In the last installment, you saw some of the preparations made to the Project Hatari! CJ-6 for the annual Jp Magazine trip over the Rubicon. What you didn't see was that, in addition to swapping in an Advance Adapters-supplied NV3550 five-speed and all the parts outlined in that article, I also finished the front of the cage, built some rudimentary rocker protection, wired in a CB, dropped the headers to weld up some holes, rigged on a YJ bikini top, built a tranny skidplate off the T-case crossmember, and a ton of other stuff that brought the build dangerously close to the date of departure.
With only a quick test drive around the neighborhood as any consolation the rig wouldn't self-destruct on the journey, I loaded up the CJ-6 to the gills with a week's worth of supplies and headed from my place in San Diego to Cappa's house in the dirt hills north of Los Angeles. It was a nerve-wracking drive, with every squeak and rattle digging into my subconscious as another reason I should bail for the shoulder and investigate. However, if my years of Jeeping and general vehicular disregard have taught me anything, if there's no smoke, there's no fire. So I soldiered on.
Once at Cappa's we noticed a lot of oil coming from the freshly sealed T-case. I had just reread Karl Russel's story on preventing Jeep leaks ("Jeep Leaks," June '05) shortly before installing the Dana 18 and forwent the RTV. Curse you, Dr. Vern and your influencial writing! A Jeep that doesn't leak isn't a Jeep, and we decided to periodically check the oil level, loaded Cappa's Daisy Duke blowup mattress, and hit the road.
We entered Interstate 14 in the early afternoon and motored up the grade past Palmdale on our way to Highway 395. The Buick engine was humming, and even with a ton of supplies and spares we were able to pull Fifth gear up the grade at 70 to 75 mph with no problem. After stopping for some greasy KFC in Lancaster, we motored on through Inyo and watched the desert give way to piles of volcanic rock and then pine and aspen trees as the mountains began to rise around us. Pretty soon, we began entering one small high-desert town after another and began searching out the sites. There are Jeeps and military vehicles all over these small towns. In most cases, you've just got to get one block off the main road to find 'em, but one seemed to find us. Just outside of Inyo we spotted a 1975 CJ-6 towing a pretty substantial camper parked on the shoulder. The driver was looking underneath but appeared to have everything under control, so we waved and drove on.
This stretch of 395 is the gateway to both Death Valley, Mammoth Mountian, and Yosemite National Park, and hotels fill up fast. After poking around checking out the sights in Pearsonville, Lone Pine, and Independence, the sun began getting low on the horizon and with no doors or heater, we started out for Bishop with hopes of a decent hotel room for the night. Just outside of Bishop, with the temperature dropping and the hammer down to the tune of about 75 mph, the other CJ-6 passed us going up a hill like we were standing still. Each time he took the lead, the driver would pull to the shoulder, let us pass, then pass us again. Normally, we'd chalk it up to just another reader who wanted to show off his Jeep's capabilities, but this guy looked like Hunter S. Thompson (re: kind of scary), so we let him get ahead just as we bailed for the Bishop Holiday Inn.
With the Buick 225 sipping on $4 per gallon premium fuel, we putted out of Bishop in search of adventure. On a back road in Lee Vining we found a cool open-air museum full of rusted equipment. Project Hatari! looked right at home parked in front. Some of the highlights included an antique power shovel and ancient Ingersoll Rand air compressor with a gargantuan engine. From Mono Lake, 395 points skyward and meanders past Yosemite National Park through elevations of up to nearly 9,000 feet. The 225 pulled Fifth gear the whole way, with no vibration from the thick-tube J.E. Reel driveshaft and barely a hum from the retread tires. The drive was really smooth and relaxing, which was a nice surprise for a vehicle with so many untested components.
We got into Tahoe a few hours before sunset, bought groceries, then cruised to the Rubicon trailhead, where we set up camp and waited for our buddies to arrive.
We awoke on a frosty Day 3, broke camp, aired down the 31-inch High-Tec Retreads to 10psi, dropped the T-case in low, and fell in line. Even with the massive amount of weight in the rear of the CJ and almost 400 pounds of editors in front, the unimpressive crawl ratio of 48:1, coupled with the Buick's 50-pound flywheel and small tires proved just about perfect for a recreational trail like the 'Con. Having such a long, low vehicle presented some problems, but it also made the trail interesting. We had to pull a winch line after high-centering on the Gatekeeper on the way in, but otherwise it was relatively smooth sailing all the way to our campsite at Buck Island. Check out the Web Extras for the rest of the story, including the trail damage and the ride home.