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September 2010 Trail Head

Posted in Features on September 1, 2010
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I was normal when I got my first 4x4. I started my wheeling adventures just like everyone else-my truck had stock bucket seats, full carpet, doors, a heater, and even air conditioning. It was still my daily driver. In the beginning, I kind of liked to wash my truck and clean the interior. It wasn't long before I got bit by the off-road bug and all that came to an end. Eventually I moved into an early CJ for my wheeling mischief. I never washed it. It didn't have doors, carpet, or a radio, and it only had a bikini top. I could barely talk to my passenger since the swapped-in Buick V-6 was buzzing at nearly 3,000 rpm on the highway. At first I made the mistake of trying to make the Jeep more like my first truck. My older brother was really into stereos at the time, so I mimicked a few of the sometimes-stupid things he did. If you ever meet him, ask him about his rock and roll stickers or the particle board camper shell. Of course I won't incriminate myself by telling you the stupid things I did, like how l connected the negative leads of my speaker wires to vehicle ground and wondered why they didn't work.

Anyway, I built a speaker box/center console for my Jeep out of particle board. Due to the very small size of the flattie, the console would only fit one speaker and a pathetically underpowered tape player. You couldn't really hear the music over the whining drivetrain. It was more annoying than entertaining. Eventually dust and sand killed the tape player and water turned the particle board into a splintery mush. I replaced my wooden console with a large steel military ammo can. That was the beginning. Over time, even more creature comforts became unnecessary. By the time I gave up on having almost all of the creature comforts in my flattie, I was often driving it 150 miles each way to go wheeling out in the desert. The rear seat was replaced by a fuel cell. The windshield wipers stopped working so I tossed them and used Rain-X. And among other things, even the windshield glass broke in a rollover and was swapped for Plexiglas. Driving my flattie in the rain was the most challenging. The swirling wind inside the cab and water flinging like a pinwheel from each of the overly-wide tires caused more water to hit the back of the windshield than the front. And no matter how cold (or hot) it was outside, my feet were always warm thanks to the exhaust just under the floorboards. A 120-degree summer trip through Arizona resulted in my shoes melting on the hot metal floor. The good news was that the exhaust fumes kept me from feeling hot, cold, wet, or much of anything else for that matter.

I never realized how uncomfortable the swapped-in vinyl seats were until I got rid of them. Many years after I bought the Jeep I traded a set of used tires for a pair of PRP low-back suspension seats. I mounted them tilted back 15-20 degrees and fell in love with my Jeep all over again. I remember pulling up to the campfire and not wanting to get out. My Jeep was more comfortable than any camp chair I could pilfer from around the fire pit. Their comfort and the way they held me in place while off-road sold me on suspension seats with tall bolsters, regardless of how few other creature comforts my Jeep had. You need good seats that you don't want to get out of.

Nowadays when I consider the creature comforts of my past vehicles compared to the ones I drive regularly today, I feel like a spoiled kid with a lap full of candy. The daily-driver JK has a heater, A/C, carpet, and a hard top that never comes off. I roll up the windows and put the A/C on recirc when it's dusty. When it's cold, I crank the heater and wear shorts and a T-shirt. Yeah, I know, I'm spoiled rotten, but I have other Jeeps that fit my off-road utilitarian needs. I still appreciate a Jeep I don't have to wash and can hose out if needed. -John Cappa

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