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October 1987: We Hit The Trail In A Problematic Jeep XJ - Trail's End

Posted in News on May 2, 2014
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Have you ever hit the trail in a vehicle that is not mechanically sound? We have. One of those times was summarized in an entertaining story that published in the October 1987 issue.

Then Four Wheeler Senior Editor Bruce W. Smith hopped in a Jeep Cherokee XJ with his friend Don Adams, who he described as an “avid off-road racer,” and “perhaps the world’s foremost authority at making Jeeps go fast off-road,” for a bit of trout fishing in the high country of Colorado. The Jeep Cherokee XJ was a former test mule for Jeep Corporation. “An experimental vehicle that Jeep engineers sacrificed in an effort to try out new ideas,” Smith noted. The Jeep Cherokee XJ had been through a lot of testing and had the scars to prove it. “For starters, there was no top-filling radiator. It was a closed-loop setup that was tied into the heater, which needed to be on constantly if the engine temperature was to remain under 240 degrees. There were holes in the dash from instruments that had been installed and then hastily yanked out, leaving dangling wires everywhere. Under the hood looked like a rat’s nest of loose wire ends and mysterious couplers that led to who knows where.

“The shocks were shot, and the tires were worn out (we installed a set of BFGoodrich Radial T/A street treads to get us by). The transfer case was missing 4-Lo, something we discovered later when attempting a particularly dangerous hill, and the clutch failed to work because a loose hydraulic hose melted in half after contact with the exhaust manifold (which we did manage to fix),” Smith wrote.

The story noted how normally these ex-mules would be crushed when the engineering folks were done with them to prevent the vehicles from ever being sold, but this particular Jeep Cherokee XJ was turned over to Adams to rebuild into a chase vehicle for his race trucks. Smith noted that this Jeep Cherokee XJ “was not like anything you could buy-or would want to, for that matter.” But before the rig was turned into a chase truck, Adams and Smith took it fishing.

Along the way, the rig randomly chose not to overheat at important times (a good thing), and a steep, loose hillclimb stopped ‘em cold (no low range and street tires were the culprits). But in the end, the XJ (without question aided by Smith and Adams extensive off-road driving and mechanical experience) hauled the duo over treacherous trails to numerous fishing spots and it carried them and their catch (including a bunch of rainbow and German brown trout) back to civilization.

“The XJ had been through a lot of testing and had the scars to prove it.”

Reading this story got us thinking about 4x4 trips we’ve taken in sketchy rigs. Not neglected rigs, but older rigs that obviously have at least one mechanical issue that has haunted us the entire trip. We’ve also taken trips in rigs that we think are mechanically sound, but soon find that there’s a gremlin, or an entire family of gremlins, in the works.

Interestingly, 4x4 trips we’ve taken in old, rusty, clapped-out rigs are some of the most memorable, similar to Smith’s story about the mechanically-challenged XJ. Go figure.

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