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

 

Necessity is Still the Mother of Invention- Improvisation is the Mother-in-Law

1Word on the street is that Jeep is going to offer us a brand new Wrangler-based pickup truck in 2019, fulfilling an urgent longing that I can’t say I was even aware of. The new Jeep Wrangler JT will all but cease a long-standing ritual of Jeep owners; believing that the only thing keeping their beloved Jeeps from being a full-fledged pickup truck is a bundle of ratchet straps and some creativity.

Obviously the fine folks at Fiat/Chrysler have invested significant energy into determining the marketplace to be properly aligned with the prospect of a four wheel drive, go-anywhere utility vehicle that also enables the driver to haul a mound of camping gear to the mountains or masses of shopping bags home from the mall, depending on their personal inclination. I can only assume that, in the divine blissful haze of my own Jeep ownership, I hadn’t realized that we weren’t doing better than alright with our current Jeeps, minus a truck bed.

Many a times I have taken off to the local home improvement store in the old Jeep with no concern as to where the 2 x 4’s, bags of quikrete and sacks of red cedar mulch will ride. Jeeps have been hauling incredible payloads since the early 1940’s. I’m pretty sure that some gardening supplies aren’t going to derail the train. Sure, sheets of plywood or panelling tend to push the envelope of what is possible or shrewd; but that’s when you have to raise your cargo loading game to the next level. I tend to think of a gutsy WWII medic who was presented with the probability of carrying a wounded soldier strapped to an eight foot stretcher on his runt of a Willys/Jeep. He didn’t bother looking for reasons he couldn’t do it… He found ways he could. In minutes, that Jeep was catching air with the gurney strapped to whatever flat area was not already occupied. With said soldier grateful to be alive, although not necessarily happy at the time.

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In the grand scheme of things, hauling a flat of petunias or a weekend’s supply of camping gear to the nearest woods pales in comparison to the notion of carting an injured soldier off of the battlefield. However, regardless of how the Jeeps utilitarian abilities are displayed, they are certainly worthy of being celebrated, or maybe even exploited – within the confines of local laws and ordinances, of course.

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The residents of Quindio, Columbia have initiated an annual celebration of Jeeps enduring ability to defy the bounds of what is possible by holding a giant colorful parade featuring “Yipaos”, which literally means ‘loaded Jeep’. These basically stock Jeeps and Willys vehicles are decorated, adorned and otherwise encumbered with every sort of object one can imagine. Religious trinkets, misplaced home appliances and pieces of societal refuse are piled precariously high atop each eighty-inch wheelbase for a rolling spectacle that is just as long as it is tall. Folks, that is a full-scale acoustic guitar at Jesus’ right hand. Not a ukele…a real guitar. It has not been properly tuned but is a spectacle nonetheless.

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One doesn’t have to travel half-way around the world or skirt the equator to find Jeeps being put to a daily test of practicality. Jeeps are often witnessed across the country pulling boats & jetskis, landscaping trailers or loaded to the rollbars with everything from musicians gear to firewood . A reporter during World War II once wrote that his Jeep “did everything. It went everywhere. Was faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carried twice what it was designed for and still kept going”. That is a pretty sparkling description of a Jeep and one inline with my past experiences. I can only imagine if the Jeep had a truck bed what more could he have said?

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So, if our esteemed off-road mainstay is truly about to be gifted from Jeep’s Toledo factory with a legitimate truck bed, we may have to alter our perceptions of what is possible. We have always done truck-like things without a truck. Imagine the possibilites with a diesel engine, 8-speed automatic and lockers front & rear! I may just start building my own yipao now so I can just load it in the back. OlllllllO

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Photo Credit: JLWranglerForums.com

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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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Jeep Gladiator 4-Door Pickup "Truck" Coming in 2013

Yellow Jeep Gladiator Pickup Concept

Last September in Orlando, Jeep CEO Michael Manley,  set Jeep forums and internet chat rooms ablaze by hinting that a Jeep pickup truck was in the future. No one knew what the tuck was or where it came from… Until now.

By hinting we mean, Manley concluded a speech to Jeep deal group by saying, ” “You never know what might show up in your showroom someday” and coolly exited the stage as the stunned audience glimpsed a yellow Jeep concept through sheer curtains.

Speculation was set aflame by the fact that no one got more a fleeting glance of the truck. There were no images of video footoage taken. Was it based on the Nukizer M715 Jeep released that year in Moab? Perhaps a take off of the J8 Egyptian Military Spec Jeep, the 2005 Gladiator Concept, or something new all together? The Jeep design team certainly didn’t know. They were busy sketching concepts of the redesigned Wrangler due out in 2012. The guys in charge of the Ram Truck division over a hearty, “Hell, no!”  when asked about the possibility of production.

Automotive News and other news sites were quick to debunk the production of a Jeep based truck; calling it all hype.  Ram certainly wasn’t happen about a the possibility of it’s sister brand cannibalizing their sales. Let’s face it Michael Manley never said the Jeep was headed for production when he walked off the stage. But what no one counted on was the fact that Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne was behind the idea.

2005 Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck ConceptThe Jeep is none other than the 2005 Jeep Gladiator Concept with a new yellow job covering the original Armour Green. After crisscrossing the states for media blitzes and auto shows in 2005 the concept was retired to the Walter p. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan. After disappearing from display for a few short weeks it is now sitting back behind the velvet rope sporting its new bright yellow paint.

The 2013 Gladiator will most likely be a cross between the 2005 concept and the Nukizer M715. It will be powered by the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, 280 horsepower (209 kW) at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) of torque at 4,800 rpm, that sits under the hood of the 2011 Grand Cherokee, and will power all Jeep Wrangler in 2012. The bed will be shortened to 5ft too add two more feet to the passenger compartment, but will use a tailgate extender (like the Ford Explorer Sport) to accommodate larger objects.

Like the current Wrangler the new Jeep truck will be built in Toledo and will sit atop a front Dana 30 and rear Dana 44 axles, and be mated with a new Fiat transmission. The word is the Jeep is consider using the Gladiator name or reviving the Scrambler moniker.





Photo Credit: Yellow Jeep (USA Today)