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October 2012 Trail Head Editorial

Jeep 4 Cylinder Engine
Christian Hazel
| Brand Manager, Four Wheeler
Posted October 1, 2012

Grit & Determination

Years ago and for reasons I can’t remember, my wife brought home some aquatic frogs and a goldfish from the 4th grade science class she taught. The frogs were weird little things that never touched solid ground and swam alongside the goldfish in a 10-gallon aquarium. I was in charge of feeding them. The fish ate fish food. The frogs ate little cubes of frozen blood worms. Soon the goldfish discovered it liked blood worms. And no matter how many fish flakes I fed it to sate its hunger, whenever I dropped the worms in the tank the fish ate nearly all of them before the emaciated frogs got any. After a year the goldfish had grown huge from all the protein-rich worms, and I had grown annoyed at the feeding-time hassle. I scooped up the fish, dropped him in the toilet, and flushed it. But as the water swirled that little sucker spun around and swam for all he was worth against the current. As the water calmed and the bowl filled back up, there he was. I shook my head in disbelief, scooped him back up, and put him back in the tank. That damn little fish earned his reprieve, and from then on I fed him as many blood worms as he wanted.

It’s like the 2.5L in my ’89 YJ. I’m a power junkie. The stock four-banger is anemic, but I have an all-aluminum V-8 waiting in the wings that makes triple the power. So why haven’t I done the swap yet? I just admire the little 2.5L’s pluck too much to flush it down the toilet. Here’s one example.

Last year, my oldest son and I were heading to his first baseball game of the season. We were about 8 miles from the field on back roads when I looked down and noticed the voltage gauge reading in the red and the temperature gauge climbing past 220 degrees. I knew I had thrown the fan belt, but I wasn’t about to make my kid late to his first game. Besides, as long as we could make it there, I figured my wife could pick us up and I could come back for the Jeep with my trailer later.

The 20-minute ride became a blur of temperature gauge and traffic lights. If moving forward at a decent speed, the air coming through the radiator spun the fan just enough to turn the water pump and the gauge would stay right at the edge of the red zone. But as we slowed for traffic or had to stop, it’d shoot back near 260 degrees. I shut it down at every opportunity, coasting and waiting until the last minute to restart. By the time we reached the field, the temp gauge was buried deeply past 260 degrees. The head gasket was oozing oil and coolant and the whole engine compartment radiated heat and stank of automotive death. I closed the hood and fully expected the internal parts to seize solid as we walked away.

But as I sat watching my kid’s game the ever-optimistic Jeep guy in me started scheming: “Don’t call the wife. If the engine will start, I bet you can make it to that NAPA 2 miles down the road.” So after the game, I tried the key and the engine reluctantly fired. Visions of that little goldfish raced through my mind. By now the traffic was heavier and we had to do more stopping and waiting. The trip took a full 10 minutes and as we pulled into NAPA the temp gauge was once again buried and the oozing had returned. I bought a cheap adjustable wrench and a fan belt and installed it in the parking lot while my son bounced his baseball against the wall. True to form, the engine fired and after a couple of seconds the temperature gauge settled at 195 degrees.

It’s been a year and several thousand trouble-free miles since that episode. It runs great and the head gasket seems fine. I routinely whang it past 5,800 rpm. I feed it dirt and cheap gas and generally beat it like a rented dog. It just won’t die. Sure, I love power. But I also love grit, determination, and pig-headed tenacity. My little 2.5L has all of that. And sometimes that trumps power.