In this issue is the beginning of our Gen IV YJ project, a 1989 YJ Wrangler built so we can enjoy trail riding and exploring the way we used to do it.
I received an email from a friend of mine, Phil Toney, a retired Jeep engineer who had been at Jeep since it was owned by AMC. I thought it interesting. You may, too…
“In one of your past editorials, you broached the subject of getting back to the simpler joys of trail riding with relatively stock vehicles. I, like many of us, had succumbed to the slippery slope of ever-increasing obstacle capability of my Jeep. Every year since 1987, it has grown in strength and capability, to the point that it was no longer pleasant nor practical to take for an evening ride with the top down to the ice cream parlor by the lake in the neighboring town. Yes, it would ramp over 100 on a 20-degree articulation ramp but it wasn’t fun to take for an evening spin.
“Your column struck a note with a few of us former Jeep engineers. My Jeep, Pro Dog, which you featured in an article several years ago, is still in the barn undergoing its latest transformation into a long-arm, link-coil, stretched wheelbase configuration to improve its capability even more. Due to its state of disassembly over the last two years, I have enjoyed the last two Easter Jeep Safaris in a borrowed vehicle. Mike Smith was there with his stock ’81 V-8 CJ-7 Limited, Steve Schleuter was driving in his lady friend’s TJ Unlimited, and I was driving Dan Mick’s ’06 TJ Rubicon, the last one built in Toledo before the launch of the JK. Not wanting to inflict trail scars on these vehicles, we limited our riding to ‘scenic’ trails in Moab, rated 4 or less. What a blast! We rode trails we had never ridden before in the many years of Moab visits and we enjoyed the whole sightseeing experience.
“There was a lot of discussion about how the joy of off-roading had been hijacked by the serious rock-crawling desire. Yes, it is a great thrill to overcome a seemingly impassable obstacle and do it better, slower, and with less tire spin than your buddy, the one-upsmanship that we all enjoy. Additionally, we agreed that the advent of more capable vehicles has led to the loss of driver skill learning, as a locked-up vehicle with suspension articulation is so easy to drive that choosing a line that best suits the vehicle’s limitations is not as necessary as it used to be. The introduction of the Rubicon Wrangler to the off-roading market has allowed unskilled drivers to go where they had never been before but has not helped them learn the art of picking the right “line”.
“We all have seen the effect of complication and weight on limiting the off-road capability of a vehicle. Several years ago, Lowell Babcock and I were in Tennessee riding with the locals in the hills. One of them brought a tube-framed buggy with a 510-inch alcohol-injected BBC V-8 with Rockwell axles that weighed over 9,000 pounds. It couldn’t go anywhere. The resounding snap of a Rockwell axle shaft could be heard throughout the mountains. John Currie said he could tell the difference in his Fire Ant when the half -doors were removed. After my tumble down the hill with Pro Dog in Moab, I removed the spare tire from the tailgate and was pleased at how much more stable it was on uphill climbs. This got me thinking about lighter is better. The physics agree.
“All this has led me recently to think of adding a 2.5L automatic YJ to my fleet to morph into a simple, lightweight off-roader of modest modifications that can be a daily driver as well. YJs are lighter than TJs, automatics are easier on the driveline, and I don’t need monstrous horsepower to go trail-riding.
Am I nuts to think this is the thing to do for future simple enjoyment of trail riding?”
No, Phil, you are not nuts. Many of us have forgotten how much fun it was to be able to drive our 4x4s on the street for fun, as well as to take them trail-riding and exploring without beating them to death every time they got dirty. It may be our (all 4x4 magazines’) fault that there’s a generation of enthusiasts who think four-wheeling, off-roading, etc., means attempting the same obstacles on the same trails ad nauseum and thrashing overbuilt vehicles until they break.
Simple, light 4x4s can do 90 percent of the trails and are fun to drive everywhere. Older isn’t bad and since there are no new trucks or utility vehicles that are smaller, lightweight, and simple, earlier generation 4x4s are the choice for many.
Our Gen IV YJ project will be our Blast from the Past, although its drivetrain will be Back to the Future. Still, the YJ will be lightweight and fun to drive, even on an evening spin.