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Reliving the Sh!%box Derby

You would only do this in an old, beat-up 4x4.

Let me take this opportunity to give you my take on the 2021 Ford Bronco because 4,530,229 online stories have probably failed to satiate your appetite for unsolicited opinions of Ford's new would-be Wrangler killer. Nah, just kidding. If you're suffering from Bronco infonausea, pull a chair up to the campfire and let me wax nostalgic on something that's the absolute opposite of new 4x4 coverage. Back in 2010 Jp magazine had a staff of three: John Cappa, Pete Trasborg, and myself. Each editor had certain character traits that tended to manifest in the vehicles we built. So, I devised a competition in which each one of us would select one of our personal Jeep project rigs, build them up over the course of three magazine issues with the lowest budget possible, and then pit them against each other in a competition of my own design that I named the Sh!%box Derby. Here's how it went down.

Cappa selected an old Willys CJ-2A. He spend the majority of his time getting the original GoDevil 134-cube four-cylinder working. In fact, he showed up without a fuel tank, running a hose to a plastic fuel jug strapped down in the bed of the Jeep. Trasborg selected a pretty nice 1991 Jeep MJ Comanche from his stable of vehicles. But don't let the fancy TJ Rubicon take-off wheels, HO 4.0L power, or manual AX15 transmission fool you. Most MJs left the factory without a T-case. And yes, although Pete had bolted in an XJ Dana 30 front axle in place of the factory non-driving beam axle, the rest of the truck was 2WD. And me, I didn't already have a sh!%box, so I simply searched Craigslist for the first Jeep I could find under $800 and came up with this roached 1973 Jeepster Commando that hadn't run in over a decade for $350. I wound up building my own front suspension using leftover parts from other Jeep projects, rebuilding the TH400 and Dana 20, welding the diff in the rear Dana 44 axle, and popping in a new radiator, master cylinder, and distributor. Of course, I wound up needing to rebuild the Motorcraft two-barrel carb, replace the fuel pump, drop the fuel tank and clean it, fab a mount for a GM one-wire alternator I had kicking around when I discovered the factory unit didn't charge, rebuild the starter, and about a hundred other little things prior to the competition.

We assembled in Johnson Valley the evening before the event and camped under the stars. Jason Gonderman came out to run GoPro cameras to document the event on video and Jp's art director, Alan Huber, served as still photographer. You can visit fourwheeler.com to see the whole competition on video, so I won't spoil exactly how things shook out, but part of the way I devised the event was to impart a high degree of potential carnage. In the end, it was not only an enjoyable event to watch, mainly because in driving such piles of garbage we were willing to try things irrespective of any potential for damage, but it was fun assembling old and used parts, cobbling stuff together, and making lemonade from lemons. That's the sort of thing you don't get to do when you're building a brand-new vehicle that you're making payments on. So go enjoy the Sh!%box Derby. Until then, I'll be dreaming of a when we may be able to revisit this event and do something similar again. I know I enjoyed the hell out of every part of it.