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November 1998 Trail Head

Posted in Features on November 1, 1998
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It has been said that admission is the first step toward eliminating a problem, or that discussion is the start of finding a solution. OK, I have a problem. I admit it, and perhaps by discussing it I will find someway to better deal with my particular dysfunction and get on with life. Well, at least my wife hopes so.

Here's the deal: I have an addiction to old Jeeps. I can't explain it, but it exists. When I see a vintage CJ, Willys, Wagoneer, pickup, or just about any model Jeep built prior to the late '70s, desire overcomes me. To be honest, it's starting to become quite a nuisance.

For example, about a month ago my son and I were driving along a twisty one-lane mountain road in my J10 enroute to a favorite trout stream. Rounding a bend, I was greeted nearly head-on by a green Willys pickup. It was resting comfortably next to a hay bailer along the edge of a field. From my drive-by point-of-view, the Willys looked pretty good. There was no evident body rust, there were tires on all four corners, and uncracked glass still protected the interior from the elements-all in all, the Willys was a likely candidate for a rebuild/restoration. My heart did a little flutter at the thought.

When we arrived home that evening, I mentioned the truck to my wife. "What are you going to do with another truck?" she asked. "You already have two pieces of well you already have two 'junkers' out there now."

"What do you mean 'junk'?" I asked, somewhat hurt. "Those are works of art in progress."

OK, so the CJ-7 is still only a rolling drivetrain, but it does have a fresh engine, tranny, transfer case, axles, and suspension. The J10 sort of ... well ... it does look like junk from the outside, but that's its special appeal. There's a rebuilt AMC 360 sitting under the hood (powered by top-of-the-line Federal Mogul internals, an Edelbrock Performer intake system, a Jacobs Omni-Mag ignition, and Hooker dual exhaust headers), with Rancho adjustable shocks and fresh General ATs at the corners, rebuilt driveshafts, and new wheel bearings and axle joints up front. So what if the body is in two shades of primer; the windshield gasket leaks; the springy, puke-green bench seat looks like it spent time in a '70s Naugahyde factory; there is no rear bumper; and the front bumper has seen any number of winch plates welded to it? I've got three to four times more money in the Jeep than what I paid for it in the first place. It doesn't even bother me that neither of the doors lock. Who's going to steal the big ugly thing anyway? (By the way, "Big Ugly" is my affectionate name for it.) If ever there was a sleeper 4x4, this is it.

Sure, someday my two-Jeep fleet will be spit and polished. The CJ's ground-up rebuild continues, and I look at the J10 project as a rolling restoration. They'll get done, so what's the harm in one more project?

My wife says I have a problem. Maybe she's right, but I find something spiritual, or Zen-like, in transforming a weathered, rusted, and worn piece of automotive history into the modern world. Old iron has a certain charm and appeal. You can actually work on the pre-EFI engines without a bench full of specialty tools and technical manuals. Simple, flat dashpanels with black-and-white face gauges in that funky old-style script are cool. There is no plush and gush-just steel, glass, and a smattering of rubber. And as for exterior styling, hey, I'll take the angular lines of a classic Jeep over the aerodynamically correct, CAD sheetmetal of today's vehicles any time.

If everyone likes the classic automobile styles so much, why don't the manufacturers oblige? I'm not talking about the kind of "retro-styling'' as seen in the new Ford F-series, Dodge Ram, Mustang, Beetle (don't make me laugh!), Prowler, or the new 300M. I'm talking about honest-to-goodness getting back to basics. If Chrysler would say the heck with NHTSA, CAFE, and CARB and relaunch the CJ-7 in vintage trim, I might actually buy a new vehicle.

Until then my eyes will continue to be turned by that old Jeep sitting way out there beside the hay bailer.

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