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4xForward: Swaptionista, Anybody?

Posted in Features on February 10, 2017
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Ah, my trusty engine hoist. I have owned it about 16 or 17 years now. I guess I could sit down and count how many engines I’ve yanked, installed, moved, swapped, or stored with it, but I kinda prefer not knowing the actual number. Just saying “more than I can count” makes me feel closer to its faded red powdercoating and excuses the mild film of hydraulic fluid that only in recent months has begun to coat the outside of the ram. But it’s not only engines that have hung from the end of its hook. I’ve moved dozens of axle assemblies, from big-boy Rockwells that would pop my vertebra like packing bubbles if I tried to lift them to Dana 60s, Dana 44s, Ford 9-inches, Toyotas, and even itty-bitty Jeep Dana 25s and Dana 27s I was just too lazy to move by hand. Oh, and transmissions and T-case installs and swaps. Ever sit there on your back trying to bench-press a cast iron transmission into place? Some are heavy enough to make your eyeballs extrude from your skull. Just pull the tranny tunnel cover plate and snake your trusty engine hoist inside to lift it up into place with a rewarding, gentle clink as the input shaft finds the pilot bushing bore. Then, leave good ol’ Mr. Hoist hooked as a safety device while you fab up a tranny crossmember because, you know, how often are you working on a factory configuration? And that’s kind of my point. When you break it down, how often are you using an engine hoist to work on a stock application?

It is absolutely no secret that we hardcore off-roaders can’t leave anything alone. Suspension? Needs more travel. Axle? Needs more splines. Engine? Needs more power. Cowbell? Needs more cowbell. It’s just the nature of the beast and something most of us realized long ago: We can’t leave anything alone. But what a lot of people might not notice (and what I’ve been guilty of most of my hot rodding, off-roading, grease-bleeding life) is that many of us have a total and complete inability to be content with a vehicle’s starting point irrespective of the number or value of upgrades it has when we take it over.

Consider the 1968 J2000 I used to own. I bought it with a 232ci carbureted inline-six, three-speed manual, and a closed-knuckle Dana 44 front and two-piece axleshaft Dana 44 rear. It was a daily driver and steered, stopped, accelerated, and hauled just fine. But then I swapped in a 4.0L injected six from a 1991 XJ Cherokee. But I’m almost positive if it already had the 4.0L in it when I bought it, I would’ve found some reason why the 4.0L needed to be replaced with a V-8. And I gave the T-14 the heave-ho for an NV3550 five-speed. But if the Jeep already had a lightweight five-speed when I bought it, I’m certain I would have found a reason why a granny-geared T18 or T98 was needed. And instead of the 1982 Dodge Dana 44 front and one-piece axleshaft 1975 Dana 44 rear I built and swapped in it, if it had been equipped with more modern Dana 44 axles from the get-go, you know I would’ve talked myself into a Chevy Dana 60 front and 14-bolt rear instead.

Why is it the grass is always greener on the other side of the hood? I don’t think it’s human nature, because my nonenthusiast friends don’t yank apart their perfectly good, running vehicles just to change things up. Is it that we are vehicular fashionistas, but instead of not wearing the same shirt and tie to the office two days in a row we can’t suffer the thought of doing more than six or seven oil changes on the same drivetrain combo? How would you even express that? Mechanicistas? Swaptionistas, maybe? Yeah, that’s me. I think I’m a swaptionista. Anybody else share my sickness? If so, connect with me on Instagram at @hbombindustries and we’ll start a 4WOR support group. Because according to my wife I need help!

—Christian Hazel

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