As I Recall, Nobody Is Perfect

When I was growing up, I was probably viewed as some kind of a gearhead. I bought my first car at the tender age of fourteen. I spent a lot of my spare time tinkling under the hood or grinding away at the body. I always ran in social circles with the kind of guys who turned wrenches and found trouble by barking tires and practicing red-light launches, or “blatant displays of speed”, as the citation would always read.

I remember a tale I was told, back in the day, by a car-buddy of mine who drove a ’70 Nova SS. He said that you should never buy a car that was built on a Monday. His statement cleverly insinuated that the guys who worked the assembly line would show up for work on a Monday, still a bit hung over from the weekend, and, for that reason, would do a less-than-stellar job. I found it somewhat silly to make such a declaration when the process of finding out what exact week a car was built was as complex as advanced trigonometry, much less the exact day.

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My friend’s statement was founded nonetheless. His Nova, as nice as it was, held a sort-of factory defect itself. His father was the original owner of the car, having purchased it in November of ’69, before passing it on to his son; so its history was pretty well known. On a hot June afternoon, while installing some wiring for a stereo amplifier, the passenger side kick panel was removed to reveal an old Stroh’s beer can crushed flat and nestled inside the hidden cavity behind. The fact that the metal can was heavy and had the old pull tab style top made it seem original to the era. It wasn’t like we ever heard an unknown rattle nor did we smell the stale funk that would surely emanate from a discarded beer can on a hot day, had it not been some 17 years later. We always joked that the UAW workers were literally “lit” while assembling his X-bodied pride & joy. And we may have not been wrong.

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This old yarn was brought to mind recently when the new and highly-touted 2018-19 Jeep Wrangler JL was recalled for faulty welds on its track bar mounts. Nothing stirs up public speculation like a crack in the frame of a brand new vehicle. Is it even possible today that the guy behind the welding gun over at Jeep is all dizzied-up on malted hops? Surely today’s assembler would be sipping coconut water or a soy latte?

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After my recent tour of the Toledo Assembly Plant back in August, I can say definitively NO. In fact, a large majority, if not all, of the welding on the chassis is performed by robotic arms that work efficiently and with exacting precision. The actual temperature of the weld is a known quantity, as is every aspect of the welded union, generating a finished weld that simply can’t be duplicated by even the most skilled human with any degree of regularity. The entire process is monitored by sensors and carefully controlled by an advanced computer system that serves as the brain of the operation. And therein lies the only likely suspect for such a manufacturing flaw.

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So while the level of automation that is incorporated into the assembly of a car has all but eliminated the possibility for human error, the fact that humans are tasked with building the robotics and developing the programs that drive their systems leaves a wide window for such glitches to occur. If nothing else, such a recall should remind us that it’s usually best to wait for the second year of production on a new model before making a purchase; or develop a deeper comfort level with the possibility of such issues arising, knowing that solutions will be swift and exhaustive. That being said, I’m a long way from being comfortable with a computer driving my car for me…those things weld like they’re drunk! OlllllllO

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Legends of the Fall

I was fortunate enough to recently spend the better part of a week in the mountains of North Georgia with a group of journalists assembled from around the country. Our primary purpose was to get out and enjoy the backroads and wooded wilderness in a handful of Jeeps. And on this particular occasion the timing couldn’t have been better.

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Folks with an advanced level of knowledge can advise you on the virtues of the yearly procession of fall that they call the autumnal equinox. In the south, the event is usually marked by cooler temperatures and a welcomed reprieve from an endless cycle of grass-cutting and yard watering.

The “first day of fall”, as we call it, signifies what I would have to say is my favorite time of year. Besides the cooler weather, fall is a time for the spectacle of golden hues that adorn the trees just before they shed their foliage entirely for the winter. It’s a time for brewing up some homemade chili and for high school football on a Friday night. Best of all, it’s a time for Jeeps.

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This year, fall’s entrance has been marked by unusually warm temperatures. Certainly warmer than we are normally accustomed to in the south. But that doesn’t change the fact that fall is the perfect time to get out and enjoy your Jeep.

While I am a firm believer that Jeeps were meant to be driven without doors, I’m not usually one to set out for a drive without some sort of overhead cover. At the very least, a bikini top or sunshade to keep the scorching rays off of my head is how I’m prone to roll. However, once fall has made its entry, I find that running with no top at all is the ideal remedy for whatever ails you. Besides, you don’t need anything between you and the pageantry of changing leaves; not to mention those clear, starlit nights. But take the time to breathe it in…because in a few short weeks, winter will be here and such deep breaths will be much less enjoyable. And those Jeeps will be weighted down with doors and tops and heaters on full-blast. It is then that you will yearn for this day.

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So get out there and enjoy your Jeep and all the beauty that autumn brings us. There is plenty to see and experience and the legendary Jeep is the perfect place for you to take it all in. OlllllllO

A red Jeep Wrangler drives toward Cottonwood Pass through bright fall aspen trees.

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Space-Age Polymers and Advanced Technology Makes for Instant Fun – Just Add Water!!!

I believe that it is written, somewhere deep within the yellowed pages of an old Jeep owner’s manual, that you have not officially achieved full-fledged Jeep ownership status until you have been baptized into the Jeep church. Don’t get me wrong…despite the name this isn’t a religious ceremony of any sort. It doesn’t require a priest and is not likely to be followed by a reception, complete with little finger sandwiches, fruit punch or a cake. This ‘baptism’ is one of deep water, of pouring rain and probably of mud. Sure, it tends to be a messy ordeal but it always washes off and things dry out long before the memory ever fades.

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I can’t even recall the first time it happened to me, or begin to count the number of times that followed. What I can easily recall is that some of the best times I’ve had in my Jeep have been when things are NOT going the way they should. I could go as far as to say, with reasonable certainty that I’ve been set up. Jeep made plenty of allowances in their design to allow for the unexpected and undesirable to happen. The roof is configured to come off the vehicle entirely, as well as the doors, which both seem pretty suspect to me. There are even plugs in the floor that, when removed, allow for water to drain out of the cab, although the diameter of the drain holes are much too small to keep up with the water flow demand so your ankles will usually remain completely submerged in a heavy downpour. It’s like Jeep knew what kind of trouble Jeep owners were likely to get into and they wanted to make sure we were equipped to handle it and make a full recovery.

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My first ‘baptism’ was innocent enough. It was a sunny spring morning in Georgia and I opted to give my daily driver wheels the day off, choosing to enjoy a sun-soaked trek in to the office in the Jeep. The fresh aroma of budding trees triggered by winters end, accompanied by soft, cool breezes was just the right way in which to start your day and an even better way to end it. Mother nature, however, was hard at work in the background, enacting plans to make sure those blossoming trees had ample water- a plan she would put into full action about the time I began my homeward jaunt. As a steady stream of water trickled from my interior rearview mirror, as though a water faucet had been left on, it occurred to me that a bikini top was probably a well-chosen name for a product that basically guarantees that you are going to get wet. My thoughts then shifted to relative gravity of the situation that unfolded around me as my vehicles entire interior electrical system was being exposed to the one element of nature that it has the least in common with. All these years I spent avoiding the urge to use the hair dryer while lying in the bathtub were all for naught, as I was most certainly about to perish in a freak electrical fire.

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The most redeeming part of the Jeep baptism is probably the impression it makes on those around you that get to witness the event. The look of complete and total pity expressed on the faces of onlookers as they watch you brave the torrential floods must be seen to be believed. A look that could only be outdone by the shock and dismay that their faces would reveal, if they only knew that you were having a blast! I recall on one occasion a fellow in a black luxury sport sedan who pulled up next to me in one such monsoon, partially rolled down his window and made a verbal gesture of his compassion for my plight. “Bad day to own a Jeep! Ain’t it?” he said, to which I replied “No… Thursdays are as good as any day.”

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Of course, there is a flip-side to that coin. Every rose has its thorns; or at least that is the rumor I’ve heard relayed in a song. When it comes to having fun while in a Jeep, water is clearly the magical multiplier. Whether it’s a wide water crossing that runs up to your rocker panels, skirting a majestic waterfall on an isolated backwoods trail or adding equal sums of dirt and water together to make mud- the end result is always the same. Everything you do in a Jeep is “funner” when you add water, but be careful. When you are out wheeling and you add water, things can get really slick really fast! While I don’t mind an occasional struggle for traction, if your adventure has you on any sort of an incline, you will soon be unwillingly finding the shortest route down the mountain; bouncing off anything and everything that is in your path. While this still makes for vast amounts of fun, for those who value pretty painted sheet metal, this can be a real downer. For those Jeepers who are still sending the bank a monthly payment, it’s a downright unacceptable activity to use your Jeep to clear-cut forest land. For that reason, splashing through puddles is the recommended watersport until you have title in hand (with the top off, of course).

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So if you’re out in your topless Jeep and the dark clouds seem to conspire to rain on your parade, don’t despair. It’s just part of your baptism. Sit back, breathe in the air and enjoy it. Most importantly, try not to look too crazy. It’s a Jeep Thing! OlllllllO

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Weighing the Pros & Cons of Insanity

Over the years, I have come to realize that I do my best thinking at night. In that short period of time between lying down and actually falling asleep, I solve some of life’s largest quandaries. To be honest, what I consider to be “my best thinking” is probably substandard to most other people but, at least to me, it’s pure genius-level stuff.

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In stark comparison, I seldom if ever have a lucid thought when I first wake up. At the earliest hint of the first shrill tone from the alarm, my mind is prone to produce such mindless gibberish that I’m left wondering on what occasion I received a head injury. “Where’s the dog!?!!”…”Lefty Loosey” or even “Hello!”, as if answering a phone in my slumber, are some of the first things that come across my mind and therefore cross my lips in mornings earliest seconds. I’ve even been known to grasp desperately at a non-existent handrail, while still comatose, because my mind convinced me I was falling. Trust me…at night time, I am freaking brilliant!

I am currently deeply engaged in the planning of a cross country trek to Toledo, OH for the annual Toledo Jeep Fest in August. And this is not just any trek, but one taken in my 25 year old Jeep. As I laid in bed last night planning what mechanical tasks I needed to address this weekend in preparations for my voyage, it occurred to me that, amongst all the other pertinent planning, I needed to address how my Jeep was going to dress for the trip.

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If you have or have ever had a Jeep, you probably know what I mean. Anytime you take your Jeep out, you have to assess your itinerary and determine the best and most practical set-up for the occasion. If you have a hardtop, most of that decision making is pre-determined for you. Since my YJ is a soft top, I need to ask myself “Do I run the fastback soft top so I have my windows ready in waiting in case the weather goes south or do I roll the dice and don the more-risqué bikini top?” I decide that the fastback top would be the wisest choice and offer the most versatility. See! Nighttime-Me is ridiculously sharp. Isn’t he?

Then my mind progresses to the subject of doors. Do I mount up my half doors to the Jeep with a plan to then store the uppers in the rear cargo area when the weather permits or do I just leave home without any doors at all? I can even store the doors in the hotel room for short jaunts without doors. Or, do I drive half a dozen states away from my home with no means of protecting myself and my vehicles occupants from the elements during what might be one of the hottest Augusts in recent memory? Why, of course I do. Wait…what??

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I think if my wife was accompanying me on this trip, I would have to give the topic of going door-less for 1,300 miles some more intense thought. Bottom line is that I’m taking my teenage son and I love the open-air Jeep lifestyle as much or maybe more than anyone. Face it! I’m never gonna be able to tell my son about walking to school, ten miles each way, uphill in the snow. I need him to remember that time we drove across the country in a Jeep for no reason other than we could. And, worse yet, we wanted to! My exhausted and heavy-eyed self could not pose a single counterpoint as to why I would complete this trip in anything other than true Jeep fashion. Limited top and no doors!

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I hope, beg and pray that you will follow me along my journey beginning on August 8th, 2018 as we make our way to Toledo, the birthplace of Jeep. We’ll be posting pictures from the road and sharing the experience on our Rugged Ridge Facebook page and at YourJeepYourAdventure.com . We hope to see you then! OlllllllO

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How Old Is Your Jeep In Dog Years?

It’s pretty common knowledge that a dog ages quicker than people do. What is also commonly perceived is that one year for a dog is the equivalent to seven human years, which is a bit of a misconception. The very first year a canine is alive, it undergoes significant development and actually matures at a rate equivalent to 15 human years. The following second year of life, the dog ages around 12 years and declines a little each year thereafter. I guess the seven years is a bit of a mean average across a dogs suspected lifespan.

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I think that Jeeps, in general, have a somewhat similar aging pattern to that of a dog, but in reverse. The first year on the road for a new Jeep is equivalent to an actual year, taking for granted that the proper maintenance program is upheld and the mileage is kept to a civil rate. The new Jeep maintains its year-for-year rate of aging for the first few years of its life; until the day the Jeep owner’s curiosity for the unknown has them wandering away from the pavement and searching to discover a little more about their vehicles capabilities. On that day, the clock is quickened to double its original pace. Whether in the first year or the fifth, the Jeep begins to age at a rate of two years per year, once it has adopted the tendency for off-road driving habits.

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As the vehicle ages and compiles mileage, the wear and tear on the frame, chassis and mechanical components begins to compound. By the time the vehicle has reached 100,000 miles, or seven calendar years old, its rate of aging is around 3 years per year. That’s six years per if you’re busy climbing rock ledges or straddling crevasses on a regular basis. At this point, you’ll find yourself performing repairs at almost every turn. This aggressive schedule of addressing issues as they appear is the only thing that stabilizes your Jeeps rapid pattern of mechanical decline. Short of a complete overhaul and major rebuild, your Jeep will continue to age at a rate of 3 to 6 years for every New Year that passes, until that day when its fate is finally sealed.

My personal Jeep is a 1993 model which I bought in 2007. The first 14 years of its life, it was kept almost entirely stock and was fitted with highway tires that would turn utterly useless in the mud. It had compiled some 120,000 miles on the clock in its first dozen or so years. The 11 years that I have owned it, the old YJ has been plagued with massive tires, lift kits, heavy bumpers and tons of less-than-ideal driving conditions while enrolled in an extensive program of perpetual upgrade. By my calculations, my Jeep would be roughly 60 years old in dog years, and that’s if I grade on the curve. 60…That’s a pretty startling number when you stop and think about it; bottom line and best case scenario, it’s truly 25 years old on a regular Gregorian calendar making it an antique in the states opinion. Maybe sixty is not that outlandish…

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So for my YJ’s true 25th birthday, I am going to defy the odds, throw the proverbial caution to the wind and embark on a trek to the place it was born, Toledo, Ohio, and attend the Toledo Jeep Fest in August. In careful consideration for its propsed 60 years of age and the 1,400 grueling miles that lie ahead of it, I am undertaking massive amounts of maintenance on the old Wrangler in preparation for hours of driving at highway speeds. This includes touching virtually every suspension component to validate its integrity, replacing aging seals and bearings, renewing fluids and lubricants; maybe even a few cosmetic upgrades will be in order so my baby doesn’t necessarily look like an over-the-hill has-been. I’ve been around cars long enough to know that, even with the best of preparations in place, the likelihood of some level of catastrophe occurring is pretty favorable. With such impending doom, it’s understandable that I simply can’t wait…

To help document my voyage, we’ll be posting pictures from the road featuring sights and scenery from our travels and blogging a bit about the experience as we go. I am very hopeful that none of the coverage will feature dripping fluids, shredded tire carcasses or billowing plumes of smoke or steam. That seems about as likely as taking a trip to the zoo and hoping to not smell any unpleasantries…or you could say, pretty darn unlikely.

Our trip will begin on Wednesday, August 8th and we’ll share all the fun from the Toledo Jeep Fest when we arrive on Friday, August 10th and through the entire weekend. Make sure to follow the adventure on the Rugged Ridge Facebook page as well as at yourjeepyouradventure.com . We hope you can follow along! OlllllllO

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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

Making Clever Little Things Out of Odd Bits

When I was growing up and maturing into an adult (you know, the kind that still plays with cars), I found a great deal of enjoyment in a primetime television show that aired in the late 1980’s known as “MacGyver”. It told the ongoing tale of a top agent that worked for a private corporation and, for reasons never really given a reasonable foundation in the shows storyline, he was tasked with travelling the globe righting various injustices that he probably wouldn’t have even known about had he nailed down a regular desk job like the rest of us. Nonetheless, MacGyver, or Angus as he is known by his legions of super fans, was gifted with a superior intellect and a mind that was packed from lobe to lobe with a master’s degree level of mechanical ingenuity. Every episode featured our unlikely hero getting into sticky1 predicaments, only to work his way back out of them with some awesome display of his mastery of science, physics and possibly even dabbling in dark magic – like escaping a prison by freezing the cell door hinge pins with liquid nitrogen that he harvested from an antique camphene lamp and then struck with a fossilized yaks jawbone until they crumbled. Did I mention that MacGyver drove a Jeep? Well, he did. The show was not always believable but it did always manage to leave me with a positive outlook on things; an outlook that is summed up by a simple quote from one of his shows; a quote that is likely the root influence behind his wild success in his oddly imaginary career path – “Any problem can be solved with a little ingenuity” to which I will add ‘and maybe some duct tape’. Did I mention that MacGyver drove a Jeep?

With that same vein of inventive thinking, Jeep owners have adapted and overcome problems for the larger part of a century. When things don’t necessarily go their way, they put on the old thinking cap and come up with a viable solution. An action we might refer to as the “MacGyver Principle”.

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In the throes of battle in World War II was an ideal location to find the “MacGyver Principle” hard at work. When a GI was dealt the misfortune of a flat tire on his trusty MB, when only the lack of a bumper jack could possibly make things worse, he would just transform that handful of smile-happy privates into a make-shift hydraulic lift and he would be back on the road and on his merry way in record time! When things get really hairy and ones well-being is in grave jeopardy, a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way towards helping you keep your head. Like when Axis troops began the practice of running strands of nearly-invisible high strength steel wire across battlefield roadways, about shoulder high, it was obvious that something needed to be done and in quick fashion. The solution devised by inventive Allied soldiers became known affectionately as the “Anti-Decapitation Device”- a straight section of angular steel bar mounted in an upright position off the front bumper; capable of severing any trap wires that it may come in contact with, which likely reduced the number of single car accidents at the same time. Certainly a pair of fine examples of somebody using their head with all the swagger you’d expect from the “MacGyver Principle”.

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With a wartime adversary as cunning and cruel as to try and separate your head from the rest of your body, you can’t underestimate the ever presence of real danger and do everything within your powers to be ready for it. Enter another clear exhibition of the “MacGyver Principle” applied to our devoted Jeep- an extension to the vehicles exhaust system that permitted the injection of a tear gas agent into the exhaust flow, allowing it to be dispersed into the air along the Jeeps path as it travelled hostile territories. While this may have equated to the 1940’s equivalent of putting itching powder in your buddies sock drawer, anything that provided even a slight advantage over the enemy was highly encouraged. I’m pretty certain MacGyver would have licked his finger and held it skyward, checking for a crosswind before deploying the nasty gas. Or maybe he could have fashioned a crude soft top and frame assembly from some nearby tree limbs and discarded military issue duffel bags to help protect the passengers from the nauseous fumes. After all, he was MacGyver.

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   While the number of times that such ingenuity was exercised during the war could very well be immeasurable, the times it has reached the limits of reasonable prudence are more well-defined. Take, for example, the Hafner Rotabuggy. This was the kind of vehicle that MacGyver would have saved for the season finale in a clever scheme to secure the largest primetime audience imaginable! It seemed to be the mechanical equivalent of an accident well-overdue to happen. Concocted by the British Air Ministry as a possible solution to the ongoing dilemma of dropping Jeeps into a war zone, this contraption was based off a standard issue Willys MB that had undergone some devilish laboratory experiment where the tail end of an otherwise airworthy craft was welded to the rear of a car that was accustomed to falling from the sky, slowed only by a parachute and good old wind resistance. Let’s just say that Angus MacGyver would have had a real chore trying to enlist the help of a sexy co-star for this episode, seeing as the prospect of falling from the sky is not as popular as it once was, especially among those with a will to live. To further reinforce the brand of peril involved with flying such a machine, the Rotabuggy required the usual Jeep driver as well as a second passenger to man the “joystick” controller- a job that reportedly required the pilot to engage in a vigorous battle with the controls as they violently shook and battered about in an attempt to defy control and return to its grounded roots. Supposedly the only effective use of the Rotabuggy in battle would be if they could manage to crash the copter, with exacting precision, onto the unsuspecting heads of enemy troops, which seemed unlikely in and of itself. To add insult to what already seems to be fatal injuries, the Rotabuggy was not even capable of taking off on its own, but rather had to be dragged into flight, kicking and screaming the whole way, behind a larger aircraft…not a crowning achievement and, despite having many of the right ingredients, NOT at all the “MacGyver Principle”. It would however make for better viewing than “Dynasty”.

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   I’m confident there is more than enough evidence to support the premise of a MacGyver remake, one where a modern mechanical marvel takes to the open road, in a well-outfitted Jeep of course, to render support by means of his patented “MacGyver Principle”, to those who are not as well-equipped to handle life’s puzzling plights. It would be a refreshing alternative to the usual reality-based programming that pretends to pass as entertainment today and one I would likely try and watch in my abundance of free time. A strong surge in duct tape sales could be just what our economy needs right now anyway. OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

The Allure of a Jeep Barn Find – Junker or Gem?

1For as long as I can remember, I have taken a great amount of pleasure in driving around the country and looking for deserted automotive treasures, camouflaged by the overgrown landscape on which they reside. You see them, to some extent, everywhere you look, but it seems like the closer you are to the city, the newer the age of the dearly departed becomes. For me, there is not a strong personal attraction in reviving somebody’s old discarded pea-green Geo Prism, whose intrinsic value suddenly plummeted with the failure of a head gasket. It’s when you get away out in the rural areas that you begin to find those truly classic examples; those that served their owners well for the automotive equivalent of a lifetime, before they were literally “put out to pasture”. I spent quite a few years searching these out and taking Black & White photographs to capture my discoveries in their natural habitat. The character that these cars portrayed seemed to be better captured without the detail of color film. My desire was to be able to look back on these photos later; remembering where and when I saw them, and hopefully re-imagine some of the stories those rusted heaps might tell to me, if they could.

I believe that the car lover that hides deep inside a large number of us secretly longs to reclaim those forsaken lost relics; to pull them out from their earthen tombs and breathe new life into them. While the venture of doing such a thing is admirable and ultimately very costly, it’s important to realize that, to borrow a line from the American classic film, Cool Hand Luke, “Some men you just can’t reach”. There are times when the life you hope to recover is just too far gone. It’s at those times that you need to be able to identify this reality and NOT deny it. Are you dealing with a “Barn Find” or are you just buying an expensive chunk of yard art? There may be very little difference between them.

2I tend to favor the term “barn find” because it, by nature of the name, insinuates that the vehicle was stored in a barn or, at very least, under some sort of cover. While this does not guarantee a cars structural integrity and hardly limits the likelihood of the interior now being home for a colony of rats with an appetite for seat cushions and electrical wiring, most barn owners would not likely designate precious space for something that they didn’t care about or hold some plans to repair in the future. If the old Jeep was seriously broke beyond repair, it would probably be repurposed as a flower bed out in the yard. However, once you put a car outside, exposed and unprotected from the elements, you can count on it returning to the ground from whence it came, in a painfully short period of time. While many of the components on a Jeep that are the most prone to rust from exposure are readily available and easily replaceable, one has to consider whether starting out with nothing might be a better option.

3For an old vehicle to truly qualify to be considered a genuine ‘barn find’, the vehicle should only be corrupted by years of dirt, grime and passing of time; something that got put away some time ago for semi-safe keeping and not surrendered to the elements. Too often, one man’s barn find is, more accurately, just a basket case in which to pour large sums of money with little hope of ever recouping even a modest initial investment. The art of finding those that pass more easily as a treasure than trash and acquiring them for as cheap a price as possible is where a bargain finder shows his true mettle. Developing an emotional attachment to the subject is where many people lose sight of the primary objective and end up with a few apple crates full of rusty parts and no substantial premise on which to build. Don’t ask me how I know. In such cases, the buyers motivation should only be save the mechanical artifact from the edge of extinction for nothing more than the sheer satisfaction of it, as that is likely the only certain profit to be had; a profit that is exempt from taxes and only appreciates with time.

I’m reminded of a buddy of mine when I was growing up who, while everyone else was acquiring their first set of wheels, chose to take ownership of a certain Willys M38A1 that his grandfather had pulled from a lake or, more accurately, a South Georgia swamp. We spent several warm summer months scraping barnacles off that old crusty hull of a vehicle with putty knifes until our knuckles bled. The metal, thanks to the coating of mud, was remarkably well-preserved for its age. In spite of that, I remember slowly coming to the realization that this dream that we were chasing was running speedily in an opposite direction than where we were headed. That old Jeep, fortunately, hadn’t cost him a thing but the time and effort it took to try to resurrect it; and maybe a small fee for a scrapper to haul it off. It wasn’t my first project and certainly would not be my last.

So, regardless of where you find them or how much time and effort it takes to restore them, I cannot think of a more admirable or satisfying pursuit than tracking down one of these old vintage vehicles, in whatever barn they may hide, pluck them out from the grasp of decay and reviving what is left of their automotive spirit. You might even share the experience with a member of a younger generation so they can enjoy the same sense of fulfillment that such an undertaking brings. After all, it’s only the seeds you sow that multiply and not what you keep in the barn. OlllllllO

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The Jeep Icon – A 90’s Concept Car That Almost Became Wranglers Adopted Little Brother

I remember, as a kid in the 70’s, looking at pictures of concept cars and feeling a sense of exhilaration at the oddly obvious wedge-shaped styling that seemed to dominate that era. While I’m not a fan of driving a car that so closely resembles a doorstop, I think these styling trends transferred into some really beautiful designs like the DeTomaso Pantera and the Lamborghini Countach, both of which had large images that adorned the walls of my bedroom for the better part of my youth.

Photo Credit: JeepForum.com

Photo Credit: JeepForum.com

 

I then remember, as an adult in the mid-90’s, when an odd little Jeep concept vehicle made its inaugural appearance at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the strong sense of disdain I felt for what was being presented to the masses as a possible design path for the Wrangler. We had just survived a generation of Jeeps that donned rectangular headlights in the Wrangler YJ and were inversely giddy with enthusiasm over the return of the iconic round headlights in the new Wrangler TJ. How had we come to this? Chrysler is going to boldly present this new concept to us and even be so daring as to name it “Icon”? As if having ‘Melrose Place’ on your TV at every turn was not punishment enough. We had somehow come to this…

The Jeep Icon was, from the outside and at a long distance, not far-removed from the venerable Wrangler and CJ’s of the past, with its federally-mandated 7-slot grill, round headlights and open roof design. It’s what lurked just beyond that first glance that seemed to cause the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Chrysler Senior Designer Robert Lester declared that the inspiration for the ‘Icon’ was drawn from elements found in high-end mountain bikes. These words were not completely wasted on me as I was likely to be shopping for such a mountain bike in the near future, as an alternative to driving the new Icon.  While the designers felt that adorning the vehicles body with gratuitous Jeep logos at every turn would be a reasonable penance for the rest of the Icon, it felt more like an attempt to remind you that this was an actual Jeep, a mission made even more important by the misplaced independent front suspension, industrialized car-like interior and wheels that were clearly repurposed from a Camaro RS. Maybe this could be a baby Grand Cherokee, but definitely NOT a Jeep.

Photo Credit: allpar.com

Photo Credit: allpar.com

 

Despite the tepid response from the press and media, the Icon was still being heralded as the next generation in Jeep styling but with the added corporate spin of its intended purpose not-so-much-being a replacement for the Wrangler, but more a smaller platform to serve as direct competition for the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. As of 1998, there were patents filed for the Icon under the Jeep JJ platform and the likelihood of its making it to actual production seemed imminent.  The Icon would feature four cylinder drivetrain borrowed from Chrysler cars and would find its segway into the American market as a Jeep for beginners and would be utilized, to a greater extent, in Third World markets. Approximately 60 vehicles were built as prototypes and were able to meet all of the quality and durability standards as mandated by Chrysler. The problem with the JJ Icon came when the vehicle was being tested for its “Trail Rated’ badge.

In order to proclaim the Jeep name, a certain amount of off-road prowess must be displayed. The JJ was limited to a fairly small diameter of tire due to its independent front suspension and limited body clearance. Although the Icon easily outperformed its small off-road market counterparts, it was unable to successfully negotiate the famed Rubicon Trail without the assistance of a tow rope which fostered serious concern over whether the JJ was a TRUE Jeep, a blemish that seemed to match the sentiment of the mass majority and the project was subsequently scrubbed. The 60 some-odd prototypes never left the confines of the assembly plant and were likely destroyed. Senior Designer of the Jeep Icon, Robert Laster, moved on to a lengthy stint at Ford Motor Company in 1998, where he aided in both interior and exterior design making significant contributions to the automotive realm with cars like the fabled Ford Figo and the Ford Ka (You can’t make stuff like this up) that are each icons in their own intended market places of China and South America. I can’t help but think that the original objective of the Jeep Icon may have been to lend Jeeps legendary off-road persona to a smaller fuel-efficient mode of transport that would largely appeal to an overseas market with the benefit of its greater capability, while not completely alienating the grass-roots customer base, who were likely left hoping for something more; many of the Jeep faithful would likely have been left with a dazed look, scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. The Icons compromising of its core values in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience was at the core of its undoing, which left me with a renewed faith in humanity and a reassurance that Jeep may have some reluctance to ever try and market a Jeep blessed with the spirit of a mountain bike. I’ll carry my ‘spirit of a mountain bike’ on a bike carrier on the back of my Jeep where it belongs, Thanks!

Photo Credit: CarblogIndia.com

Photo Credit: CarblogIndia.com

 

Despite its demise, it’s easy to see that many of the design characteristics of the Icon concept have undoubtedly made it to production in platforms such as the Jeep Liberty and Compass/Patriot, and I, for one, feel much more excited about the future of Jeep based on the upcoming Wrangler JL and the handful of current concepts we’ve seen recently, like the Shortcut concept that made the rounds last year- Maybe even enough to hang some posters on my wall!  OlllllllO

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Assessing My Need for a Four-Wheel Drive Time Machine

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Is anyone else growing weary of today’s political circus? Not to say that politics today are any flakier than they have been in the past but we are certainly positioned as helpless victims by a media that is relentless in their delivery of the headlines, appropriately skewed to an angle that is in line with networks values. It is enough to make me want to go back in time; back to a time when we didn’t have an entire world of information at our fingertips. Can’t we just go back to the days when Chuck Norris was responsible for keeping the bad guys in-check? It wasn’t that long ago that our nation’s highest-ranking elected leader drove a Jeep CJ with a manual transmission and shared the ride with a trusted golden retriever named ‘Victory’. Those were the days…

We live in a truly incredible world today, one that seems to have advanced so rapidly by developing technology that I often wonder what we may have lost in the transition. We can go online and purchase an automobile, arrange financing without having to shake a banker’s hand and have it delivered without ever leaving the house. We even flock to purchase cars that are called “hybrids”, a term which used to have a less-than-desirable meaning not that long ago. We are literally raising a society of children that drive around carelessly in their cars in an attempt to capture imaginary cartoon characters that appear only on the high-definition displays of their expensive smartphones but have never had the experience of having to locate a desolate payphone late at night, scrape together coins from the gooey ashtray of a meager-excuse-for-a-first-car just so they can call their parents to tell them they are going to miss curfew. Heck, they probably can’t comprehend the need for this thing you call a… “Payphone”? So, what has changed??

Photo Credit: Four Wheeler Network

Photo Credit: Four Wheeler Network

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he had already established himself as a political figure to be reckoned with. He had previously made two runs for the office of President, in ’68 and again in ’76. He was not familiar, in any way, with the word QUIT. I kind of like to think that the word ‘quit’ wasn’t even established in his vocabulary. Despite having failed to as much as make the Republican ticket in 1976, losing out to a soon-to-be ousted incumbent Gerald Ford, he went on to become, what was at that time, the oldest man to ever be elected to the office of President in 1980. At the spry 69 years of age, Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter to become the 40th President of the United States, an achievement not easily attained by those who spend their time frivolously.

Then in 1981, just 69 days into his first term as president, Reagan fell victim to an assassination attempt outside of a Washington, D.C. hotel at the hands of one, John Hinckley Jr. – a guy whose infatuation with a movie star proved to be more than he could deal with. Nonetheless, a ricochet shot to the old noggin from a small caliber handgun was not enough to deter a man such as Reagan. You see, Ronald Wilson Reagan had a humble upbringing and it showed in the manner in which he approached life. While Presidents are often captured on film being chauffeured around in bullet-proof limos, Reagan looked most himself behind the wheel of one of his Jeeps navigating through a pasture on his farm in beautiful Rancho del Cielo, CA.

Photo Credit: Fox News

Photo Credit: Fox News

His favorite Jeep was an old, rickety ’62 CJ6 that his loving wife Nancy had given to him as a Christmas present back in 1963. Reagan was known to put the Jeep through its paces regularly in any number of projects around the farm. This was in no way a show truck but rather a bona fide workhorse that shared in its owner’s belief that there is invaluable greatness in simplicity. There’s no automatic transmission or power windows here, only a PTO-driven winch and rigid place to sit, but only long enough to catch your breath before you get back to work. To know that the former president often referred to his ranch home as “heaven” (or at least in the same zip code, he would joke), it’s clear that Jeeps were considered an essential component to his own perception of happiness; uncomplicated, imperfect, somewhat unsightly but absolutely essential.

Photo Credit: Jp Magazine

Photo Credit: Jp Magazine

Ronald Reagan’s ‘other’ Jeep was much more of a head-turner- a 1983 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler that he called “The Gipper”. Another gift from his wife Nancy, this sky blue Scrambler seemed much more suited for hauling the leader of the free world around than clearing trails on the back forty acres. Ironically, when Reagan hosted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the ranch in 1992, Reagan wasted no time in dressing Gorbachev in an obligatory cowboy hat and wheeled him around the ranch. At the close of the Cold War when Reagan made his renowned declaration “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”, something tells me that Gorbachev knew deep down that if he didn’t tear it down, Reagan and his trusty CJ probably would have hooked up a winch line and done it themselves. That’s just how a Jeep owner thinks.

While I would like to proclaim that Jeep had a gigantic part in ending the Cold War, I can’t. The truth is more likely found in the simple premise that a genuine Jeep-loving American patriot, who held steadfastly to his ideals and convictions, played a much larger role. Heck, we didn’t even need to break out Chuck Norris to get it done after all!

Photo Credit: RaysJeeps.net

Photo Credit: RaysJeeps.net

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