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June 2011 Trail Head

Posted in Features on June 1, 2011
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What was once absurd in the Jeep and 4x4 world has become typical and even mainstream today. In the ’80s, and even in the early ’90s, anything bigger than a 33-inch tire was considered insane for trail use. Big tires were generally reserved for mud boggers and show trucks with 42 chrome shocks. Today, 35s can easily be made to fit even a stock Jeep. Back then, almost nobody ran mud tires on the rocks, and Swamper tires remained in the swamps. Today, all-terrain tires are more aggressive than ever, and many Swampers have spent their entire lives on dry sharp granite. Back then, winches were actually required to complete some of the more difficult trails. Today, many people see them as a last resort recovery device. Back then, a front locker was considered unsafe due to handling concerns. Today, it’s a factory option. So what am I getting at? I think many of us have overbuilt our Jeeps.

Now I’m not saying to go out and strip off your lift kit and 37-inch tiresno, not by a long shot. So save your hate mail about how the Jp advertisers should roast me over an open pit. No, I take that back, go ahead and send your rambling misguided hate mail, because I enjoy reading it.

What I am saying is that if you did strip off all the hardcore parts, you might have more fun next time you are out on the trails. The truth is that most trails don’t require an extremely built Jeep. And in fact, driving a heavily modified Jeep can sometimes get boring. Big lifts, monster tires, and front and rear lockers can make even difficult trails seem like a gravel road. I suppose that’s all well and good if your goal is to get from point A to point B, but I guess I want more of a challenge. That’s why I like to drive off-road. It’s challenging. If I wanted to do something easy, I’d stay on the street.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of my off-road time in my nearly stock ’49 CJ-2A. I think of it as getting back to basics. The fact that I really don’t care anything about it adds to the adventure. I think it’s really too rusty to do anything with. Actually, it’s only rusty by southwestern standards; it has less rust than many way-newer, daily-driven Jeeps that I’ve seen in the northeast. I can’t imagine putting in lots of labor to make the body look cleanso I’ve already shot at it, hit it with a hammer, and driven it over short sections of the Hammer trails in Johnson Valley, California. When I got a little hung up on the rocks, I had Christian nudge the tailgate with the front bumper of his Comman D’oh. On another trip, I literally drove two of the dry-rotted 30x9.50 tires off the wheels. It has open differentials and probably less than the originally touted 60hp. But you know what? I had a ton of fun trying to take that Jeep places where it had no business being. Sure, I get stuck a lot, but that’s half the fun. It gives me more time to joke with and enjoy what little time I get to spend with my friends, who can’t go off-road all that often because they now have families.

While spectating at the King of The Hammers event, I got involved in a conversation about axles and their strength. A buddy asked me if I thought he could make a Dana 44 live in the Jeep he is building. It’s not going to be a fire-breathing monster truck and he’s a fairly conservative driver, so I told him of course. Then a bystander jumped into the conversation and smugly said, Only if you’re planning on running 33-inch tires. I was actually a little set back by the comment and the misinformation that this inexperienced individual had no doubt absorbed from somewhere online. But it also became very clear as to why used, heavy-duty 1-ton front axles are so scarce and expensive. Many people think they need them, when really, they don’t.

So if you want to build an extreme Jeep, go right ahead and do it if that’s what you want. But also consider picking up an older, less-expensive, stockish project Jeep that you can tinker with and hit some easier trails in. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

john.cappa@jpmagazine.com

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