"Jurassic Park" was released in 1993. One look at Bob Hattenhauer's Jeep and you would assume he was a fan from Day One. You'd be wrong. He just got around to watching the film in 2007.
While most audiences are left breathless by the realistic dinosaurs and stunning visual effects, Hattenhauer had another lasting impression -- this one over the movie's four-wheeled stars.
"My first thought was I have to build a Jeep like those in the movie," the Mount Prospect resident said. The Steven Spielberg masterpiece showcases several Jeeps that shuttle the on-screen characters around the fictional tropical dino-park.
Hattenhauer knew an unconventional four-wheeled machine, far away from the film's Isla Nublar, would readily stand out in the concrete jungles of Chicago.
"There was nothing like it around. It was a different kind of build with some unique challenges."
The off road enthusiast was already driving a Jeep but wanted to start from scratch with this new project. Not just any Jeep Wrangler would suffice; the movie vehicles were all Sahara Editions. That top-of-the-line trim came equipped with such things as bumper-mounted fog lamps, unique trail-cloth seat upholstery and colored fender flares.
Hattenhauer bought a suitable candidate in 2009, but quickly discarded it. "I learned a major lesson; Never buy a car at night," Hattenhauer said. "The complete underside was corroded."
Another 1994 Wrangler was located in 2011 in nearby Edison Park. This one was the victim of a recent head-on collision but had the right price tag. Hattenhauer, a mechanical engineering student, was working with a tight budget.
To save costs, he completed the overhaul himself. Hattenhauer dissembled the Jeep in his parents' one-car garage.
"All my free time was put into the project," he said. "It was a relaxing break from my homework."
Hattenhauer then acquired an arrow-straight frame in Michigan and began to build onto it. Before he got too far, he had to conduct "research."
"I watched the movie many, many more times to make sure the specs were right."
The repeated viewings were necessary as scoping out the original Jeeps in person is a tough task.
"Two Jeeps survived the movie production," Hattenhauer said. One was on display at a Universal Studios theme park ride. Another was repainted several other times and no good for an accurate resource.
The hands-on enthusiast removed the 4.0-liter engine and replaced all the gaskets and seals. The five-speed manual transmission had been rebuilt by the previous owner and was ready for action. The vehicle was painted in its original Champaign Beige paint, complemented with Safety Red stripes. Other movie touches include a CB radio antenna, official "Jurassic Park" graphics, rear fog lights and BF Goodrich tires.
The project wrapped up in March 2012 and for a while the vehicle served as Hattenhauer's daily driver. In addition to commuting, the distinctive vehicle was also used in his wedding ceremony.
"Wherever I go, it gets more attention than I ever expected," Hattenhauer said. After observing the plethora of fascinated spectators, he has noticed a common reaction.
"Everyone looks in the rearview mirror to see if a T-Rex is behind it."