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Reader: I enthusiastically agree with your selection of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as the 2007 Four Wheeler of the Year (Feb. '07). That it also captured your sister publication's 4x4 of the Year award speaks volumes for the Jeep's capabilities. There has never been a vehicle as deserving (or as capable right out of the box) as the new JK. As a longtime four-wheeler who has built countless Jeep, Toyota, and Suzuki 4x4s, I feel that the JK is the first vehicle one could build to be truly as comfortable as a daily driver as it is capable as a trail machine. It is nice to see that Jeep still knows how to build a proper 4x4-and partially restore their off-highway legacy after releasing their brand-diluting Compass and Patriot (not to mention the KJ, WK, and XK).
On a similar note, why did Toyota choose to use IFS on the new FJ Cruiser when they already have the RAV4, Highlander, Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner, Land Cruiser, Sequoia, RX350, GX470, and LX470 with IFS? Why can't Toyota offer just one four-wheel-drive vehicle with a pair of solid axles, especially since they're trying so hard to market the FJ to 'wheelers? Toyota is well aware that solid-axle trucks have advantages in durability, strength, and cost versus IFS designs, and its '80s (and foreign-market) solid-axle trucks were always sales successes; Toyota wouldn't have its good reputation among four-wheelers if it weren't for these trucks!
So as a result, my next vehicle will be a JK Unlimited Rubicon-if, and only if, they make it available with the CRD. The old 4.0L I-6 would have been fine, but the new minivan motor just does not do it for me. Have your editors heard any word about the possibility of a diesel in the Wrangler's future? Those who know the benefits of diesels are crying for something small and diesel and trail-capable!
Editor: You likely won't have to wait much longer. Our sources at DaimlerChrysler won't discuss specifics yet, but reading the corporate tea leaves, our best guess would be that a Bluetec diesel-probably the 3.0L V-6-will find a home in the new Wrangler sometime by the 2010 model year.
About the Toyotas, well, yeah, we'd like to see a solid-axle Toyota truck as well. But let's face it-Toyota hasn't gotten to where it is today by making many bad business decisions, and when it comes to designing and engineering its trucks, Toyota is as thorough and meticulous as any manufacturer, ever. If the company felt it made good business sense to market a solid-axle truck in the States, believe us, it would be done. On the other hand, you can already get a solid-axle conversion for the FJ from All Pro Off Road, and there will doubtless be other conversion kits coming in the future via the aftermarket.
Reader: I have a '75 Chevy long-wheelbase pickup. It has a 12.5-inch suspension lift, 49-inch Super Swampers, a 454 big-block motor, and a supercharger pushing 25 psi. I plan to use it for mud. I would like to know what gears I should put in it.
Editor: This is a slightly trickier question than it appears on the surface. But for starters, here's the basic, and slightly imprecise, formula for regearing your axles:(New tire size old tire size) x old axle ratio = new axle ratio.
Your truck should have come with 4.10:1 gears from the factory, and the tires were probably G78-15 (or something close to it), which is a smidge over 28 inches in diameter. So plug in the numbers:(49 28) x 4.10:1 = 7.17:1.
But here's where it gets tricky. There are ring-and-pinion gears available in that range, but they're only available for a limited number of applications-and since you didn't tell us what kind of axles you have, we can't know whether or not you'll be able to find these gears for your truck. (Hint: Give us as much info as possible when submitting tech questions.) In addition, a 49-inch tire is rarely ever a true 49 inches tall once installed due to factors such as runout (out-of-roundness), vehicle weight, and static loaded radius. In reality, the tires may be a few inches shorter once they're installed on your truck.
Here's an easy (if not cheap) suggestion: Check out some junkyards and/or some online parts sources for a pair of Rockwell 2 1/2-ton axles. They came with 6.72:1 gears in them-and in fact, that's the only gearset available for them, and it's close enough to the ratio you'd ideally want for your truck. Get yourself a pair of Detroit Lockers, slap 'em inside the pumpkins, and you've got a killer mud machine without the hassle of a ring-and-pinion swap. You'll pay more up front, but your running gear will be virtually indestructible afterwards.