Jeep’s long career as an independent automaker was coming to an end. In February of that year, the Toledo company was acquired from Kaiser Industries by American Motors in a stock deal that was eventually worth around $38 million. But before Jeep kicked the bucket as a stand-alone car company, there was one final prototype vehicle from the Toledo engineering team called the XJ-001, a dual-purpose on/off road sport vehicle.
The exterior design of the XJ-001 is credited to Jeep styling chief Jim Anger, who was also responsible, it’s said, for the second-generation Jeepster Commando of 1966-1971 and the 1971-1973 Jeep Commando. The stated objective was to create a capable off-road recreational vehicle that was also fun to drive on pavement—a two-seat Jeep sports car, in a nutshell.
Accordingly, the XJ-001 was constructed on a standard Jeep Universal CJ-5 chassis, complete with stubby 81-inch wheelbase, but with a much lower body profile and center of mass for good road handling. And to add more punch, the dinky Jeep Hurricane four-banger was replaced with a 360 CID American Motors V8.
Molded in fiberglass, the one-piece body featured an integral, shoulder-high roll bar mounted just behind the seats, while the windshield frame was also reinforced for rollover protection. Manually locking hubs for the four-wheel drive system are visible on the front spindles, and Goodyear Polyglas GT 60-Series street tires rode on deep-dish, chrome-reverse wheels. While color photos of the XJ-0001 are rare and faded, it appears the primrose-hued paint was probably Jeep Candle Light Yellow with black stripes and trim.
Also molded in fiberglass, no doubt, the instrument panel carried a full complement of Stewart-Warner gauges, including a large-diameter speedometer and tach at the top of the center stack. A sports car-style center console featured both open and closed storage bins, and there was a Euro-flavored shift lever and boot for the three-speed manual transmission.
The single XJ-001, a fully roadworthy prototype, made its debut at the 1970 New York Auto Show in April, where it was reportedly quite a hit. Despite the recent takeover of the company, the project was evidently accepted with enthusiasm by American Motors brass, and a full slate of car show appearances was scheduled. Unfortunately, while on its way to the Texas State Fair that autumn, the transporter carrying the XJ-001 rolled over and the car was burned to a crisp—a total loss. All future Jeep development would be concentrated at AMC’s engineering headquarters on Plymouth Road in Detroit.