Leonel Menendez was only 10-years-old when he watched the 1993 film Jurassic Park featuring the Jeep Wrangler Sahara, but he knew right away he’d be building his own.
More than 20 years later, the 33-year-old Menendez can be seen driving his own Sahara Jeep on the streets in Yellowknife.
A self-described Jurassic nerd, Menendez purchased a white Jeep Wrangler in 2010 near Edmonton for $4000, with plans to collect parts and convert the vehicle Sahara style.
“It sat in storage for 16 months and in that time I started collecting all the parts I needed and did all my research,” said Menendez, an IT technician at The Gahcho Kué diamond mine.
Fortunately for Menendez, he wasn’t alone. He found an online forum dedicated entirely to Jurassic Jeeps.
The forum has hundreds of members from several countries such as Canada, the United States, Sweden and Germany, who all share the goal of building or purchasing their own rigs.
The forum was helpful for Menendez as he tracked down the appropriate materials before starting the conversion.
After the Jeep sat in storage, it took Menendez only six days to refit the Jeep at a total cost of $14,000.
“I collected the correct paint, it needs to be sand beige, low gloss and radiant fire,” said Menendez. “Inside, it needed specific green carpet, green seats with green satchels, green door panels and it needs to be a five speed.”
He credits local businesses for allowing him to do much of the work in town. All of the painting, body and decal work was done in Yellowknife.
Menendez, to his credit, had some practice with vehicle conversions before taking on the 1993 Jurassic Jeep.
In 2007, Menendez reproduced the Yenko Camaro used in the 2003 movie 2 Fast 2 Furious.
“I always wanted Camaro, and the ’69 Camaro really appealed to me,” said Menendez. “When I saw it in the movie, I said let’s do it.”
The Camero itself cost $35,000. He then spent $15,000 for upgrades. The Jeep and the Camero sit side by side on his property – a sight Menendez calls “really cool”.
“It’s like I took a piece of the screen and it’s just sitting in my yard,” he said.
There’s hardly a difference between the Jeep in the ’93 film and the one Menendez has produced. The only difference is that the original was a 1992 Sahara Jeep, while his was originally a 1992 Wrangler until he added the sahara kit.
Of the four types of Jeeps in Jurassic Park – Jeep 10, Jeep 12, Jeep 18 and Jeep 29 – Menendez was drawn to Jeep 10.
“The reason I chose 10 was because it was Robert Maldoon’s jeep,” said Menendez. “He was the game warden on the site. I liked his Jeep and the T-Rex Chase”.
Others seem to love his piece of work.
Menendez and his girlfriend, Melanie Wozencroft, often take the Jeep around town. In 2012, for example, the Jeep was used for a local dry grad, which featured a jungle theme.
“It’s an adventure every time I step into the Jeep,” said Wozencroft. “Everyone needs a hobby and I think this is a cool one to have.”
Last year when Jurassic World was released, the two took their Jeep to outside the theatre to much fanfare.
“We watched all three [previous Jurassic movies] last year before we went to see the new one,” said Menendez. “We drove it down for the premiere. People were taking photos.”
So would he consider another vehicle conversion in the future?
“I don’t think I could get my hands on a hearse, but Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters would be some big coin.”