Is “Jeep Therapy” Really the Real Deal?

1I was recently reading an article that expounded on some interesting data extracted from the 2015 U.S Census that stated the average American adult enjoys a daily one-way commute that is 25.5 minutes long. That is almost 26 minutes one-way , so double that unless you’re carrying a kindergartners nap mat to the office with you; we are on average confined to our cars interior for close to an hour a day, 5 days a week. The fine folks of the Dakotas, North & South, came in well under the average while Marylanders were 22% higher than the average. That is some seriously substantial windshield time!

So, as the gravity of this information began to sink in, I was reminded of a meme I had seen recently in one of the Jeep forums that I frequent. For those of you entirely unfamiliar with the term ‘meme’, don’t feel bad. Despite the fact you’re much better off in your current state of unknowing, I will tell you that a meme (pronounced MEEM) is a clever, inspiring or funny little picture or caption that has associated text cropped on it with the intention of spreading, by means of the internet (primarily social media), like a wildfire. It’s important to note that anyone can create a meme, so the cleverness, humor or inspirational qualities are by no means guaranteed, as you can only imagine. Accurate spelling is also less-than-vital.

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The “meme” in question alluded to the fact that driving a Jeep often proves to have an almost therapeutic effect on the driver. While I am a relatively new “Jeeper” by some people’s standards, having only been a Jeep owner for the past decade, I can testify with a great deal of certainty that this meme is right on point. It doesn’t matter how far off-track my day at work may have gotten, my ride home in my Jeep seems to set things straight once again. The wind in your hair can magically clear the muck from your mind. With older Jeeps, it’s often more of a trade-off.

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But the healing qualities don’t end when you put the Jeep top and doors back on, at least not entirely. Driving a Jeep just seems to put one’s mind in the proper state for reasons that I can’t accurately explain. I could argue that the driver’s vantage point being situated higher than most could be a contributor. The fact that the soft top possesses all the unrefined nuances of a camping tent could prove to be a factor for some while I think that the Jeeps overall essence of adventure and free-spiritedness seems to deescalate the stresses of the day for most.

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Bottom line is, anyone that has driven or even ridden in a Jeep doesn’t really have to be convinced at all of the therapeutic qualities exhibited on its occupants. If the single hour a day that you spend behind the wheel of a Jeep is truly therapy, then think of the money you’ll save on NOT having to see an actual board-certified therapist. A little internet searching reveals the typical psychotherapy session would run you around 76 bucks an hour, on average. Think of the money you’ll save! And the thing takes you places too?? Win/Win!!

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In fact, if my calculations are even remotely accurate, you stand to save a minimum of $380 a month, even if the therapy sessions your Jeep help you avoid were only weekly. The more drastic your particular internal instabilities, the more treatments you would have required and then the savings literally go through the roof! I’m thinking it might be time to splurge a little and start seeing a brand new therapist….Hmm. I think BLUE is a very calming color. OlllllllO

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A Modern-Day Drivers Lament

1I’ve always heard that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. While this is largely true from my experience, sometimes looking at the past in the appropriate light is the cure for better accepting what is in the present.

This bit of enlightenment came to me while I was sitting, somewhat impatiently, at a traffic light on my daily ride home. This is one of the lights that I have to “endure” daily; one whose entire existence seems to only suggest a proper course of action to those who travel under its authority at any given time. People just proceed out into the intersection regardless of the lights impending change. If the lights directions were to be observed and obeyed, order would ensue; however, the light and its luminous suggestions are largely ignored, resulting in utter and total chaos.

Imagine a place like New York City without so much as a traffic light to limit the lunacy. Back in 1901, this was the conditions of the day. Travel by motor car was relatively new and there was an entire dynamic between loud cars and frightened horses pulling carriages to deal with. That’s why there was The Automobile Blue Book – a written manual for navigating the city by car and surviving with life and limb intact.

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Before there were traffic lights, signs and electronic gizmos to guide us along, the government saw the need to give us guidelines by which to abide. In terms of the right-of-way, there was very little regard given to whether you were pulling out on to a major thoroughfare. Rather the direction in which you were travelling determined who had the upper hand. Obviously, those going north or south were actually going somewhere while those going, say, eastbound were not actually travelling anywhere deemed important, what with the rotation of the earth and all.

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With the fundamental basis of right-of-way now firmly established for us all, it’s time to move on to matters of safety. All vehicles, including the dreaded ‘velocipede’, are to be equipped with a bell, or a gong if you’d rather, but not too big of a bell as to encourage one upmanship. This 3-inch or smaller merry noisemaker is to be sounded whenever you pass another vehicle from behind and when you navigate a turn. Oddly, no mention is given in regards to the gaining or losing of right-of-way with a change in vehicle direction. I would think that gaining right-of-way by means of a turn would warrant the ringing of ones own bell, as sort of an audible celebration.

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The act of stopping the automobile is addressed to a lesser extent back in Article 4 Section 1, by advising that nobody is to stop the vehicle, unless it’s an emergency, or to let another vehicle cross in front of you. Use of an audible signal is advised but it doesn’t seem as though the bell is suggested to be the source of the signal. Maybe a “whoop” or a “holler” is in order, based on where you are from? Or you can just raise your whip. Wait…what??

When you see pedestrians treated as the same rank as the horses, it’s not surprising to see the City of New York come down hard on those who choose to ride a peddle-powered means of transport. Having to suddenly share the road with not only equine but now motorized contraptions driven by whip-wielding whackos is a whole new thing. Bottom line is- If you’re gonna bike it, you’ve gotta leave the tike at home to fend for himself. These streets are no place for young children

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And the bad news doesn’t end there for the bikers! Strict rules are enacted to make it illegal to coast your bike. Meaning you have to be under constant propulsion if you’re not parked on the curb. In fact, you have been directed to keep your hands on the handlebars and your feet on the peddles at ALL times!! Of course, it goes without saying that you can’t have a Chinese lantern on your bicycle either. Afterall, this ain’t Hong Kong. And Rule #13 restricting any and all “instruction” from the bike path is really surprising and is surely going to prove a serious hindrance to any of those who ever hope to learn how to ride a bike in this town.

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Just when you think the drivers of century ago had it pretty good, it turns out that said drivers were instructed to maintain a log of their driving. This was not just a tally of dates and mileage though. This is a full-fledged written report of data involving complex mathmatical formulas that rival todays college prep exams. How many miles did I traverse? What was my fuel consumption per brake horse power? How much waste am I storing?? The though of calculating water consumption per mile seems like a sizable task. Can’t I just go back to dealing with traffic lights and moronic drivers?

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Even if I was to become accustomed to the considerable load of paperwork that accompanied driving privileges back yesteryear, the accident preparation kit that accompanied the Official Automobile Blue Book would have me seriously rethinking my decision. Having to quickly peruse a laymens description of artificial recessitation and familiarizing myself with the acknowledged ways to “test for death” seems a tad intense when compared to exchanging insurance cards and texting your agent. Afterall, I’m pretty sure I don’t even carry linseed oil with me on most occasions.

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Now, riding in a Jeep can make you prone to getting a cinder in the eye. I just need to figure out what a “lamp lighter” is and pick up a couple of them from Amazon when I order my new velocipede. OlllllllO

LOCKERS…Understanding the Ins & Outs of Maintaining Traction through Modern Mechanical Wizardry

1I wonder how many countless middle schoolers have been subjected to the inhumane pre-teen ritual of being stuffed into a cramped school locker? While I have never personally experienced it myself, I’m sure that the mere mention of the word “locker” to anyone who has been, is enough to cause one to instantly forget their locker combination and quite possibly to lose partial control of their bodily functions. How on earth are you supposed to remember if you go counter-clockwise past ‘32’ twice before stopping on ‘17’ when you’re in constant and profound fear of becoming the defenseless victim of a wedgie; or, worse yet, having your lockers interior exposed to those who don’t share your same fondness for fuzzy animated movie characters or cheesy boy bands?

Fortunately, the word ‘lockers’ has an entirely different and less-emotional connotation to the off-road Jeep enthusiast. “Lockers” is short slang for a locking differential- the means by which the men are separated from the boys when the tires hit the trail.

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Most vehicles, including many Jeeps, leave the factory with an “open” style differential. What this means is that the rotation of the driveshaft is transferred through a set of gears and distributed to two separate axle shafts, each turning its own driven wheel. Since the two axle shafts are not actually connected together through any rigid means, they are able to rotate at different speeds independent of each other. While this concept is splendid for driving on the open road and around town, it loses its luster in off-road situations where one wheel may lose traction and will begin to spin wildly. The other wheel, despite having sufficient traction, might just sit there and do nothing while all of the engines torque is applied to the wheel with no traction. It’s very much like watching an innocent and unknowing bird fly headlong into a glass window again and again. After several minutes, there has been lots of motion, vast amounts of spent energy but no real progress. This is a condition that off-road enthusiasts commonly refer to as “stuck”.

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“Lockers”, or locking differentials, essentially drive both wheels with constant and equal torque, regardless of traction, making it much more difficult to achieve the status of stuck, as is common in an open differential-equipped rig. While the perceived invincibility found in driving off road with lockers is quite attractive, it can also be accompanied by a whole new set of drawbacks. Applying unrelenting torque to a tire that is hopelessly wedged up in a rock pile will eventually find a way to turn itself loose despite the tires resistance. This newfound and forced freedom is brought on by the sudden failure of whatever component lacked the most in the integrity department. If you’re lucky, it’s just a u-joint. More than likely , such a calamity will befall a more expensive component. And one that is significantly harder to repair on trail side, like an axle shaft or, heavens forbid, a costly CV driveshaft. Even at such high cost, Lockers ARE the way to go if you like to wheel off-road.

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Those who are blessed with the ability to be free-thinkers may instinctively suggest that we just build ALL Jeeps, or cars for that matter, with locking differentials and send those open differentials down the road, the way of the Dodo bird and full-service gas stations. After all, nobody really wants to get stuck, do they? Certainly not any number of my personal friends who I can recall having gotten their Jeeps stuck in their own back yard while doing something as simple as hauling furniture or flexing their macho manly side by attempting to persuade a shrub from its earthen nest by brute force. Nothing is quite as masculine as winching your Jeep out of a muddy pit that used to be your yard while using a kid’s swing set as an anchor point.

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The bottom line is that all of the traction benefits offered by a locked differential are overshadowed by their negative on-road manners. Since very few roadways are completely 100% straight, the need to turn the steering wheel occasionally is very real and turns the prospect of locked differentials into a nightmarish ordeal; similar to the horrors of getting stuck in your own yard. Since the opposing wheels are essentially “locked” together inside the differential, going around a corner becomes a nerve-grinding experience.

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When you steer a vehicle through a corner, the wheel positioned on the inside of the turn has a shorter distance to travel while the outside wheel has a longer distance to negotiate. This conflict in rotational energy between the inside and outside wheel manifests itself in a vehicle that simply isn’t happy turning at speed anymore; never mind the larger diameter tires and pavement-hating tread. In fact, a lot of this excess energy in the turns will be absorbed into your driveline and by your tires tread, resulting in reduced fuel economy, accelerated tire wear and a downright poor overall attitude. Three things that Jeeps can’t afford to compromise on unless there are substantial benefits to be gained. Benefits like x-ray vision or George Clooney-like good looks would be good contenders.

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Any time the left is so far removed from the right, it’s good to know that an accord can be struck and a happy middle ground established. Ground where we can enjoy the off-road benefits of locking differentials combined with the street-friendly mannerisms of an open differential. Such an accord can be found in a selectable locker, a differential whose locking abilities can be turned off or on with the simple flick of a switch, the pull of a lever or by reciting a short mystical chant. Such systems would include an ARB Air Locker, Eaton E-Locker or a cable-actuated OX Locker.

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While the selectable locker is a bit more expensive that most other options, it’s hard to identify any negatives to support an argument that they are anything but worth the price you’ll pay. Jeep has utilized a selectable locker system in their Rubicon models since the early 2000’s and it has quickly become a consumer favorite for its expanded level of capability. So much so that you’ll find Rubicon stickers plastered across the hoods of Cherokees, YJ Wranglers, and even an occasional Grand Cherokee. While obviously the decal doesn’t make any Jeep a Rubicon, what does make the Rubicon stand out can be largely attributed to its locking differentials, front and rear. Just try to comprise a similar locking differential system in a base model Wrangler and you will concede that the Rubicon package is a smart way to go. Trust me… a lot can be said for being able to drive out of your own back yard and it’s hard to put a price on shame. OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

 

“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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