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May 2013 Trail Head - Editorial

Posted in Features on May 1, 2013
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Project. Ask any school kid what the word means and they’ll probably tell you it’s a report on the rainforest or a diorama based on a book like Tom Sawyer. To a computer geek, it’s a complex Linux-based software emulator doohickie thingamabob they’ve been working on that lets you talk with virtual girls from Japan. But when you run in the circles we Jeep freaks do, it only has one meaning: A mechanical pile of hopes and aspirations often representing a bite slightly larger than we can chew.

I bet I’m just like every person reading this magazine. And if you’re like me, there is no such thing as a vehicle that’s not a project. I can’t ever leave well enough alone. I always think I can improve where the factory left off. I always need to make my mark on any vehicle I own, even if that means making it worse than it was when I started. And that’s often the case. In all my comings and goings with vehicles of all types, I’ve found whether I like it or not, they invariably fall into certain project categories.

Not a Project: This is how most of my daily drivers, tow rigs, and my wife’s vehicles start out. I promise myself I’m just going to put fuel in ’em and change the oil. But then the little devil Christian on my shoulder ticks the box for the cold air intake on and it’s all downhill from there. Bigger tires are the next thing. Then some new shocks to control the heavier tires. But hey, as long as I’m doing shocks I may as well lift it, right? And if I’m gonna lift it I should consider new driveshafts and stronger axles. But if I’m buying new driveshafts anyway, I should make some drivetrain changes. You see where this is going.

Driver Project: This has become my favored type lately. I find that I’m willing to pay more up front for a running vehicle so I can drive it while I make minor modifications to it. But then the minor mods become major mods, and next thing you know I’ve got a non-driving driver project sitting around that’s just a shop space moocher.

Shop Space Moocher Project: These are the vehicles I buy with whole-hearted intent…and not much else. I give no consideration to time, budget, or workspace allocations and often run out of one, if not all three, of those things before the project sees completion. My TTCJ-6 is a great example of one of these. What the hell was I thinking?

Totally Unrealistic Rebuild Project: I’ve only been guilty of this once or twice, but it essentially involves an otherwise perfectly running and driving vehicle, a large vile of imaginary buildup crack, and too many spare parts laying around. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to pull apart my running ’48 Willys pickup and build a long-travel 2WD prerunner out of it with a 750hp Olds big-block and 40-inch tires?” Yeah, it would, if I ever actually finished it. Dummy.

Wounded Puppy Project: This one is my forte. I call it the wounded puppy because I’m just as likely to pass by a derelict Willys as I am a limping, rain-soaked puppy wandering in traffic. Both are coming home with me. I have a sore spot for pre-’80s Jeep vehicles left to languish for years or decades by their former owners. I think it’s because my favorite book as a child was Susie the Little Blue Coupe. It was a little paperback based on a Disney short cartoon that centered around Susie, an anthropomorphized car left to languish in a field by its former owner until a young kid buys her and turns her into a hot rod. I don’t necessarily personify my vehicles, but I do admit each exudes a spirit or character of its own. To me, there’s something incredibly satisfying in taking a non-running, thrown-away vehicle and making it useful again. I’ve done it almost a dozen times with project builds like my ’53 DJ-3A, Hatari! ’71 CJ-6, Comman D’oh ’73 C-104, Evil Truck ’68 M-715, Monkey Bus ’78 Cherokee Chief, and more. Hell, I even have a ’51 Cadillac ambulance and some other non-Jeep freaks in the list.

And now I’m elbows-deep in a brand-new type of project build. I haven’t made up a category for it yet, but you can find all the pertinent specs at Go visit and tell me what you think.

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