Vigilante: The full-size Jeep of your Hemi-powered dreams
Restomods are as popular as ever; combine that with a ferocious appetite for SUVs and off-roaders and you can imagine the kind of Jeep services in demand these days. Daniel and Rachel Van Doveren run Jeep Heritage, a Texas-based outfit that restores Jeeps of all kinds. Daniel has more than 20 years restoring Jeeps, and the two have been running their current business in the Lone Star State since 2016. For 2021, the husband-and-wife team launched a new sub-brand, Vigilante, for the most outrageous of full-size Jeep builds that meld ‘60s designs with late-model power, top-notch driving dynamics, and modern reliability.
We shouldn’t have to tell you how desirable Jeep Wagoneers and their full-size Cherokee and J-truck brethren have become. Way back when, Jeep beat Land Rover to the luxury SUV punch and created a whole new class of vehicles with the brand’s upscale Wagoneer trims; American buyers welcomed the beautiful Brooks Stevens design with open arms. Popular when new, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer have been collectible for years, with pristine examples demanding $60,000 or more. However, as Daniel notes, nothing lasts forever. “After 40 years, even the nice ones are showing their age.”
Noticing the thirst for Jeep trucks and SUVs that people could actually drive and not just collect, Jeep Heritage offered Stage 1 restorations that left the vehicle looking factory-fresh, but with even better fit and finish. Stage 2 added a more modern powerplant for those looking for added reliability, power, and fuel economy. Beyond that, at the tier that Jeep Heritage called Stage 3, is where Vigilante resides.
While the Jeep Heritage line focuses on restoration, the couple’s new Vigilante line pairs the classic full-size Jeep looks with an entirely new chassis and much more power. “It’s the same genes, but a new platform,” Daniel tells Hagerty. Vigilante commissioned a new chassis that was designed in Texas and manufactured in Europe (Van Doveren is Swedish and Dutch, as you may have guessed by the last name, and was raised in Belgium). A Gladiator, a Wagoneer, and a Cherokee were each 3D-scanned to provide a detailed map of the undercarriage and body mounts. The boxed-steel chassis uses Currie axles with disc brakes, Dana 44 front, and a Dana 60 rear, each with a four-link, coil-spring suspension. It’s appropriate for a Jeep, as Wrangler has been using a similar suspension since the TJ debuted in 1997.
The old full-size Jeeps were rather comfortable on leaf springs, but the suspension and braking just weren’t capable of delivering the kind of performance drivers expect from a modern vehicle, and that’s what Vigilante delivers. The new chassis was developed to accept any modern Gen III Hemi drivetrain. Want a 485-hp 6.4-liter? No problem. 707-hp Hellcat? Jeep Heritage can do that too. Customers can pair it with a six-speed manual or a Bowler 4L85E four-speed auto, but Daniel is currently working on a narrow-track 1977 four-door Cherokee that’s getting a 6.4-liter SRT powertrain complete with eight-speed auto and an Atlas transfer case. (Cue chorus of angels doing cloudy burnouts.)
Vigilante is currently on its fifth build. We asked Daniel if his business will have enough supply to last, and he admitted that he and his wife have about 30 donor vehicles ready. And, as Rachel explains, that might not translate into 30 possible builds. “With a perfect build, sometimes you need several donors,” she says. The pair find local vehicles through the usual means, but sometimes their reputation of keeping Jeeps on the road has brought sellers to their front door.
Daniel and Rachel work together to design and build the Jeeps, selecting the right shops for upholstery and bodywork—you won’t find body filler on these Jeeps—before assembling their version, and their customer’s version, of a sport-luxury dream SUV. That means the best designs in Jeep’s illustrious historical catalogue with the power to match. We asked how many Jeeps the couple and their subcontractors can build in a year. “It’s our dream to do this,” Rachel said. “If demand takes off, we’d love to grow,” but for now Jeep Heritage is happy to build between five and eight vehicles each year. That’s low volume to be sure, so if a very special restomod Jeep is on the wish list, you best get in line.