I'm Not Sure Why Anyone Would Want To Leave Sunny and warm California to visit Michigan in January. But that's exactly what I planned on doing. I flew in on a Friday night and picked up a loaner JK Rubicon four-door at the airport from the Jeep press fleet. It's very likely that had they known it was gonna see some mud use they wouldn't have given me a brand-new one with only 600 miles on it. Anyway, I met up with ex-Jp staffer Verne Simons at my brother's house. Verne took a break from dissecting frogs and drove the No Lift TJ-sporting 35-inch tires, real Dana 44 axles, and, of course, no lift-up from Ohio. I didn't get in till after 10 at night, but we drank a bunch of beer and ate pizza in preparation for wheeling the next day. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I was going to have a chance to get behind the wheel of a diesel JK. Actually, I drove it on- and off-road for nearly a week.
So we woke up Saturday morning and I hopped into the diesel JK for a short trip to the Mounds off-road park. It's a pretty sweet place when wet. Let's just say there was plenty of water since it had snowed and then rained a few days earlier. Several hoods were submerged. What I will tell you is that I beat on the four-door diesel JK like it wasn't mine without a single failure. I spent most of my time in a manual-transmission version, but I also got to drive an automatic diesel. It's a fun engine that will be available only outside the U.S. For more info, you'll have to wait for the full story in an upcoming issue.
On Saturday, Verne headed for home. I basically lounged around all day in my Spiderman feety pajamas; I was busy saving the universe and beating back the Germans. Yep, I sat in front of my brother's big-screen television playing his Xbox video-game system for something like 10 or 12 hours straight. It pretty much absorbed my entire Saturday. But hey-now I'm pretty good at Halo 2 and Medal of Honor. And someday it'll pay off when we're attacked by aliens and I'm the only one with the proper training to take them on.
Monday brought me to the Detroit North American International Auto Show. I was expecting something huge, but it's quite a bit smaller than the SEMA show, maybe a tenth of the size. But nearly every auto manufacturer was there in full force. You couldn't spill a cup of coffee without hitting a suit-unless, of course, you spilled it on me. Anyway, I caught a look at the '09 Dodge Ram 1500 with a coil-spring rear suspension and sweet bed with optional built-in toolboxes, as well as the new Ford F-150 with a locking rear differential. Jeep introduced a concept called the Renegade, which turned out to be an electric-buggy Jeep car. But by far my favorite, besides the models sporting high heels and boobs popping out of silky dresses, was the Suzuki X-Head. Too bad it's only a concept car. And, ah, yes, the GM-built Hummer line was present as well. If an inferior front suspension wasn't enough, the Hummer Hx concept car had IRS, too. Since the show was much smaller than I had anticipated, I walked around checking out the same things three or four times. Had I been at my brother's I could have at least killed some more Germans and aliens.
Day three led me to the American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) Michigan shop. This is where most of the Brute-pickup conversions and buildups are now being done and where most of the parts are stocked. I hooked up with ex-Jeep engineer and Jp Vegas to Sturgis Mayhem Tour veteran, Dave Yegge. He's one of the guys you can thank for the Wrangler Rubicon and one of the reasons the current-model Wrangler has a straight front axle and not independent front suspension. Anyway, Dave showed me around the AEV facility and told me about some future JK products to look out for. One of the cooler things I saw was the already-available '97-'06 Wrangler High-Line kit, which includes a hood, fenders, and four fender flares that will allow 35-inch tires all around with only a 3-inch lift. It's a pretty slick setup for keeping the Jeep low and stable with maximum ground clearance.
Later that night, on my final day in Michigan, my brother and I went to check out some of the languishing Jeep projects and parts at Dave's house. He lives in a rural area and has a long driveway that leads up a hill to his house. In the summer, I suspect the hill is covered with a perfectly manicured lawn. But since it was winter and had just snowed, there was about a foot of the white stuff blanketed on both sides of the driveway. Anyway, my brother urged me to drive right up to his house through the snow instead of on the driveway. It was nearly 9 p.m. and we weren't totally sure it was even his house. So in the spirit of not wanting to get shot, I declined. Once we got there we drank a few beers and Dave showed us his shop (a five-car garage), which he had lifted 3 feet (for a taller ceiling) using 16 Hi-Lift jacks. My brother and I dug through a garbage can full of great Jeep parts, then hiked out to the snow-covered back forty to fetch a CJ hood that he dragged through the snow on the way back. Once the hood was shoved into the diesel four-door JK, we took off and I plowed through the snow on Dave's perfect hillside in front of his house, making sure to leave a couple of extra S-turns in his yard.
The next morning I flew home, but the short 4x4 adventure in Dave's front yard had me really craving an actual snow run, something we don't get too often in Southern California.