Look closely at the Jeep Wrangler and you’ll see several small tributes to the Willys model that started it all 60-plus years ago.
On the windshield, on the front seat passenger’s forward grab bar, and on each of the four rims are little styling cues that harken back to the Jeep’s heritage as a do-all troop hauler in World War II.
Some are more prominent than others, but collectively, Chrysler’s designers call them “Easter eggs” — little designs left behind to be found later.
“It’s something that started three or four years ago and it’s really taken off. Now I have to almost control it,” said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s vice president for product design. “They can get out of hand. But [designers] are so proud of what they work on, they really are. It’s almost like actively trying to leave a legacy for the next generation.”
At Chrysler, Easter eggs aren’t confined to the Wrangler, though the model has several, including a Jeep grille logo above the rear-view mirror and a silhouette of a Jeep climbing a rocky hillside in the passenger corner of the windshield. The grab bar is embossed with “Jeep” and “Since 1941.”
The newest comes on the rims of all 2013-model year Saharas and Rubicons with a small but unmistakable Willys Jeep silhouette.
Mr. Gilles said the silhouette marks the 10th anniversary of the Wrangler Rubicon, a more rugged and trail-ready version of the Wrangler.
The same silhouette is also hidden away in the headlamp assembly of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
“The Wrangler is always going to be the original,” Mr. Gilles said in an interview last month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “The Willys Jeep is kind of the godfather of the brand.”
Small semihidden design elements have shown up on other cars over the years. Since the 1990s, Chevrolet Corvettes have had small icons of a baseball bat, hot dog, apple pie, and Chevrolet bowtie logo stamped into metal that would normally be covered with carpet near the rear speakers, recalling the lyrics from a classic 1974 Chevrolet ad.
The practice is far from exclusive to the auto industry, however.
“The idea of creating these moments of discovery in a design that reinforced a purchase, that’s very common in design. Apple excels at it,” said Dan Cuffaro, chairman of the industrial design department at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Mr. Cuffaro said including small details consumers perhaps weren’t aware of at the time of purchase allows them to discover them later as a sort of reward for their purchase. An example Mr. Cuffaro gave from a few years ago was one of the cell phones with changeable faceplates. A smiley face was etched into the metal underneath the cover.
“It was something the average person might never come across,” he said. “They have to change their faceplate and there’s this complex piece of electronics with a little smiley face. It’s just alleviating the intimidation ... the smiley face takes the edge off the experience.”
It’s also common in video games and computer programs, where inputting a certain code unlocks a hidden feature. Google often writes tricks into its search engine — try searching for “tilt.”
Mr. Cuffaro also has some firsthand knowledge of the Wrangler. Chrysler worked with a group of students from the Cleveland Art Institute during its most recent redesign of the Wrangler. Though he said he ca’'t speak much about the automaker’s strategy, part of the thinking was how to build on the reputation of an iconic product both to keep it relevant and to use it as an inspiration for other projects.
But are there more Jeep Easter eggs?
“Oh, yes,” Mr. Gilles said. “We have fun with it.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.