“So, whatcha bringin’ to Moab?” It’s the constantly recurring question in our industry that begins around the SEMA show in early fall and builds in frequency and intensity right up until the day of departure to Easter Jeep Safari. I always strive to bring a vehicle that’s unique and dripping with character. But for the past two Moab events, I’ve endured the Jp Editor’s curse of the red Wrangler.
I’ve only been Editor for two of the 12 years I’ve been at Jp. Before that, the previous Editor, John Cappa, took a red Wrangler to Moab about a half dozen times. First, there was Jp’s ’01 TJ, “Red,” and then Jp’s ’07 JK, “Red, Jr.” Yeah, the project names weren’t that original, but then again, neither were the buildups. Each went to Moab in completely stock form and then returned with mild lifts and small tires and then moderate lifts and 35s. Boooring. And each year I gave Cappa no small ration of crap for leaving in the barn his other, cooler piles which undoubtedly required more time to build, prep, and drag to Utah.
Don’t misunderstand. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a red Wrangler. In fact, there’s soooo nothing wrong with one that it seems everybody and their uncle owns one. That’s not what Moab is about for me. Or, at least that’s what I thought. But this year, as with last, juggling a heavier workload, enduring corporate drama, and mmmkaying endless TPS reports, there I stood in my driveway a couple of days from EJS looking at my neglected fleet of Jeeps.
My ’71 CJ-6 on Rockwells wasn’t close to drivable and, in fact, was still sitting on my trailer on the side of my house. No CJ-6. My ’53 flattie was ready, but I wasn’t too fuzzy about flat towing with the 10-year-old BFG Krawlers. No flattie. I pulled the stock steering apart in my ’54 M-170 for a rebuild and still hadn’t put it all back together yet. No M-170. My ’78 Cherokee Chief still has a blown head gasket and is now even harder to start and runs more poorly than ever. No Cherokee. My ’72 J4000 is all stock and would high-center on any small obstacle I tried it on. No pickup. That left me looking at a pair of red Wranglers. There was no way in the world I was gonna take Jp’s ’07 JK. So, for the second year in a row, I hooked up my little red ’89 Why-J and pointed the tow rig northeast for Moab.
Aside from the 2.5-inch springs and 31s, it’s essentially just a stock YJ. Heck, it doesn’t even have power steering. But it’s a riot to see how it freaks out the spotters and spectators alike. There I’d be, in a sea of JKs on 40s and long-travel TJs, and folks would get all nervous, pointing me to the bypass every time. One person even called it a “vintage Jeep.” Has our sport really come to the point where even beginners come out the gate with a long-arm JK on 37s? You’d think the Mayans were ending the world every time I lifted a tire. Others would hustle and jockey to get in front of me so they wouldn’t get held up on the trail, only to have a little red YJ up their trumpet the whole day. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog.
At the end of the trip, I was glad I brought my wuss red Wrangler. Not only is it more fun wheeling a weenie beater that you don’t care about, but running on small tires, dealing with no low gearing, and getting by without the luxury of power steering sharpens your driving skills. And for the spectators, seeing such a lowly build tackle obstacles it seemingly shouldn’t teaches and reminds how inherently capable even a stock Jeep is. So next year, don’t be surprised if you see a magazine editor in a little red YJ trying lines only the “big” Jeeps should be on, lifting tires, ignoring spotters, and cackling from behind the wheel the whole time. Sometimes a weenie red Wrangler is just too much fun.