New, classic and modified Jeeps congregate in Italy for a weekend of off-roading and entertainment in the first manufacturer-supported event in Europe
Lewis Kingston
16 September 2014

"It's a bit of a party at the end of the day," says Andrea Pallard, Jeep PR, gesturing at the large rock band-like stage in the background.

"We've beers, barbecues, off-road trials, test drives and instructors – it's an event for the private customer to enjoy," he adds, as a Grand Cherokee driven by World Rally Champion Massimo 'Miki' Biasion clambers out of a ditch behind us.

It's here, in the Frazione Viazzano estate, near Parma in Italy, that Jeep has chosen to host what is claimed to be the first officially backed European "Camp Jeep".

The event, open to owners and those merely interested alike, is designed to demonstrate and promote the strengths of the brand, while giving owners the opportunity to test their Jeeps and enjoy the social aspect of such a gathering.

"We expect around 150-200 private customers to visit Camp Jeep," says Pallard. "They are coming from Italy, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, Germany, Austria – primarily from Europe." Admission to the three-day event would set you back €130, approximately £100, and – pleasingly – passengers of paying customers could enter the rally for free.

The reasons for choosing Frazione Viazzano as the venue for Camp Jeep become evident once you clear the crest of the hill at the end of the access road. The estate, which is commonly used for hunting and off-road events, consists of vast tracts of land, miles of off-road trails and a disused terracotta mine.

Consequently it's ideal for Jeep, as it allowed three off-road courses to be established, ranging from simple gravel-strewn trails to assault courses laid out in foot-deep mud – and the variety of surfaces and inclines easily accommodate both beginners and professionals alike.

A lesson in off-road driving with Miki Biasion

As well as the opportunity to drive off-road and try new cars from Jeep's line-up, including the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, visitors could also browse a host of aftermarket suppliers, buy spare parts, listen to live music and drive quad bikes on a dedicated course.

Numerous privately owned Jeeps, ranging from new Jeep Cherokees through to custom-built competition Wranglers, were lined up alongside a collection of historic models – including an original Willys MB, Cherokee Chief, Gladiator pick-up and several earlier Wranglers.

Jeep's new compact SUV, the Renegade, was also on display. It garnered much interest from those interested in a smaller, more economical Jeep that still bore many of the brand's familiar hallmarks. It, like Jeep's other new models at the show, was a common sight around the event, regularly being demonstrated on and off the road.

"The longest route is 11 miles," notes Pallard, "and during this there are the option of yellow and black sections." The yellow routes typically involve muddy sections, meaning addition care is required, while the black routes are strictly reserved for modified Jeeps – those with with substantial lift kits, tuned engines, modified drivetrains and specialist off-road tyres.

Visitors could also increase their off-road abilities by partaking in the "Jeep Academy", where instructors – trained by Jeep's US staff who regularly test the cars in the most arduous of conditions – provide instructions on how to get the best out of each Jeep.

We watch as three Wranglers, each bearing a club banner, descend into the first stage of the course, churning dust into the air. "It's the first time that we're working directly with the Jeep clubs in Italy and Europe," adds Pallard, "usually they work on their own."

"We've got good connections here now though; a staff member in Turin has a family member who runs a famous dealership so we're now friends with all the clubs."

The intention, if the meet proves successful, is to host similar Camp Jeep events in different countries – and on a yearly basis.

After all, in an increasingly competitive and lucrative SUV market, and with the need to maintain distinction and justification for purchase, the logic behind hosting such events is clear. It allows Jeep, in an engaging and interesting fashion, to continue to build its relationship with current customers, and educate new buyers about its history and capabilities.

Next to us, a couple unfamiliar with Jeep clamber aboard a new Cherokee and head out on to the trails with an instructor, as the seemingly endless cycle of test drives continue.

"It's a good way to communicate the brand," says Pallard. "It's better to show these off in the countryside, rather than in dealerships."

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Our Verdict

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The current Jeep Grand Cherokee is almost indescribably better than its predecessor

16 September 2014
Rather than the school run. Looks like cracking fun.

16 September 2014
Jeeps can be very camp indeed

16 September 2014
God damm it, then again I don't have a Jeep.

 Offence can only be taken not given- so give it back!

16 September 2014
Pallard clearly doesn't mince his words.

16 September 2014
Camp?, has a different meaning here!

Peter Cavellini.

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