The April 2019 release of the Jeep® Gladiator JT thrilled Jeep fans, and the debut of Dana’s two modified Gladiators created a sensation at a Jeep festival in June.
In June 2019, over 27,000 people gathered at a campground in Coopers Lake, Pennsylvania and settled in amidst sponsors, vendors, and a whole lot of beloved vehicles. Coopers Lake may not be a vacation destination that everyone instantly recognizes, but one thing that makes it special is its proximity to Butler, PA: the birthplace of the Jeep®. So that’s where Jeep enthusiasts flocked for the ninth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, turning out from 31 states, Washington DC, and Canada with more than 2,500 registered Jeeps – and thousands more in the parking lot. For the sixth year running, the Dana Aftermarket team joined the event to celebrate both the history of Jeep, and its future.
As a tribute event for the Bantam General Purpose Vehicle, the predecessor of all “jeeps,” this family-friendly Jeep Festival features a Jeep History exhibit. The concept for the jeep was a response to the U.S. Army’s demand for an easily-transportable 4x4 vehicle during World War II. Dana is fundamental to this celebration of the vehicle that helped win a war, as the production version of the Bantam utilized Dana Model 25 front axles, Model 27 rear axles, Spicer® driveshafts, and a Dana 18 transfer case. “We are proud to be a manufacturer, whose components were utilized for the Bantam vehicles, continuously supporting the event,” says Randall Speir, Senior Manager of Dana Performance.
In addition to providing an education on the heritage of today’s Jeep, the festival offers on- and off-road experiences, a large vendor area, a playground, and a “Jeep Invasion” of downtown Butler. “Just as with the whole weekend, the Invasion was incredibly busy,” recalls Speir. “The sheer number of Jeeps was astounding. Butler actually holds the world record for the largest Jeep parade!” Although that record of 2,420 was set in 2015, well over 2,000 Jeeps snaked through Butler this year, along with more than 15,000 Jeep lovers.
For the weekend at the sprawling campground, Dana provided their display trailer to exhibit popular Jeep aftermarket upgrades such as their crate axles. “We had the ring and pinion gearing, the diff covers, and other robust products that we manufacture for Jeep vehicles,” explains Speir. “The attendees there were looking for a variety of quality Spicer® products to restore their early-model Jeeps, or upgrade their new Jeeps fresh off the assembly line.”
This event differed from others that Dana Aftermarket attends, in that Dana was there predominantly to display rather than to participate in the more dynamic aspects of the festival. And while members of the Dana Aftermarket team do love to get out on the trails and in the mud, they also appreciate the opportunity to interact with and educate the attendees. “There were so many great conversations all weekend,” says Speir. “One of the coolest things we noticed was the huge amount of new Jeep owners there. It was about 50 percent JK and JL owners, who represent the next generation. We had a lot of discussions about AdvanTEK® axles, and about introducing this new technology into the market.”
Perhaps the biggest buzz at the 2019 event, though, surrounded this year’s release of the Jeep Gladiator. Says Speir, “The latest addition to the Jeep legacy is the JT pick-up truck, the Gladiator. And we just happened to have two of them there at the show!” One of the Gladiators in the Dana booth was a pre-production build with Ultimate Dana 60™ bolt-in front and rear crate axles, and the other truck featured an Ultimate Dana 44™ AdvanTEK® front axle upgrade with a Spicer® AdvanTEK™ expanded ratio ring and pinon gearing upgrade installed in the rear axle. “For me, this was certainly a highlight. There was just tons of excitement, and it was fitting to reveal our vehicles there.” Festival participants were of course eager to check out these examples of the latest Jeep pick-up, as well as the three upgraded Wranglers on display at Dana’s vendor booth.
The cross-functional support team from Dana included individuals involved in product planning, engineering, marketing, an intern program, and sales. “Attending events like the Bantam Jeep Festival allows us to capture the voice of the customer, to interact, to ask questions. That, in turn, helps us conceptualize, engineer, and provide better products,” explains Speir. Throughout this weekend filled with opportunities to celebrate the Jeep lifestyle, Dana Aftermarket kept their eyes on the ultimate goal: “We engineer and manufacture products to upgrade your Jeep so you can live the Spicer life, and have more adventures.”