If you could have any brand new Jeep from any year in the past or present (like it just rolled off of the assembly line), what would you choose and why?
I had posted this question on our Facebook page (facebook.com/jpmag) several months ago and was at least a little surprised by some of the responses. I was expecting to see a lot of rare model requests from clever individuals who simply wanted to turn around and sell them for profit, which wasn't at all in the spirit of this exercise. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the model-specific loyalty. I suppose I shouldn't, but I guess I like to categorize things, even when I'm wrong-which is really quite often although I'll never admit it. Anyway, it helps me figure out what's really going on outside of my bankrupt liberal weenie state. There were really only three different answers to the question when you get down to it. I took these answers and tried to figure out what type of Jeep people they were and why they made their particular selection. I came up with "The Lifer," "The New Guy," and the "Shoot-For-The-Moon."
The Lifer is probably a guy (or girl) who has had Jeeps around him/her all of his/her life. There is typically one particular model Jeep that's tattooed in their mind regardless of its popularity, capability, or actual reliability. None of that matters, because it's a sentimental decision. Perhaps they remember going on a fishing trip in the mountains riding in the passenger seat next to dad in some clapped out old CJ. Or maybe it was an abused farm Jeep. The one they learned to drive in that just wouldn't die no matter how badly it was worked over or flogged after hours. Some Lifers simply think a particular year and model is the pinnacle of what a Jeep should be, even if they don't own that model today or have never owned it. Whatever the case, The Lifer is typically very specific as to the year, options, and even the color of their dream Jeep.
The New Guy is very different from The Lifer. Many of them are just what the name implies-somewhat new to Jeeps. Most of them have fallen in love with their first Jeep, and it's most likely a TJ or a JK. There are two possibilities here, though. It could be that they picked a newer model out of nearly 70 years of Jeep history because they don't know anything different. Or it could be that some of them have owned many Jeeps over the years and they recognize that the newer models are more durable, reliable, and capable, even if they are a little more comfortable and citified. No matter the case, they too are well on their way to becoming Lifers. In 20 years-when you ask them the same question-they'll probably pick the same Jeep.
If you are a Shoot-For-The-Moon, you kind of didn't really answer the question properly. Typical responses included concept Jeeps, overseas Jeeps, or custom one-off Jeeps that have never been manufactured. I can appreciate the enthusiasm, but if you're still holding your breath for Jeep to sell the twin-Hemi V-8 Hurricane, you may want to take up photosynthesis as your new source of energy, jump on the Obama 2012 campaign trail, and put all your money on the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the Super Bowl. But I think most Shoot-For-The-Moon individuals are kind of fickle, fair-weather fans-all it would take would be another cool new concept Jeep to sway their decision. Technically, you could also be a Lifer or the New Guy if you are Shoot-For-The-Mooner.
So where do I fit in? I've been wheeling Jeeps since the early '90s. To some of you that may not seem like a long time, and you might consider me a New Guy-although in the grand scheme of things I've driven, wrenched on, built, rebuilt, and destroyed a greater number of 1947-2010 Jeeps in that time than the number of Jeeps most people have owned during their entire lives. I'd never choose a newer Jeep because they are still available. I could hit Craigslist and eBay for a few hours and come up with dozens of low-mileage, one-owner, late-model TJ and JK Jeeps that have never been thrashed off-road. To me, that's just as good as new. But clean versions of the older models are more difficult to find. I'm talking about a factory-original Willys MB or Ford GPW before it got shipped off to WWII. Of course, my dream Jeep would only sputter along with 60 original horsepower, but it would have all the cool trinkets like the body-mounted shovel and axe, every footman loop, along with all the Cosmoline-soaked green canvas wingdings. And I hate the smell of Cosmoline, so I must really like those Jeeps. I think that makes me a Lifer.