I’m a fan of the Jeep Wrangler. That’s not a secret. It’s a vehicle built to a single purpose, and it does that one thing exceptionally well.
Well, it used to be built to a purpose. That’s getting a little diluted lately, but we’re not here to talk about that. What we’re here to discuss is customization.
The Wrangler has the largest aftermarket landscape of any single model of vehicle. It’s easy to customize, and many owners do. Which is fine, it’s your car- go ahead. If you really want 6 inches of lift and 37 inch tires AND to daily drive your Jeep, you’re the one who has to live with that decision- not me.
But the part that puzzles me is how the first mod most of these people seem to make now is the “angry headlights” grill. You know the ones, they cover a little bit of the top of the round headlights to take your Jeep from an optimistic freshman on their first day of college to an irritable 7th grader on week three of an energy-drink guzzling, wall-punching, “you’re not my real dad” campaign of rage.
As an experiment, I image searched “Jeep Wrangler grill”, just to see what hits I would get.
As you can see, angry headlights are almost all I got.
But why? Why this obsession with changing the Wrangler’s universally recognized appearance? My running theory has to do with the broad demographics which the Jeep Wrangler appeals to.
You see, the Wrangler has a unique type of popularity. If you buy a Camry, nobody is going to make any assumptions about you based on your car. The Camry is a popular vehicle, but it doesn’t say anything. It has no cult following.
Were you to buy a Mustang, people will draw conclusions from that. It’s another enormously popular vehicle, but one that has a distinctive image because it attracts a specific set of buyers. When people see you in a Mustang, they feel that they have some idea about what type of person you are. There is a Mustang community with a somewhat unified demographic.
The unique social aspect of the Wrangler is in it’s community. The Wrangler is a “lifestyle” vehicle, one with personality and a cult following. But it’s community is extremely diverse as a result of the vehicle’s versatility and accessibility.
The AMC-built Wrangler of yesteryear was a very different vehicle than what we know today. It was rugged, unforgiving, dangerously slow, supernaturally capable off-road, and tougher than a well-done pork chop. But things changed throughout the years to make the Wrangler more marketable.
With the JK generation’s introduction in the mid 00s, now Chrysler-owned Jeep added the Unlimited model Wrangler with a longer wheelbase and 4 full doors. This changed everything. No longer was the Wrangler a tiny hardcore off-roader, now it could be a mid-sized SUV. 4-door Wrangler sales exploded immediately, and they now outsell the 2-door Wrangler by a landslide. The modern Jeep Wrangler is comfortable, stylish, and even reasonably fast. It’s a trendy lifestyle vehicle.
But underneath the heated seats, extra doors, and 9-speed automatic transmissions there is still an unbelievably capable off-road machine. And some people still buy them because they recognize the potential.
This means several groups gravitate towards the Wrangler: beach-goers, college students, off-road enthusiasts, and many more. But some people want to stand out among a “pedestrian” community.
I’m hesitant to say that the off-road enthusiasts are solely the ones who feel the need to separate from the general Jeep community. But there’s a certain breed of guy, and it’s almost always dudes, who feel the need to build their Wrangler into a “bro-dozer” to make it clear that he is a MAN who does MAN STUFF with his MAN JEEP. These are the angry headlight Jeeps.
They’re not even always the kind of person that will take their bro-Jeep off-road. A lot of them are completely kitted out for the trail but never actually make it there. Despite the insistence by appearance that these are the most dedicated Jeep owners, most of them care about very little beyond how their Jeep affects their image.
I think they’re trying to get away from the “friendly” Jeep. The Wrangler TJ, for instance, is a cute, enthusiastic little thing that looks like it should shout “Good morning world!” when you start it up. The lifted, 4-door angry Wrangler JL Unlimited Rubicon bellows “What do you want? What the hell are we doing now?”
There’s no way you can be mad staring into the innocent, joyful eyes of the 2000 Wrangler TJ. I think Angry Jeep Bros just need a car as mad as they are.
Anyway, my point is simple. No matter who you are, what wrangler you have, or why, embrace the Happy Jeep. The stock Wrangler’s wide, cheerful eyes welcome you.
By the way, the TJ was the best Jeep.