Jeep® is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Its vehicles, such as the Wrangler, are icons in automotive history. For the past 30 years, Mark Allen has shepherded exterior design for the Jeep brand, first as a designer and working his way up to vice president of Jeep design.
Throughout those decades, Allen ensured the brand stayed true to its iconic design heritage, while evolving and moving forward. Now, Allen begins a new chapter as he retires from the Stellantis Product Design Office at the end of this month.
From Car Designer to Jeep Enthusiast
Even at the age of 5, Allen knew he wanted to be an automotive designer.
While studying at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Allen knew he wanted to work for the Chrysler Corporation and specifically for Tom Gale, the then head of design. Why? Allen says Gale’s design team was turning out some incredible concepts and there was just an energy about them.
Allen landed an internship in 1993, making his dream to work with Gale come true. His excitement over being hired in 1994 after graduating from CCS was tempered because the job was in the Jeep Truck design studio. “I wanted to be a car designer; Jeep was all about trucks,” says Allen.
That changed in 2003 when Allen attended his first Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. “The whole vibe of the event really turned the corner for me, and I became a super Jeep enthusiast,” he says. “I had never driven off-road like that before. I was rock-crawling and appreciated the technique and finesse needed. I fell in love.”
Allen came home and immediately bought his first Jeep Wrangler, a 2001 TJ. He still owns it.
The Road to Easter Jeep Safari
Before Moab, there was the SkunkWerks. Allen worked in and eventually led this team of in-house enthusiasts — designers, engineers, marketers, and product planners — that created and built one-off custom vehicles. The team was renamed (Mopar) Underground in deference to Lockheed Martin’s ownership of Skunk Works.
The Underground team focused on building vehicles for the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas.
Allen’s team built the 2004 Jeep KJ “Liberator” Liberty concept specifically for SEMA. Allen knew it was the type of vehicle that should be at the Easter Jeep Safari, so he took it there, marking the brand’s first appearance at the annual event. Since then, the brand has used the Easter Jeep Safari to showcase new concept vehicles and interact with Jeep enthusiasts, learning how they use their vehicles, what they like and what they want to see on Jeep vehicles. The Easter Jeep Safari is now a rite of passage for all Jeep brand designers.
Allen’s team has created numerous concept vehicles for Easter Jeep Safari. Out of all of them, his favorite is the Jeep Nukizer 715, an all-purpose truck that pays homage to the beloved, military-only Kaiser M-715 truck. Allen sketched the concept and managed the entire build process. “If I could take one home with me, this would be it,” he says with a smile.
Jeep Vehicle Legacy
When Allen started 30 years ago, the brand had three products and a small design studio. Today, the Jeep vehicle lineup comprises the Cherokee, Compass, Gladiator, Grand Cherokee, three-row Grand Cherokee L, Grand Cherokee 4xe, Renegade, Wrangler and Wrangler 4xe. Allen also oversaw the return of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as a premium extension of the Jeep brand.
Allen’s favorite vehicles are the 2018 (JL) Wrangler and the 2020 (JT) Gladiator. He credits former CEO Sergio Marchionne for championing the Jeep Gladiator, the brand’s first pickup truck since the Comanche, which was discontinued in 1992.
Keeping Easter Eggs Quiet
The first Easter Egg was hatched on the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, when a Jeep designer created a tiny Wrangler front end icon featuring the grille and headlamps, with the intention of it being placed in the middle of the headlamps.
“There was never a plan (for Easter Eggs). We do it for our customers because we want them to know that their vehicle was created by an actual person who is passionate about the brand,” Allen says. “The secret is not to overdo it, not do too many and be too obvious.”
Allen says he doesn’t know how many Easter Eggs have been created, nor do they keep track of them. Finding them? Allen and the Jeep design team have taken an oath of secrecy: “These are for our customers, and I love how thrilled they are when they find them.”
His personal favorite “eggs” are the spider on the Jeep Renegade, a project that paired the U.S. and Italian design teams, and the 419 on the Jeep Gladiator — which pays respect to the men and women who work at the Toledo Assembly Complex.
Riding the Wave
Reflecting on his 30 years, Allen says he is most proud of the growth of the Jeep brand, the proliferation of models and the brand’s global success. He has enjoyed being at the helm and keeping the design philosophy intact while modernizing it. “It’s super fun for us as designers to work on these vehicles, to put the effort, care and love into them and then show them to people. It’s very rewarding,” he says.
Allen looks forward to the continued evolution of the Jeep brand and what the future has to offer, particularly the introduction of the Jeep Recon EV.
How does Allen want to be remembered? “That I didn’t screw it up,” he says with a laugh.
“Mark has left his mark not only on the Jeep brand, but his influence on the designers that have had the pleasure of working with him. They will never forget his coaching style, whether it’s negotiating with engineering or sweating the details on every millimeter of our beloved Jeep vehicles,” said Chief Design Officer, Ralph Gilles.
“I hope that when he looks back on his career, he feels the way we do, which is gratification for the legacy he helped to create that will be enjoyed by the world for years to come.”Chief Design Officer, Ralph Gilles
So, what’s next? Allen and his wife, Andrea, plan to spend the next few months traveling and seeing family and friends. “We’re shopping for a new town, too. We drew a line along the Continental Divide, and we’re headed left of that.”
Safe travels to you, my friend. Thank you for your dedication to the Jeep brand and community.