“I See Your Rubicon and I’ll Raise You One Darien Gap”

1It’s no highly-guarded secret that today’s Jeep Wrangler prides itself on being one of the most capable off road vehicles to ever leave the road. You often see the ‘Trail Rated’ badge proudly displayed on the fender as a reminder of its off-pavement prowess. There’s even a special package offered comprised of all the necessary goodies to make your Wrangler a force to be reckoned with, like locking Dana 44 differentials at both ends and formidable 4:1 transfer case gearing capable of abruptly reversing the earth’s rotation when properly applied. Heck, Jeep has even given us such niceties as electronic sway bar disconnects that actually disconnect themselves! No more having to muddy-up the old shirt sleeves on those cold morning wheeling adventures. Wrap all that up in one package and call that thing a ‘RUBICON’- named after the infamous 22-mile long trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that has been taunting and thrilling off-road enthusiasts for decades. It’s truly priceless marketing gold that actually does have an associated price that the dealer prints clearly on the window sticker.

That’s all great and I truly love the sense of adventure that the name suggests but what about a special edition for those select few whose daring side borders on perilous; a package that pays homage to geographic oblivions that require a Rubicon Trail level of bravery just to access, and then an even larger lapse in rational thinking to proceed any farther. I’m talking about the Darien Gap- a location in southern Panama, just outside of the city of Yaviza, where any semblance of roadway fades into wild, overgrown jungle for a distance of over 100 miles, serving as a buffer deterring access to the northern border of Columbia. While I don’t feel that Jeep should start lettering hoods with ‘Darien Gap’ graphics quite yet, there is certainly much to be learned and appreciated from such an isolated locale.

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First of all, there have only been a handful of people who have even mustered the caliber to attempt such an endeavor. With obstacles such as rivers, dense forests, mud pits, wild animals, poisonous snakes and spiders and the occasional cocaine trafficker wielding a stolen machine gun to slow your progress, it’s understandable why so few have bothered to risk life and limb in such a pursuit. Since the Darien Gap is the only thing that stands between two halves of the earth’s longest roadway, the Pan-American Highway, it stands to reason that there are some pretty solid reasons why 30,000 miles of roadway pauses for this mere 100 miles span. Completion of the roadway through the Darien Gap would come at an extremely high cost, both financial and physical, and would likely only serve as a means of supporting the ever-present drug trade.

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Among the adventurers who renounced any and all concerns for their own personal well-being in attempts to conquer the Darien Gap, were a few Jeepers of note; most notably are Loren Upton and his girlfreind Patty Mercier in a new CJ-5, as well as off-roading legend and Jeep Jamboree founder Mark Smith and a crew of a dozen or more daring discoverers. Equipped for success in a fleet comprised of several Jeep CJ-7’s, as well as a Wagoneer and a J-10 pickup, Smith and his fellow explorers arguably made the easist work of the remote wildernesses terrain, bridging the gap in just 30 days. While arguments can be made that one expedition traversed the “gap” quicker than the other or another utilized rafts in lesser scale to navigate water crossings, the truth is that when a feat of this magnitude is minimized in any way by anyone, it’s really a shame. Just managing to prove the impossible and impassable to be anything but is absolutely worthy of worldwide acclaim. In my humble opinion, doing so in a Jeep puts the accomplishment on a whole new level- one more-than-worthy of a special decal package- dare I say, a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Darien Gap?? Unfortunately, very few have ever heard the names of these heroes or possess any knowledge of the place where they sought to achieve their own personal greatness despite unparalleled adversity.

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To find the proper scope of what is involved with crossing the Darien Gap, it’s helpful to ponder the fact that Smith managed to complete his trek at a remarkable pace, equating to just over three miles per day; a pace just slightly slower that if you were to crawl through the same jungle blindfolded. Earlier expeditions reported much less aggressive progress with some measuring daily progress in feet rather than miles. Having to literally clear a vehicle width path with hand-held machetes swung by individuals who were likely suffering from severe fatigue, dehydration, malnourishment and possibly the effects of disease and a rampant case of “jungle-butt” seems to be an insurmountable task. I’m not really certain that “jungle-butt” actually exists, although I can imagine it’s not the kind of thing that anyone is likely to feature in their memoirs. Imagine, if you will, having to wear a brand new pair of denim jeans to your friendly neighborhood water park and then fancy the prospect of having to wear those same jeans every hot & humid day that follows for the next month while you perform varying tasks of a strenuous nature. Suddenly it is clear that “jungle-butt” does indeed exist and it’s name is, in fact, much too kind.

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So… if Jeep were to see the ere in their ways and offer us, the appropriately enlightened consumers, a Darian Gap Edition Jeep Wrangler what kinds of options would we hope to see? Obviously, everything that the now pedestrian Rubicon offers, with a few vital additions. First of all, an innovative roof rack system would really prove to be essential as the need to carry a slew of jungle cutting implements, steel ramp boards and provisions of water and fuel could easily justify the extra weight of the rack. Secondly, a state-of-the-art satellite navigation system could truly prove beneficial on such an environemnt. Not that Google Maps is going to yield any street views of the Darien Gap…trust me, I checked. It’s just good to know which way is south when the symptoms of milaria begin to take hold and operating a compass becomes problematic, what with the blurred vision and trembling hands.

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I could think of a seemingly endless list of features to include in such an exclusive package. Ridiculous amounts of ground clearance are in order, as are a PTO-driven winch and bush hog attachments and maybe auxiliary oil coolers to keep things kosher while enduring the punishment of idling for 16 hours a day would all be welcome additions. Of course, nobody is gonna balk if they include a baby powder dispenser. Are they? OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

Seeking Treatment for Horrible Misconception Syndrome

1If I were to tell you that one of the most prolific characters to ever grace Beverly Hills own Rodeo Drive (pronounced Ro-day-o) is a dyed-in-the-wool Jeep guy, you’d have to admit that a pretty shameful picture would most likely pop into your head. No different than if I said a bunch of preppies were piling into a Jeep for a cruise down the beach….POP!!! Same picture, Right? Fret not for you are not alone. Personally, I instantly conjured images of madras plaid shirts in uncomfortable hues of pink and blue, flipped collars and pastel sweaters tired about the necks of docksider-wearing pretty boys. It’s worse than you thought and it’s called Horrible Misconception Syndrome, or HMS. Being diagnosed with HMS will not qualify you for any special parking spots or even a classy license plate for your car, mostly because this particular syndrome is largely just in your head. While we can tell you very assuredly that no cure for HMS is on the horizon, there is a treatment available and we can initiate your first dose immediately without an office visit or any sizeable insurance copay.

We’ll start by assessing that troublesome picture in your head. Sure, those are “preppies” and are certainly the visual fare that you might see scurrying in and out of boutiques in a flashy Southern California locale but that does not make the image right, nor is it necessarily accurate. Because the preppy icon that I am referencing is none other than fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and his long-standing affection for the Jeep. Lauren, known in large part for his trademark pullover sport shirts known simply as the Polo, has built a considerable fashion empire, first focusing on neckties before broadening his specialty to the now classic sport shirt. A shirt that, since its inception in the early 70’s, has grown into a mainstay of preppy wardrobes across our great land; one that has accomplished what very few products ever have by reaching the uncommon status of becoming a proprietary eponym.

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In case you are now asking yourself, “The shirt became a what?” A proprietary eponym is when a name brand product becomes so widely acknowledged that the name brand becomes the generic title for the product. Like XEROX once had become the accepted term for making a photocopy, back in the olden days when people knew what a photocopy was and had need to make one. Or any soft drink might be referred to as a Coke, even when it is actually the cheap fizzless store brand your mom would buy just to save a nickel and see if you were paying attention. We all clean our ears with Q-Tips and we doctor our painful Xerox paper cuts with Band-Aids just so we can show everyone our new Polos and Dockers on business casual Fridays. We are a society that lacks for very little- a truth that causes me to ponder why a man of considerable wealth and means would choose to drive a Jeep.

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And let’s be honest- we’re not talking about brand new fancy Jeeps either. We’re talking older Jeeps with piles of miles on them. Imperfect ones that creak and grind, ones that have weathered paint jobs and are far short of comfortable, by most reports. Lauren is, afterall, a professing car guy. His own personal car collection exceeds 70 cars and has everything from classic Bugattis and Bentleys to vintage Ferraris and Porsches; cars that cost more to have appraised than most Jeeps costs to purchase. I think the reasoning behind Ralph Laurens love for the Jeep became clear to me when I viewed a video of Lauren, from a few years back, at his ranch outside of Telluride, Colorado.

He had invited long-time admirer Oprah Winfrey out to his estate to do an interview, a practice that was notably uncommon for Lauren. As Oprah climbed awkwardly into the passenger side of Ralphs decrepit old 1948 Willys, it seemed almost comical that such a wealthy individual would be caught tooling around in such a “heap”. Winfrey, who is most likely not used to riding in the front seat of any cars these days or in close proximity to the hired help, seemed to be brimming with glee to be able to ride around in such a jalopy. It then occurred to me that Ralph Lauren has a long list of ultra-expensive and rare collector cars only because he truly loves them. He has his old Jeeps and chooses to keep them close by and drive them because they represent who he really is. Hard-working, dependable, imperfect, adventurous, versatile, fun-loving and gravely consistent – all character traits that, although seldom instilled at birth, can only be perfected over time.

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One of Ralph’s other Jeeps, a’76 CJ-5 that he purchased new, was so much a part of the Lauren family that his three children tie many of their childhood memories to times spent in that old Jeep. From cruising the beaches with the windshield folded down, riding to drive-in movies and even pulling the kids around on their snow sleds on the family’s property were all cherished recollections of time spent together as a family that centered strongly around that old CJ-5.

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When time and age caught up to the old CJ, the paint was faded and the interior tattered, Ralph was not one to put the old dog out to pasture, as is common practice today; rather choosing to have the old Jeep restored. Rusty panels were removed and new sheet metal was welded in place. Mechanical parts that had been worn over time were meticulously replaced with new ones; breathing a whole new breath of life into this sixth member of the Lauren family. Ralph even requested that the Jeeps paint be purposely applied to result in a less-than-showroom appearance. Ralph didn’t long for another shiny, glossy show car. He already had plenty of those and he knew well the purpose that would serve. This Jeep meant far more to him than just something to simply look at. This Jeep was going to be lived in, driven hard, exposed to unexpected rainstorms, sandy feet and ice cream cones. This Jeep was more a member of the family than just a simple mode of transport.6

Anyone that already has a Jeep knows exactly what elements exist in his old Jeeps that Ralph Lauren is so endeared to and anyone who doesn’t own a Jeep owes it to themselves to experience it firsthand. You simply don’t have to be a millionaire to have the finer things in life. You only have to be able to recognize them when you see them, cherish them as though they hold great value and take care of them like they’re yours alone. In doing so, you can avoid the misconception that a Jeep is only a vehicle and come to experience and appreciate the Jeep way of life. OlllllllO

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Hey! You!! What’s Your Favorite Car???

1Ask your average 30-something guy at the neighborhood cookout what his favorite car is and the answer you receive in return is likely to change like the weather. There’s always the diehard Porsche and Ferrari faithful, not to mention the fellas whose dreams have no credit limit who will chide in with the latest Bugatti or McLaren model. If your subject has seen Gone in 60 Seconds within the past weeks, he may likely declare a 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 as his clear & uncontested choice. I really dug ‘Eleanor’ too in that movie and I don’t even like Mustangs! After spending a weekend with the ‘ol feet up watching Lemans coverage, I got myself a case of the gimmies for a C7 Corvette-hold the Racing Yellow paint, please.

When it comes to a Jeep guy/gal, their favorite car is likely going to be whatever Jeep model they are driving, or possibly one they aspire to buy. We can still dream of owning that random supercar or even a classic muscle car that spends the better part of its existence holding up a micro-fiber dust cover in the garage. The Jeep still has to be our favorite as it’s the one we love to drive around in, get dirty in and cherish so deeply that most owners even try to give theirs a name, like it’s a member of the family.

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You will soon find out that a Jeep is not even considered a car by most people, so answering with ‘Jeep’ when asked what is your favorite car is almost like dodging the actual question. Like when asked your favorite breed of dog. If you reply ‘Hot Dog’, you might get a soft chuckle but secretly your surveyor is pondering the possibility that you may have been dropped at some point and are more than likely ill-equipped to answer the question.

So what if there was a car out there for those who are content with having a Jeep as their favorite car; for those who despite having no qualms about the fact that a Jeep is not really a car, would love to have an answer for those times when the question may arise? May I present to you the 1959 Desoto Firesweep – your NEW favorite car… It’s a classic car so cool that it has a Jeep on the dash!

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While the Desoto has little or nothing to do with the Willy’s/ Jeep, it seems undeniable that the molded plastic housing mounted in the dash to store the speaker and windshield defroster bits possesses the same iconic characteristics as the beloved Jeep CJ grille. From the seven vertical slats to the round headlight openings that impede onto the outboard slats; this is clearly more than coincidental. Someone in Chrysler design studios must have had a secret fondness for the venerable Jeep.

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If I am going to compromise my core principles and engage in the practice of driving a car that ISN’T a Jeep, it might as well have the face of a Jeep across the dash reminding me with a faithful ever presence of where I would rather be. Outside of the stylized tail light fins and the push-button transmission, it’s positively the strongest selling point that Desoto had to offer.

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Desoto used the subtle visual ode to the Willys/Jeep in both the Firesweep and the Adventurer model, but never chose to market it to it’s stylish consumers. This, a decision I could find single-handedly to blame for the companies eventual demise in 1961. Had they only opted to advertise with a catchy little slogan like “ Desoto Firesweep- The Car for Those Times You Can’t Drive Your Jeep”.,.things could have been som much different. So, what’s your favorite car now?? OlllllllO

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“Half Safe” but Completely Crazy

“Crazy” is, without a doubt, one of the most complex words in the English language. While its meaning is somewhat consistent, I find that its use as a compliment or as a condemnation is often only determined by whether or not there is a smile on the face of the person that is calling you crazy. So it is possible to be crazy but in a good way, right?

More often than not, a person who is described as crazy has set themselves apart from society by abstaining from normal accepted behavior. Meet Frederick ‘Ben’ Carlin- born in Western Australia in 1912 and who, on more than one occasion, has established himself as one of the craziest adventurers to have ever left the paved roads behind. The fact that he chose to pursue his preposterous dreams in a crazy contraption based on a WWII Ford GPA “Seep” makes him more of a hero, in my opinion, than a loon but you can be the judge.

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As an engineer in the Indian Army Corp of Engineers in World War II, Carlin observed an amphibious GPA vehicle while doing a routine inspection and commented to a fellow coworker that the vehicle would be a viable candidate to successfully circumnavigate the globe in. The intense laughter that erupted after his brash statement only reinforced his determination to prove that it could be done.

At the close of the Second World War, Carlin was able to acquire a surplus GPA for a measly $901 at auction and the process of adapting, modifying and equipping the chassis for such a monumental trek began. The body was extended by several feet to accommodate a larger fuel tank as well as an enclosed cabin scabbed on to the boat-like body. Much like Noah building the ark, Carlin was labelled as a buffoon- several sandwiches short of a picnic basket. Even his attempts to secure a sponsorship from Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of the GPA, were met with skepticism and negativity. Ford seemed convinced that only a crazy person would take their amphibious vehicle into such treacherous waters.

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Actually, only two crazy people would. Carlin enlisted the help of his wife Elinore to accompany him on his ill-advised adventure. By the spring of 1948, the couple was seemingly ready to set sail in a vehicle that, by all appearances, was not fit to float, much less sail, across the ocean. It was aptly given the name Half Safe – a tongue-in-cheek reference taken from a deodorant advertisement that joked about the risks involved with wearing a lesser brand of under-arm protection. Somehow treading water in the middle of the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean seemed as comical a notion to Ben Carlin.

As with most innovators and pioneers, success was not found on the first attempt nor, for that matter, the second or third one. A handful of attempts in 1948 were plagued by mechanical failures of near-catastrophic proportions, including an exhaust system breakdown that had the confined cabin of the Half Safe vessel filling with lethal carbon monoxide gases, causing the trip to be quickly aborted and the boat returned to shore for repairs; each failure bringing more delays and exhausting more funds.

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Finally, on July 19th of 1950, Carlin and his trusting bride set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia with enough food, fuel and provisions on board to tide them over for a little over 30 days. While the Fords fuel tank had been modified to increase the capacity to 200 gallons, Carlin had to transport extra containers of fuel ; keeping them secured to a towline that was being drug behind the vehicle while at sea. Any time a refueling was needed, the anchor was dropped to interrupt forward progress and the floating reserve tanks would be reeled up next to the boat so that fuel could be siphoned into the primary tanks. This process proved to be challenging, exhausting and dangerous as the likelihood of the heavy tanks battering the thin metal hull of the vessel threatened to bring the entire trip to a sinking, gurgling halt. Nonetheless, Carlin persevered and eventually arrived at the choppy shores of the Azores Islands. From there, the trip carried them northward on wheels into Europe, where cabin temperatures often climbed above 150 degrees without the coolness of the seas waters to tame the heat. This forced the duo to perform most of their driving at night when conditions were considerably less harsh.

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Well into the second half of the journey, Elinore became convinced that this expedition might indeed be her last; overcome with exhaustion, sea sickness and oddly rational thoughts, she chose to abandon the mission as well as her husband while in Carlin’s homeland of Australia, while the pair was on a fund-raising tour in 1956.

Ben Carlin pressed onward, accompanied by anyone who could be convinced that this was a sane scheme. At first, a fellow Australian joined him for a period of 5 months before he was replaced by an American writer who worked for a Japanese newspaper. The journalist stayed with Carlin from early 1957 until Half Safe rolled into Anchorage, Alaska in late 1957. The writer profiled many of his Half Safe experiences in a book entitled, “Once a Fool: From Tokyo to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep”. If doing this for 6 months makes you a fool, what might 8 years make you? Certainly too tired to write a book with such a catchy title.

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In all, Carlin’s incredible journey took a total of 7 years and 10 months to complete, arriving in Montreal in May 1958, unbelievably having covered 38,987 miles over land and another 11,000 at sea. While Carlin had dreamed that this impossible venture crossing 38 countries would bring him untold riches and unrivaled popularity, the truth is that his accomplishment did more to ruin him both financially and romantically than it did to improve his position. The fact that his tale is rarely even told only adds to the misfortune. Fortunately, the Half Safe was acquired by Carlin’s childhood grammar school where it is displayed proudly for anyone who can forego their perceptions of what is truly attainable long enough to believe what you can do when you set your mind to it. To this day, no one else has managed to circumnavigate the world in one single vehicle. I can’t imagine anyone even trying…you’d have to be crazy.   OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

First a Jeep, Then a Truck

It seems like forever and a day that we have been waiting for the new Jeep Wrangler JL to rid itself of the character- disguising camo and expose the Jeep faithful to what has been hiding beneath. Honestly, it’s like trying to pick out your prom date when all the girls are wrapped in tarps. We’ve been baited along with the promise of the new Wrangler JL model and then diabolically teased of a truck to be built on the same platform and delivered to us in the year to follow. It’s hard to digest that this wait may finally be winding up.  

Photo Credit: JL Wrangler Forums

Photo Credit: JL Wrangler Forums

  You may ask “Why all the fuss?”. It’s not like we haven’t been treated to a Jeep truck before and you would have a valid point. I believe the upcoming Wrangler JT pickup will be different though. In the past, Jeep has offered quite a few trucks in their lineup, each one special in their own distinct ways but, for the most part, they were always trucks first and Jeeps secondly.

What I mean by that is, with the exception of the 81-86 CJ-8 Scramblers, Jeep trucks have always segregated themselves from the true Jeep four-wheel drive, short wheelbase off-roader that embodies all of the elements that define the Jeep name. The CJ-8 was essentially a CJ-7 lengthened with a small truck bed in the back; a feature that more than made up for in looks what it might have lacked in practicality.

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The very first origins in the evolution of the Jeep truck would date all the way back to 1946, when Willys-Overland offered a Jeep pickup that shared its exterior countenance with the Willys Station wagons of the day. The high hood, flat-topped fenders and buglike headlights gave indication that the two were loosely related but yet independent at the core.

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One progression of the Jeep truck is the ultra-unique FCs, or Forward Control trucks. Introduced in the mid-50’s, the FC-150 defied easy explanation. With it’s odd cab-over-engine design and “big rig”styling, the FC models are usually presumed to be anything but a Jeep. The forward control models are highly sought by collectors due to their bizarre appearance and a distinctly wonderful driving experience . With a monstrous steering wheel that sits horizontal in front of you and no hood in front of the windshield, it’s hard to not feel like you’re wheeling a semi down the interstate trying to get a load up to Dubuque by sundown. It’s even harder to hide the smile the FC puts on your face.

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One of the most underated and least seen of the Jeep trucks are the Gladiator and J-Series models that were manufactured for an astounding quarter century, beginning in 1963. While other truck manufacturers toyed with rather swank styling cues that felt need to change every few years, Kaiser-Jeep found a solid and simple design that stood the test of time; making the J-Series truck almost instantly identifiable regardless of it’s vintage.

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I think what I like most about the Gladiator and J-Series trucks is that, in all their simplicity, they just look tough. I would go so far as to say that if Chuck Norris was going into battle in a new big screen blockbuster, maybe Missing In Action 9, he could very easily drive one of these. The Kaiser M715 is, in fact, the military version of the Gladiator and it literally looks like it’s coming to save the world and lay under tread anyone who tries to stop it. It’s so excessively packed with unbridled masculinity, it might even cause Chuck Norris to second-guess his level of adequate manliness to man the controls. No vanity mirrors on the back of sunvisors, if even so equipped; just brawn under the hood and bulges on the bedsides. A seriously hard act to follow.

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But follow Jeep did…with the CJ-8 Scrambler in 1981. For the first time, traditional Jeep owners were given their beloved Jeep fitted with the added utility of a short truck bed on a wheelbase 10-inches longer than the CJ-7, to boot. While such an offering did not evolve the new CJ into a formidable cargo hauler, it did undoubtedly help solidy the Jeep CJ’s overall position as America’s favorite off-road vehicle and tested the waters for what interest might exist for another Jeep truck.

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In 1986, Jeep delivered to market a brand new pickup based on the wildly succesful Cherokee XJ utility wagon. The Jeep Comance (MJ) was built using the same mechanical componenets, drivetrain and exterior styling as the Cherokee but with the choice of either a 6 or 7 foot truck bed. The truck was failry well accepted in the marketplace but always had a clearly defined persona separate from it’s close kin, the CJ/ Wrangler. After seven years of production, Chrysler determined that the truck building was best left to its Dodge division, so the Comanche slowly faded into the background; making way for its reinvention under the name Dodge Dakota, with no considerable fanfaire.

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The world would have to wait an antagonizing long 25 years and counting for a new pickup from Jeep. And from all visually-hindered appearances it might be one that’s really worth waiting for. Besides, we do actually get a brand new Wrangler to tide us over, in the meantime. But really, who are we kidding? OlllllllO

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Tips for Tackling that ‘Road Less-Travelled’

1Over the past decade of daily-driving a Jeep as my primary means of transportation, a few simple truths have become evident to me. First of all and simply put, Jeeps are cars for people who truly cherish driving. Even in stock form, Jeeps are fairly crude, utilitarian vehicles that are made to go just about anywhere you desire; therefore, their mannerisms when they are on the paved roadways are always a little less-than-perfect. This attribute, although unforgivable to some, suits me perfectly.

Secondly, Jeeps have made giant strides in proving that they may quite possibly be one of the worst commuter vehicles ever. While this seems somewhat harsh, the truth is that, while the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, Jeeps don’t seem to be engineered using the same basic principles of geometry. Basically, if it should take 1 hour to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, a Jeep will normally take anywhere from 10 to 50% longer to arrive than the calculated average. A Jeep driver tends to strictly abide by the age-old adage “Goin’ around your @$$ to get to your elbow”, accessing point ‘B’ via point ‘M’ or possibly even point lowercase ‘k’. While the science to support this principle has not been totally documented, it is true that fuel economy of the average Jeep owner is 10 to 50% lower than other vehicles on the road. Ironic? You decide.

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Thirdly, and this may surprise some of you like it did me- not ALL Jeep owners take their rugged rides off-road. While this was hard for me to digest at first, I came to realize that it makes total sense. For comparisons sake, everybody with a set of clubs in the trunk doesn’t necessarily know how to play golf well, if at all. I’m reminded of a lady who used to sing in the church choir when I was a young pre-teen. Despite the silky robe and the open songbook in her hands, she had no trace of any ability to sing. Unfortunately, this was a truth that was unknown to her and one that never kept her from engaging in blaring solos capable of frightening infants and startling the elderly. Unlike a tone-deaf soprano, a Jeep owner who has never experienced the joys of driving off-road is perfectly poised to make it happen. They already have all the capability they will need to make it happen at their disposal. The hard part is done.

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While the thought of venturing off-road in a brand-spanking new Wrangler JK is harrowing to many, the truth is that the Jeep was made to be taken off-road- they’re given that ‘Trail Rated’ badge on the fender for a reason. To keep it confined to pavement is depriving it of its purpose. Your inalienable right to take your Jeep out for a day filled with uncharted adventure is inherent with Jeep ownership and, with any luck, a thorough carwash will make it seem like it never even happened. I personally suggest you drive around with the mud decorations for at least a few days. It’s sort of a Jeepers badge of honor. Wear it proudly!

So, how do you get started with finding that road less travelled and making sure it’s one that suits your vehicle, your own individual skill and confidence level? I recommend anyone who drives a Jeep involve themselves in a local Jeepers club in their particular area. You can find many varieties of them on Facebook, as well as other social media venues, and they can prove to be a valuable source of information and support. The Jeep community is a strong network of people who share very similar interests although they come from a diverse range of backgrounds. I have gone “wheeling” with complete strangers on numerous occasions and have retained continuing friendships from each and every one of those interactions. You will more than likely find like-minded people near you that would love to coordinate a local trail ride or even a weekend road trip to a location close by.

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Another valuable source for locating prospective locations for you to pursue that less-travelled road would be the trusty internet. There are many sites dedicated to the off-roading hobby that can be a wealth of information and knowledge for you to access, some of which even have mobile apps that you can access while on the trail:

www.americantrails.org

www.offroadtrailguide.com

  www.where2wheel.com

5Once you have determined the “where”, “when” and “with who”, you will want to plan what things you will need to take with you. The first rule of thumb for a successful & enjoyable off-roading excursion is one shared with every teenage horror film you have ever seen. Don’t ever go alone!! (and maybe take a flashlight). Seriously, the essentials for your ultimate preparedness on the trail will vary greatly based on the types of off-roading you will be doing. For the beginner who is participating in a nice, easy trail ride, you want to make sure you have a properly inflated spare tire, a functioning jack and maybe a jug of water, just in case. A GPS can be a lifesaver although the uncomfortable total absence of roads on the display can seem alarming at times. Just remember, if it was an easy place to get to, everyone would already have been there and eliminated the reasons to go. It’s always a great idea to have a set of simple hand tools on-hand but the mechanical aptitude of the wheeler would be the determining factor between useful and useless. For that reason, a fully charged cellphone is to be considered crucial as well. Heck, it’s the Swiss army knife of this generation. There are apps to keep you from getting lost and games to entertain you when you do.

For those who drive modified Jeeps or have graduated to more challenging trails, ones that involve scaling rocks or maneuvering through mud, the list of crucial cargo grows accordingly. While the luxury of on-board compressed air is nice, it is certainly not a requirement. A hi-lift jack, a winch, a tire repair kit, a collection of basic recovery gear components comprised of straps, gloves, shackles and digging implements, a stockpile of damage-prone replacement parts like u-joints, axle shafts, drive shafts, ball joints, tie rod ends and the tools necessary to replace them on the trail as well as a hodgepodge of all the critical fluids needed to keep the engine running, the transmission shifting and the brakes stopping are all deemed as precious payload. While this seems like a nightmare checklist of necessary gear, the truth is that your trail kit can be developed and assembled over a long period of time as the experience level of your driving develops. Don’t be the guy who dresses like a big league catcher in the stands based on a slight chance of his fielding a foul ball. Take only what is practical in terms of making repairs on the trail. You may never need any of it but the one time you do, the overall expense will seem minimal in the grand scheme of things. To have it and not need it is the desired objective.

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So…Get out there, find that road less travelled and see where it takes you; always remembering to leave the trail just like you found it. After all, life is too short to just sit at home and Jeeps were meant to be taken off-road. You just might find out that those golf clubs look better in the garage anyway. OlllllllO

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One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure (Some Assembly Required)

1At the close of World War II, the War Department was stricken with an overwhelming problem – the conundrum of what to do with the untold thousands of military vehicles now that they had outlived their sole purpose. While many of the Willys MB and Ford GPW personnel transport units were merely abandoned in whatever foreign land they happened to be stationed in at the close of the war, many others were loaded onto ships, wheeled onto aircraft carriers and shipped home at great expense; returned stateside to a U.S. populace that had no real need for them and was largely preoccupied with resuming the normality of a post-war lifestyle free of such concerns.

World War II had not been considerate, in any way, to our European allies in France. A long and drawn-out conflict with Nazi Germany had left their nation’s infrastructure in a smoldering shambles and their military in dire need of massive reparation. As part of an unprecedented post-combat surplus sale, France agreed to purchase some 22,000 MB & GPW trucks from the U.S. government. While this deal likely qualified as a Lend/Lease transaction, the condition of the vehicles involved in the sale made it more a cross between a scratch-and-dent sale and an outright scrap liquidation, with only about half of the Jeeps being in usable condition. Jeeps that were damaged to the extent that a new frame was required were given a brand new frame thus removing their original Willys and Ford identifying markings and allowing them to begin life renewed as a Hotchkiss M201.

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The weighty task of converting such mechanical heaps into useable Jeeps began in 1946 and continued steadily for the next decade in a facility on the outskirts of Paris. Any car that was beyond repair was systematically dismantled to harvest any parts for use on other builds, while many of the chassis were upgraded to 12 volt electrical systems. With the extensive build processes being overseen by Hotchkiss, a French automobile and arms manufacturer, they began to develop a fairly thorough knowledge of the vehicles basic systems; leading to Hotchkiss becoming licensed by Willys to manufacture an entirely new Jeep, on a new frame, under the same Hotchkiss M201 badge beginning in the mid-1950’s. While these production models, built under the guise of Willys-Overland France (WOF), were intended for a largely civilian market, they failed to ever find an adequate foothold outside of the military. Nonetheless, they became a thread in the fabric of French post-war culture, affectionately referred to as ‘La Jeep’.

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The new civilian versions of ‘La Jeep’, referred to as the JH-101 from 1954 to 1960 and later as the JH-102 beginning in 1960, were based on the Willys CJ-3B and were subtly different from their Willys MB predecessors. For starters, the electrical systems were upgraded to a 24 volt platform with dual batteries to meet the NATO requirements of the day. Visually, the windshield frame of the production M201 had two wiper arms mounted from the above the windshield and featured a steel loop that straddled the wiper pivots to protect them when the windshield was lowered. The otherwise familiar dash cluster was accentuated by a round speedometer that read in kilometers per hour rather than miles; a feature possibly signifying the very first time in history that anyone was able to say they did 100 in a Jeep. Hotchkiss gradually began to address the Willys shortcomings with changes in their design, some proving to be beneficial while others were arguably steps in the wrong direction. Heavier leaf springs, waterproof ignition systems, updated carburetors and eventually even a diesel fuel engine found their way into the design. While those revisions that proved to be favorable became the new standard for future production, others that were less than advantageous fell by the wayside. Such is the case with the 55 horsepower Indenor diesel engine which, despite being a Peugeot power plant, reportedly had the same acceleration qualities as a garden snail, or ‘escargot’ as the French would refer to them on the menus in their finer restaurants.

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What started out as little more than a collection of old, used-up, hand-me-down Jeeps that were, by many accounts, ready for the landfill ended up serving the nation of France quite well. Many of the later production M102’s were used in military service up until the 1980’s. The decades following World War II were subsequently filled with economic growth and industrial advancements that once again had France positioned to maintain profitability for years to come. And to think, they owed a lot of their success to some old Jeeps. OlllllllO

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Finding the Meaning in Jeeps Seven Slot Grille

1When you come to the realization that we have an unmeasurable amount of information nowadays, right at our fingertips, it’s hard to feel anything short of amazed. The fact that I can drive my Jeep off in some random direction, as if I have a clue where I’m going, until I am hopelessly lost (as I am prone to do); I can pull over to the side of the road and my smartphone will tell me precisely where I am, advise me on how to get back home and tell me where the closest place to get some Kung Pow Chicken might be. It’s enough to baffle those of us old enough to remember having to drive to the library to gather information. With today’s technology so advanced, I’m sure it’s nothing but a simple oversight that, despite the past 50 years, absolutely no technological advancements have been made in the field of school glue; it doesn’t matter how much or how little of it you use, it’s still a sloppy mess the following day. Nor have the fine folks who manufacture it found any way to make it taste good. Go figure…

While doing some Jeep related research on the internet, I found an interesting article that was expounding on the origin of the iconic seven slotted Jeep grille. While I didn’t count the source as possessing any trace of actual credibility, I found it amusing that they claimed, so boldly, that the seven grille slots stood for the seven separate divisions of FCA Inc. – Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Mopar, SRT and Fiat. While the symbolism found in the concept that the seven grille bars represent the seven separate pillars on which the company is built seems honorable, I believe the authentic truth is likely more deeply-rooted in history than just a simple marketing scheme; a scheme that reeks of being little more than an afterthought dreamed up in some stuffy boardroom..

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It’s important to note the fact that the very first Jeeps didn’t even use a seven slot grille. The original war prototypes, as well as the actual early-production model Willys MB’s and Ford GPW’s that followed, used heavy grilles with a multitude of welded steel slats that were visually better-suited for grilling burgers over a campfire. It was not until later in 1942 that Ford Motor Company invoked some of their manufacturing expertise into the development of a lightweight stamped-steel grille assembly bearing nine vertical slots; a grille that, with one glimpse, is undoubtedly the inspiration for every Jeep grille to follow. It’s in the DNA. You can’t deny it…

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It was not until the release of the first widely available civilian Jeep, the 1945 Willys CJ-2A, that the grille was reduced to the prominent seven slot design that it retains today and has become so well-known for. So, why did Willys choose to use seven slots? Obviously, Ford had tooled up to produce the 9 slot fascia so that numerical design option was off the table. Respectable sources lend heavily in support of the notion that the Jeep was the first vehicle to have been deployed to serve on the soil of all seven continents during its tour of duty in the course of World War II. Having served in seven different theaters of war around the globe certainly deserves a high level of acclaim, or maybe a vertical bar for each? Just as a soldier might return home from his or her military service proudly displaying the medals that declare his bravery and accomplishments, the Jeep would return stateside, to the home it left behind, in the form of a civilian vehicle; always defiantly proud of the places it had been and the triumphs it had achieved. It had changed; it had adapted to its new lifestyle and yet it was fundamentally the same. An automotive model of resiliency.

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At this point is where I take a slight personal liberty in my beliefs in that the civilian Jeep grille was reduced by two slats to signify their sacrifice given in World War II. Of all the thousands of Jeeps that were produced in the early 40’s to bolster the war effort, a majority of them essentially gave the automotive equivalent of their “lives” for the cause. They were stockpiled and often liquidated, being sold off for scrap for pennies on the dollar and even pushed off piers, flight decks and jetties into the dark, murky depths of the ocean. One particular dumping ground in the South Western Pacific, known as “Million Dollar Point”, boasts virtual mountains of Jeeps, tanks and various other breeds of heavy equipment, all squandered away to a paupers burial, rather than incur the colossal expense of shipping them home. General George S. Patton may have explained such a blatantly frivolous exit strategy best when he said “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men”. I firmly adhere to the thought that the world would be a lot cooler place to be if we had more of these old war era Jeeps around to look at, drive & enjoy. Certainly they don’t deserve to be as rare as they have become.

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Due to some lax business practices in the trademark office at Chrysler, AM general was able to acquire a trademark for the seven slot grille design in 1996 and later applied it to their Hummer H1 and H2 vehicles, much to the chagrin of Daimler-Chrysler. While the Hummer nameplate has a celebrated military past all it’s own, it would be hard to place it in the same ranks as our storied Jeep. Just as wearing a labcoat does not make you a doctor and owning a smartphone doesn’t make you…well…smart; having a 7 slot grille does not, in any way, make you a Jeep. In fact, dressing like a soldier and prancing around when you are, indeed, NOT a soldier likely suggests your participation in the cast of some off-Broadway musical. The real Jeeps have no such reason to pretend. OlllllllO

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Great Moments in Reinvention – Trading Fatigues for Overalls

Photo Credit: hemmings

Photo Credit: hemmings

Everyone is well-aware of how the early Willys/Jeeps played such an integral role during World War II. It wasn’t like the Jeep had been ‘drafted’ for active duty- the Jeep was developed, specifically based on the militaries directives, to suit the needs of the job at hand. Based on that, what I find even more compelling is how Willys-Overland was able to seamlessly bridge the enormous gap that laid directly ahead for Jeep at the end of the Second World War. How could you take a vehicle that was purpose-built so specifically for one thing, reinvent it and sell it for purposes outside of hauling troops, ammunition and supplies? That answer is not as simple as one might think…apparently having proven your worth does not necessarily establish your value.

One vital element to its continued success can be found in the fact that the war-time Jeep was highly- revered as a HERO by the folks back home, as well as by the enlisted men who knew them best. One particular early 40’s Willys-Overland advertisement featured a real-life letter written by a young girl named Sarah, from a little farm in Connecticut, declaring her and her brothers undying admiration for the Jeep and her passionate plea for any pictures the automaker might be willing to provide to her so that she would not have to cut up her parents Life magazines- an act that her father severely frowned upon. The final paragraph of that war-time ad relays a hope-filled few sentences, a sort of premonition in that the lessons learned by Jeep during the war would likely be put to good use by folks back home- a Jeep in civilian attire, or“civvies”, as they called it.

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While being labelled a wartime hero is a pretty grand notion, what Willys truly needed was to prove to the American buyer that the trusty Jeep was a versatile and highly-functional utility vehicle stateside as it had proved to be overseas. While the average family income in 1946 was only a scant $2,600 and veterans that were returning from the war were making, on average, 10% less than those who had NOT served; trying to persuade farmers and small-industry that a $1,241 civilian Jeep was not only a financially sound decision, but, better yet, a wise one seemed to be quite the challenge. The early CJ’s (Civilian Jeeps) were commonly touted for their incomparably reliable drivetrains, capable of performing the work of a tractor while maintaining acceptable on-road abilities too, claiming unmatched nimbleness, finger-tip steering, even highway speeds of up to 60 miles per hour (possibly downhill with a full payload of paving stones?). What could set the civilianized Jeep apart from, say, a Chevy Fleetmaster- a family car whose price is only fifty dollars more BUT can haul the whole family in comfort and a simplistic style? In a single word…Utility.

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   Surely, there were more comfortable and spacious modes of transportation available, but none had near the level of utility of the Jeep. Purely as an off-road conveyance, the Jeep was agile, equipped with great low gear torque to trudge through mud and still haul the wife to town for sundries. The whole concept of utility took flight with the implementation of the PTO (Power Take-Off) which enabled engine power to do more than just turn the four wheels. Suddenly, Jeeps were cast in the same light as a comic book superhero, using their 134 cubic inch engines to power a vast number of implements including welders, compressors, mowers, saws, and sprayers in addition to their ability to tow any number of farming appliances and trailers. Simply put, if you want the ability to get more work done, you’d better ‘Get a Jeep’.

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With its hard-working credentials firmly founded, the early civilian Jeeps began to see widespread usage in farms, factories and commercial operations all across the country. With all this work getting done so efficiently by the new CJ, it was important that people didn’t forget that Jeeps were just as useful for play as they were at work. What better time to pull out all the marketing stops and promote the real-world sensibilities of the CJ by showing one blasting down the road, windshield folded down, with a typical-of-the-time family of five cheerfully contained inside. Just to make sure the point is driven home that this is average folks at leisure, we’ll put the lady of the house behind the wheel of the CJ (a practice that was not a popular custom of the day) and the gentleman’s Sears & Roebuck necktie will be flailing in the wind, leaving no doubt that these Jeepers are enjoying life and, in no way, working. However comical it may seem, in retrospect, in comparison to the usual images we see of 1940’s America, it must have worked as the CJ slowly adopted a new image that was focused more on adventure and the ability to go anywhere than on having to prove itself worthy of our attention.4bc9ecff7f19ea513584d3ad78680617

For whatever reasons, the Willys/Jeep was able to adapt its skillset and prove its ability to provide benefits that reached far beyond its original design. While the bulky radio backpacks of the war seemingly vanished along with the final maturing of war bonds, the Jeep CJ’s reimagined purpose has enabled it to truly stand the test of time. OlllllllOAutomobileMagazine22106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

Never Really Done

1How often do you hear or read where another fellow Jeeper makes the statement that they are finally done with their build? I have heard it a countless number of times and it always makes me chuckle a little bit, partly out of jealousy but mostly because I honestly don’t believe that there is any such state of being ‘Done’, at least not when it comes to a Jeep. Describing a Jeep as being ‘Done’ not only suggests that the vehicle is acceptable to the builder’s standards but that the current assembling of all the parts that make it up is absolutely complete with nothing to spare and nothing else needed- only then is it truly finished.

2Jeeps are purely and wholly mechanical and, as with any mechanical device, are inherently imperfect. One might argue that they are, however, perfectly imperfect. I make this point for the sole reason that, when you are speaking in terms of Jeeps, perfection is not an actual destination but rather a journey; one that will never come to an end because you will never actually arrive. You will always long to explore another trail, discover another road to lead you to yet another spectacular, breathtaking sunset and build another friendship with a foundation based on little more than a shared passion for a vehicle that allows you to go anywhere and do anything. It shouldn’t surprise you that the universe that we live in, by some unwritten law, doesn’t allow perfection but is, thankfully, incapable of limiting our pursuit of it and there is plenty of pleasure to be had in such a pursuit.

If you are going to pursue that remote undiscovered trail or expand the limits of the world you get to enjoy with your eyes, the capabilities of your Jeep will be in a constant state of development. Whether it is suspension and driveline upgrades to improve off-road performance or a set of wheels & tires to turn heads and drop jaws during your travels, there always seems to be something else on the list of things that you crave to do to your Jeep. It’s probably pretty safe to say that income tax refund season has spawned more ‘Before & After’ Jeep pictures than any other day on record. Where else can you spend your hard-earned money that can provide such a large return on investment? Sure, Jeeps hold their resale value exceptionally well but what about the returns that pay back dividends in life-experiences and enjoyment that is beyond compare? Rumor has it that tax refund checks that are designated for Jeep upgrades receive priority processing over returns that are used for Caribbean cruises or plastic surgery….just jot a little ‘OIIIIIIIO’ next to your signature and Uncle Sam will do the rest!

3So, what if you have already built your vehicle to conquer any obstacle and equipped it to navigate any trail…what then? Once we have our Jeeps looking exactly how we envisioned in our minds with the most bullet-proof components that we could muster installed between the front and rear bumpers, can’t we finally say that we are done??? Fortunately, the answer would still be less than positive. Choosing to take the road less travelled comes at a cost. Axle shafts break, tires wear out and those gigantic boulders that rise up to halt our progress will often be less-than-kind to our painted sheet metal. We’re Jeepers and we already know that things are never going to be perfect. We will work our way back, little by little until a little becomes a lot. When it comes to Jeeps, it’s all about the ride anyway. OlllllllO

We’re all about the pursuit of perfection at Omix-ADA/ Rugged Ridge and we have the parts and accessories to make that Jeep in the driveway look like the rig in your dreams. Check us out at www.RuggedRidge.com .  2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9