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June 2009 Dr. Vern - Working on old Jeeps

Posted in Features on June 1, 2009
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If I were to list my many faults (Editor's note: Sorry, you only get 1,000 words per issue), once we made it past the hygiene issues, I'd have to say at least one thing in my defense: I am a man of action. For example, instead of simply wishing I had a dollar for each time I've heard, "I like old Jeeps because they are so simple and reliable," I'm hereby doing something about it. Therefore, next time you find yourself saying something along those lines, please send a dollar to me, care of this magazine. Thank you.

You see, no matter where I go, my CJ-2A constantly draws a crowd of guys who love to wax nostalgic about how simple it is to work on an old Jeep. It doesn't matter where I travel, I can expect at least one onlooker to materialize and start moaning about how working on newer vehicles is nearly impossible. "Why, back in my day, I remember when a guy could overhaul an engine in his backyard, and there was none of that fancy computer stuff under the hood." I always feel so bad when I have to run over these guys to make my escape from the pre-scripted conversation.

Now that I think about it, maybe I should use this to my advantage. In case people won't mail money to me like I've asked, I could also take bets that pretty much all vehicles, no matter what era, had computers under the hood. Before I knew it, I'd be rolling in dough and could afford all the Jeep parts I could possibly want. I'd have to practice my poker face before using my '48 CJ-2A as an example, though, stating the factory installed not one but at least three computers.

Before I could claim my money, I'd have to make sure I had a dictionary handy, because a computer is defined as a device for making calculations. Oh sure, most computers these days are electronic, but there are mechanical computers, too. For example: A carburetor is a calibrated leak, with an output that responds to such things as manifold pressure and airflow. A distributor controls the ignition timing based on RPM and engine load. A voltage regulator adjusts the charging system output based on the electrical load and battery state of charge. These are all basic devices with nary a transistor, but they still count as computers. Of course, I'll have to run fast after collecting my money, but nothing I said is untrue.

Perhaps the allure of older vehicles is that they do lend themselves somewhat better to shadetree wrenching. As slick and reliable as a modern fuel-injected vehicle may be, there are a lot of parts that can't be easily rebuilt. Injectors, for example, typically have to be replaced if cleaning doesn't help. The internal tolerances are so tight, it's a waste of time to soak them in solvent and pretend that makes them good as new. Meanwhile, I've had to disassemble my CJ-2A's carb on several occasions, and each time I successfully put all the pieces together again so it went back to carbureting reasonably well for a few more thousand miles. On the other hand, with the more modern vehicles in my fleet, I've never had a problem with the fuel delivery system, even when driven many more miles and under more demanding circumstances. The reliability scorecard is quite lopsided. The same goes for pretty much everything else under the hood. On a newer vehicle, you just check the oil on occasion, and that's it. Even though my old Jeep is in great mechanical condition, it seems that vehicles from that era always have something that needs attention and is just waiting to leave me stranded by the side of the trail.

Maybe the fondness for the old stuff stems from knowing something could be rebuilt if needed. This is where it gets scary, because my overactive imagination has already taken it to the next level. Occasionally, I'd find myself staring under the hood, pondering a MacGyveresque situation where I'd have to build a component from scratch. Hmm, if I needed a generator, I could use a piece of heavy pipe for the case. I could find some wire to wind the coils, and so on. As the kind of guy who grew up taking things apart (and occasionally reassembling them), I imagine I could make a reasonable facsimile. Here's the dangerous part: I'm just itching for a reason to try. A generator might be child's play, but what if aliens were secretly traveling to Earth just to steal all of our carburetors? Could I still get my Jeep back on the road? Maybe I could make the molds, pour the molten metal and so on. Be forewarned, I'm the kind of guy who owns lots of tools, and isn't afraid to use them.

While we're still discussing the well-known "Everything was better back then" sentiment, I can't help but wonder how we'll react to what the future holds. My CJ-2A is over 60 years old, but guys in the here and now can't stop fawning over it as if it were the pinnacle of mechanical perfection. Another 60 years from now, will we have to listen to "Remember those simple fuel-injected systems from the turn of the century? Those were great! These new-fangled photon drives are just too complicated to work on by yourself." I am hereby staking out my claim on that one, too. If, years from now, you (or your heirs) say something like that, please send me (or my heirs) $20, care of this magazine. I hope you don't mind, but I've already factored for inflation. While we're on the subject of money, please send $20,000 if you ever find yourself remarking how wonderful my column is. That's something you rarely hear, so it must be worth more, right?

-Dr. Vern

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