Goin’ With Your Gut

It’s been a more than a year that the media has spent speculating about the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL. Another few months that we’ve been treated to a virtual deluge of actual coverage, reviews and photographs of the new model since it’s unveiling. Since it might be a few months until the new JL becomes a common sight around town, this coverage has helped us develop a fairly strong first impression based on what we’ve seen. Or is it more of a pre-disposition?

Working for a company that makes part for Jeeps, we’ve had several JL’s on order for quite a while now. We’ve waited earnestly, accepted delay after added delay and grown rather impatient to finally accept delivery of our first JL- a startling 2018 Unlimited Rubicon in white.


To be honest with you, the initial hours that passed after the arrival of our newest Jeep kinda resembled that of a crate full of supplies being dropped by airplane into the territory of some uncivilized native tribe. There was instant chaos, barely enough room to stand around the Jeep’s perimeter as every sort of intrigued employee carefully evaluated seating amenities and interior trim all while design engineers systematically deconstructed every mechanical assembly they could access. Measuring dimensions and gauging hardware specs with wild abandon and I’m not even sure the factory paint was dry yet.


For those reasons, I held the new JL at a reasonable distance, ignoring my obvious curiosity until the furor recedes; choosing rather to absorb what others initial observations were about what they had seen and sensed. Not adopting those opinions as my own but rather making them my “foster opinions” until that day that I would become a worthy of experiencing the JL for myself and creating my own opinions, at which time I would then leave my old foster opinions off at the end of an old country dirt road in hopes of them not finding their way home again.


For the large part, everyone around spoke very highly of the newest Wrangler. Testifying to its greatly refined interior, improved dash layout and tasteful red accent stitched upholstery were common remarks. The exterior held some obvious changes but nothing groundbreaking. I was taken back a little by someone who noted that the new JL was not a completely new design- not far enough removed visually from the prior JK’s appearance. While I can see some merit in this viewpoint, I can say that choosing to start over from scratch when revamping a successful platform would likely be an unwise choice for an automotive designer to make. It goes back to the old saying “dance with the one that brung ya” that seems to make the most sense. Wiping the slate clean of all the facts, figures and framework that got you to where you are today would likely bolster your failure, certainly in the eyes of those you hope to satisfy the most.


Once the initial peak of enthusiasm had passed, I began seeking an opportunity to get behind the leather-wrapped wheel and take our new JL for a test drive. At each inquiry, the Jeep was perpetually involved in some cumbersome short-term relationship with some random guy with an Engineering degree and wandering hands. Parts of her would be strewn across the shop floor as she was endlessly measured and made the subject of countless test-fitments. All of which impeded my desire to take her out for a spin myself; a chance to build an opinion all my own and not tainted by others prejudices. And so I waited.


The amount of pre-release pandemonium that surrounded the new JL was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not just for Jeep but for most any vehicle. The fact that the JL is an extensively-re-imagined successor to an off-road icon that has been around for the better part of a century meant that everyone in the automotive community seemed to be watching. Watching. And judging. In the first few weeks since release, Jeep enthusiasts have taken the new JL on everything from test drives and off-road excursions to cross-country treks, evaluating every facet of the Jeeps design in real world scenarios; letting us all in on their conclusions and sparing no details. Prospective buyers of the new JL have more carnal knowledge of what they’re in for than any other new car can boast. We all know how great knowledge is and how limited it can be until it is paired with experience.

One particular outlet took a brand new Wrangler JL 4-door and converted it into a stretched wheelbase custom 2-door riding on 42” tall tires in a ridiculously cool off-road build. While such a build does not provide as much insight into the stock JL’s credentials, it does speak very highly as to the strength of the foundation on which they built off of. Much like the prior JK served as the base for just about anything the enthusiast could dream up- the new JL delivers the same in spades.


Photo Courtesy of Dynatrac

As of today, I can proudly declare that have been able to drive our new JL for a grand total of 5.6 miles and have attained a top speed of 51 mph. While this is neither noteworthy or grounds for forming a very detailed opinion, I can tell you that the road manners of the new JL are much improved over any JK I have ever driven and the driving experience, however short, was far superior in comparison. Heck, I think the JL might have even met my expectations which were pretty lofty. The 3.6 liter Pentastar power plant in our Rubicon seemed to provide a much smoother transfer of power than on the previous platforms. I can’t wait to experience the long-awaited 2.0 I-4 turbo diesel and accompanying 8-speed automatic on a muddy trail somewhere and as soon as it is available…hopefully more than 6 miles away. We can dream, can’t we?  OlllllllO


Well, He Clearly Has His Fathers Eyes but Where’d He Get Those Hips?


Take one look at any Jeep CJ5 and it’s pretty easy to see from whence it came. With those bug-eyed headlights straddling that stately slotted grille, the CJ5’s front fascia has become as recognizable as any in all of autodom. What about some of the other oddly distinct characteristics of the CJ5? The ones you may have glanced at before and wondered “What?’.  There are more than a couple irregularities about the CJ5’s appearance that beg for explanation; at the very least, it’s a topic that makes for some interesting chitchat when idle attempts at conversations about the weather fall short.


The Willys CJ5 was introduced in 1955 and was most notably remembered as the first civilian Jeep to have the softer, rounded fenders- a stylish departure from the flat-fendered form of its forefathers. Much like the CJs of the previous decade, the CJ5 was a direct offspring of a military model, the M38-A1. Produced by Willys beginning in 1952, the M38-A1 is the explicit template for which the CJ5 owes the majority of its most prominent character traits. And what a template it proved to be, launching the CJ5 to a historic near thirty-year production run with no significant changes- a boast that no other brand or badge can profess.


One particular attribute of the M38-A1 that was passed on to the CJ5 was the odd V-shaped notches that extend downward from the upper body crease just behind the rear wheel arches. While the earlier Jeep models had entirely flat bedsides, the M38-A1 utilized a contoured bedside which gave the side panel more rigidity. The indentions were made to the side panels to allow for fitment of older style top bow assemblies that have pivots mounted outside of the tub rails.


While the CJ5 had a soft top frame mounted inboard of the tub rails, it maintained the tub notches until the 1976-77 production era, when the price for retooling was more easily justified in the interest of maintaining parity with the newer CJ7 models. By this time, untold thousands of CJ5s were already on the roads, all blessed with a factory birthmark giving a secretive hat-tip to its military lineage.


Another styling que that can be directly linked to the CJ5’s militray ancestors is the often-seen and seldom understood passenger side hood scallop. While it’s existence is solely attributed to the need for an intake snorkel on military models, the fact that it remained a fixture on regular production CJ5’s until the mid-60’s is a bit surprising. The M38-A1 was fitted with special waterproof ignition components that made the possibility of fording a water crossing a reality while adding a snorkel to a stock CJ5 with its antiquated ingnition system would have rendered a snorkel utterly useless.


Directly behind the hood on the same passenger side, the CJ5 was fitted with a rather unsigthly rectangular cover scabbed to the top of the cowl. While many observers have speculated that this was some sort of air intake or maybe a thermal cooler compartment for toting a cold six-pack and some baloney sandwiches, the truth is much less novel. The Willys M38-A1 was equipped with a 24 volt electrical system comprised of two lead and acid type batteries hooked in series to both meet NATO standards and support the considerable power load of the military’s two-way communications equipment. This required a stable and spacious area for battery mounting and the cowl fit the bill. Since early CJ5’s were given a more mundane 6 or 12 volt electrical system, the battery was moved to an underhood tray and the compartment door was welded closed, although it maintained it’s place on the cowl as an object of  speculation until 1966.


The driver’s side was by no means left out of the mix either. A small notch could be seen in the gap between the hood and fender designed for routing of the electrical wiring for the blackout lights utilized by the military. Despite the civilian version never coming with any such battle-oriented equipment, the accommodations for it were included on the CJ5 in the same fashion as the snorkel cutouts, although not nearly as conspicuous in appearance.












Early CJ5’s were fitted with a fuel tank that was mounted underneath the driver’s seat and had a fill neck that routed through the side of the body tub directly behind the door opening. The tub was indented in this area to accept a fuel filler surround. In the late 1960’s, when government agencies began to express concern over the possible safety risks associated with hurling oneself down the road at 70 mph while perched atop a giant can of highly combustible fluid. The fuel tank was thus relocated to the rear of the vehicle, between the frame rails and away from our flammable fannies. The indentation in the body tub that marked the tanks designed access point remained however, possibly a reminder of where only a buffoon would choose to keep their gas.


While the CJ5 underwent a number of minor changes in its twenty-nine year run, including a lengthening of the hood and fenders in 1972 to accommodate a lengthier engine assembly, the basic CJ5 platform carried on these attributes for a good many years, despite their total lack of necessity to civilian consumers. I, for one, think it’s pretty cool. The CJ5 is proud of its military roots and it wears that badge proudly. OlllllllO


As a Matter of Fact, My Mom Did Build my Jeep

“Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women…This was a people’s war, and everyone was in it.” – Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby

It pains me to wonder where society would be today if it weren’t for the females of our species. While I can personally attest to the fact that I would not go hungry without my wife in my life, per say; my standard of living would absolutely suffer brutal consequences. A steady diet of hot wings, pizza, and sub sandwiches would bring swells of short-term happiness that would likely lead to my eventual demise. It goes much farther and deeper than physical nourishment though. Heck, I’m pretty sure the ladies are the only beings capable of sensible thinking in certain situations. Who would have ever thought that wearing an ear piece and monitoring the big playoff game while attending Uncle Ned’s funeral wasn’t a wise choice? Or that it wouldn’t have been how he would have wanted it, rest his soul? Who knew?

Travel back in time with me to the early 1940’s; a time when the decade-long misfortune that was The Great Depression was still clearly visible in our rearview mirror. It’s estimated that a mere 27% of women in the states held jobs outside the home before 1940; a number which had already climbed considerably as families attempted to recover from the financial deficits brought on by the previous year’s woes. It’s also estimated that almost 90% of US women didn’t even possess a driver’s license, much less a car to drive. Seems like an inopportune time for the males of our society to become involved in a worldwide skirmish, doesn’t it?


That’s exactly what happened though. While men from their teens to well-past their prime were heavily engaged in our country’s military operations, serious gaps in our nation’s workforce were exposed and their existence was sensed almost immediately. And who better to fill those gaps than our softer and gentler? By 1944, defense jobs had grown 462% and women accounted for 37% of the workforce. But these were not the kinds of jobs typically associated with a female. While there was an abundance of jobs that centered about the skills more common to women, like seamstress and light assembly work; many of the positions in need of filling were actually open because they were vacated by men who were drafted or volunteered for military service. These were jobs as welders, heavy equipment operators, riveters and workers in foundries;  jobs that were incredibly tough even by the standards of the men that held them.  Softer and gentler…Really??


With such incredible demand for manpower (pardon the misnomer), it’s not surprising to learn that women really stepped up to the plate, rose to the occasionput their nose to the grindstone and a dozen more idioms I can’t think of right now.  In fact, the push to hire females to fill the vital roles normally reserved for men was profound and far-reaching. There was even a mascot for this new grass-roots movement. Her name was Rosie the Riveter– an obvious blue-collar belle who, despite her rugged attire, still exudes a feminine charm. She became the poster child of those who remained stateside during the war and the face of the early feminism movement in America.


While Rosie’s job as a riveter was more likely associated with the assembly of aircraft or ships for the war, the idea it portrays is not nearly as distinct. The ladies of our country were rolling up their sleeves and doing the jobs that had to be done, regardless of how arduous. Certainly the task of building Jeeps was one of those difficult tasks, more physically taxing than manning a phone switchboard or tending to children, but they rose to the occasion. Developing their own distinct skillsets through, what is still today, the best training method around- by putting their hands on the job that needed done and mastering the ability to accomplish it.


The manufacturing and assembly of the amphibious Jeep, the Ford GPA ‘Seep’, was largely reliant on the female workforce to maintain production in 1942 thru mid-1943. A true “gearhead” buddy of mine who lives and breathes Jeeps was recently telling me how he had compared the quality of the welds of the boat-like body between and early and late production GPA’s.  It was clear to him that the skills of the assembly welder were far more advanced from one to the other. I find that to be a real tribute to what seems today to be a forgone dedication to do ones job and the endless internal drive to pursue perfection.


Once the war ended, GI’s came home and life returned to a new normal. Whether for the newfound feeling of independence or the quest for the mighty dollar, many women continued to work outside the home. And this trend has endured to the present day where woman account for half of the nation’s workforce and are considered largely as equals to the men who they once strived to fill in for.


Whatever it was that made the women of the 1940’s step out of the confines of their comfortable homes, put on coveralls and get hard at work after the task at hand, I wish somebody could have bottled it up and placed it in a time capsule. I think we would be a whole lot better off today if they had.  OlllllllO


Hittin’ the Skids

1Hang around the off-road scene for any length of time and you’re sure to pick up a few crucial pieces of knowledge. Properly applied, these tidbits of wisdom can mean the difference between pure enjoyment and an undying nightmare that will haunt you long after the trip is over. For starters, never go alone. I don’t mean to imply that you need a passenger, although one that packs a hearty lunch and splits the fuel cost is always nice; more so to have another vehicle go along to help lend support, brawn and brains to your venture. Bad decisions tend to be cast aside when vetted trough a backwoods democratic process, of sorts. Not to mention, a spotter is always good to have when things get squirrely. Secondly, NEVER wear nice shoes that you care anything about unless you have come to terms with the fact that you may never see them again. I know this seems like an insignificant little piece of advice but when you have your favorite pair of Merrells encased in a layer of slime and mud that’s thicker than a milkshake yet has the aroma of an untreated portable toilet, you’ll soon become an advocate for footwear preservation too. The final charge I would give you, and likely the most important, is to always prepare for everything. Being on the trail and having something break is bad. Having it break and being miles and miles away from a replacement part or the tools necessary to repair it is immeasurably worse. Having a breakdown and knowing it could have been prevented, well…


Photo Credit: Jeepwithkids.com

One fundamental component of being prepared is having a vehicle that is properly equipped to survive on the trail. For years, off-roaders have fitted their trail rigs with a variety of implements to help accomplish the task of protecting against damage. Often referred to as ‘armor’, bulky steel plates are affixed to body panels and frame rails by any means necessary, in an attempt to keep the rocks from displaying their abusive ways. These plates that line a vehicles underbelly are called ‘Skid Plates’ and they are purpose-designed and built to ward off impacts that would otherwise contact gas tanks, oil pans, steering boxes and other vital components.

So, whoever came up with these skid plates must have been a mechanical marvel, of sorts. To borrow the same theories of relation that exist between wall & cannonball or sword & shield and apply them to a Jeep is nothing short of brilliant! Did you ever wonder at what point Jeep actually decided that incorporating these new-fangled skid plates into the vehicle from the factory would make a great deal of sense, seeing as the likelihood of a Jeep being used off-road during its lifespan is much greater than just a slight possibility. The answer is that the very first ‘Jeep’ or Willys MA, to be exact, came with skid plates. It’s in their DNA as far back as we can trace. Granted, they have become much more advanced in their design and expanded in their usage but, even back in 1941, they realized the importance of a good defense.


The very first skid plates were pretty much dedicated only to the transmission region of the Jeep, as it hung precariously lower than the frame rails, rendering it quite vulnerable. Attaching a thick steel plate to the cross member not only protected the drivetrain from glancing blows, but the smooth face provided a slick surface to slide over rocks and obstructions, rather than become hung up on them.


While the exact origin of the skid plate, prior to this, would be hard to trace, it’s surprising to many that they have been around as long as they have; finding their way into an extensive array of makes and models today, both as standard equipment and, to a larger scale, as an aftermarket add-on accessory. To quote the age-old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” hits the proverbial nail on the head. Skid plates are precisely that- a dose of prevention only rarely are they weighed in ounces.


In fact, popular opinion among hard core off-roaders is that good old-fashioned steel, born of iron and fire, would be the material of choice for building a skid plate. Sure, it’s not the lightest material but it has the hard-headed resiliency to take a severe beating and get right back in line for another. If damaged, it can be removed, hammered out against a rock and welded with very basic tools and then reinstalled. Aluminum, on the other hand, definitely has the benefits of its light weight but is not as easily maintained or welded in the field, making it a wise choice for vehicles where exposure to severe off-road conditions is not a great concern, such as a trophy truck or “mall crawler”.


Photo Credit: JK Owners Forum

If you want to equip your Jeep to tackle the most unforgiving of trails, or just make it look like it could, Rugged Ridge has got the parts and accessories to make it happen. Yes, even skid plates! You can check them out on our website at http://www.ruggedridge.com/jeep-accessories/jeep-body-protection/skid-plates.html OIIIIIIIO


I’ll Spare You the Details

1One of the most unique and differentiating features of the Willys / Jeep vehicle has always been the presence of an externally-mounted spare tire. In the early WWII-era models, the spare was first mounted to the rear of the tub but was relocated later to the rear side panel as civilian models were introduced in the mid 40’s, making way for the new rear tailgates on the CJ2 and CJ3 models. While the external mounting of the spare was most likely done out of dire shortage of interior space, the fact that it still resides outside of the frame rails today, some 75 years later, is somewhat surprising. With all of the creature comforts and niceties that have found their way into the current Jeep platform, one would almost expect to see the unsightly spare tire hidden underneath the rear end or tucked away discretely inside the cargo area. That just isn’t the way Jeep has ever done it. Jeeps are about no-nonsense utility…if we have a humongous spare tire, we want it right where we can get to it! Otherwise, we would’ve equipped them with teeny, tiny donut-shaped space-saver spares that tucks underneath your passenger seat.

I have information from very reliable sources, from people that have actually experienced an off-road vehicle roll-over firsthand, and they all unanimously proclaim that, in the event of such an occurrence, you do NOT want anything on the inside of your passenger compartment larger or heavier than a small stuffed animal. Cellphones, toolboxes, tire irons, roofing hammers or, heaven forbid, a 30 ounce stainless steel thermal tumbler filled with scalding-hot coffee are all transformed into barrel-rolling projectiles of terrifying mass that will dent, beat and bludgeon anything and everything in their path. While I agree that the spare tire mounted on the outside is still going to wreak unbelievable havoc if you go belly-up, I am much more comfortable with it not using my lap as a starting point for its dismount. For that reason, storing the spare tire outside the Jeep seems to make a great deal of sense.


3Another dilemma that is not so easily solved is what do we do in the event that we have a damaged tire and need to use our spare? First of all, if your Jeep has even a small suspension lift and larger tires, you will find that your original equipment jack is of little OR no use to you, other than keeping the jack mounting brackets from rattling. You are going to need to utilize a hi-lift or farm jack and some level of ingenuity in your execution of its use in order to change your flat tire. You will also face a similar problem when it comes to decide where to stow your jack. I prefer a hood jack mount for two reasons: first, the fact that the jack is easily accessible regardless of your vehicles positioning. Secondly and more importantly, those unknowing passersby who seem to inevitably mistake it for some sort of machine gun mounting apparatus always yield some really humorous conversations at the fueling station. Many people opt for mounting the jack right next to the spare on the rear bumper or tailgate which has its own merits. Of course, you could mount the jack on the inside of your Jeep, too (see paragraph above).

Once you have a hi-lift jack mounted in a convenient location on your Jeep, yet another dilemma rears its ugly head. Gravity was happy to assist you when you removed the spare tire but now it’s time to remount the flat tire on your carrier and you have seriously underestimated the weight of a wheel and tire combination, even when it’s flat. Hopefully, you have someone riding with you that can assist with the task of lifting the tire. Even a 35” diameter tire can be cumbersome to lift, if not impossible for some, especially when physical exhaustion and uneven terrain become factors. If you have a 37” tire or larger, I might suggest digging a shallow grave to bury it in or hide it under an immense pile of brush temporarily and return later with a friend/accomplice to retrieve it. However inconvenient this may seem at the time, it pales in comparison to the deflation of being found days later, after an extensive search, with only your arms and legs protruding from under the giant spare tire.