Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aluminum Construction Doesn't Preclude Body-on-Frame Design

Some exciting news on the 2017 Aluminum Wrangler has emerged after reports that the next generation of the iconic Jeep may not only switch to a unibody platform but may also be relocated away from its historic assembly plant.  Putting many fears to rest, Automotive News is reporting that the shift to aluminum construction may not necessarily mean the next generation of the Wrangler is ruined.

The story elaborates on the challenges presented by the necessary shift to aluminum construction: the Toledo assembly plant does not have aluminum tooling, and it is already operating well beyond its intended production capacity, so the time and expense required to replace the steel manufacturing equipment with that for aluminum is prohibitive.  Most automotive bean-counters would simply redesign the next Wrangler to use an aluminum unibody produced in one of Fiat-Chrysler's other, underutilized assembly plants.

Thankfully, it seems that Fiat-Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marcchione realizes the value of the Wrangler's iconic capability and durability to the brand.  After all, Wrangler production simply can't keep up with demand, and sales of every other Jeep vehicle (no matter how limited their offroad capabilities) benefit from the Wrangler's priceless reputation.  It is absolutely critical that Jeep preserves the Wrangler's Jeep-ness, so Toledo's mayor D. Michael Collins and Ohio's governor John Kasich made a stern conference call earlier this month with Marchionne and arranged a face-to-face meeting.  Details have not yet been revealed, but the discussions must have been a success because only twelve days after that meeting, Toledo’s city council agreed to spend $9.4 million to purchase more than 32 acres of land directly west of the Wrangler factory for its possible expansion.

Aluminum construction can be a real benefit to the Wrangler's capabilities, but only if it is used in conjunction with a heavy-duty ladder frame and the requisite pair of solid axles.  Regarding this latest development, Jeep spokesman Todd Goyer declined to comment on the next Wrangler.  However, he insisted that the next generation Wrangler “will be the most capable Wrangler ever.”  We're all hoping this is true.

Identity of National Parks' Serial Vandal Revealed

Thanks to the vigilance of internet sleuths and National Park Service employees, the identity of the narcissistic vandal named "Creepy Tings" or "creepytings" has been identified as that of Casey Nocket from Highland, New York.  The story quickly went viral due to the world's unanimous outrage over her urban graffiti defacing natural wonders.  News reports from ABC News, CBS News, USA Today, Reuters, Newsy, Reddit, National Parks Traveler, The Weather Channel, The Denver Post, and countless others quickly spread the word about her 5-state tour of destruction in the following National Parks: Yosemite National Park; Death Valley National Park; Crater Lake National Park; Zion National Park; Canyonlands National Park; Grand Canyon National Park; Sequoia National Park; Kings Canyon National Park; Joshua Tree National Park; Rocky Mountain National Park; Bryce National Park.  She also proudly defaced Colorado's historic Ginn Mill and trampled prehistoric petroglyphs in Joshua Tree National Park.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cantina for the 'Con 10th Anniversary

2014's Labor Day Weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the Rubicon Trail Foundation's Cantina for the 'Con.  What started as - and has continued to be - a grassroots fundraiser to preserve and protect the Rubicon Trail has become one of the 4x4 community's biggest and most famous events.

Held every year in the dam spillway at the Loon Lake entrance to the Rubicon Trail, the Cantina is more than just a fundraiser; it is a full weekend party that provides opportunities for camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, and of course 4-wheeling on the Rubicon Trail.  Vendor booths give attendees an opportunity to meet with a wide variety of aftermarket parts companies; representatives from several land use organizations educate trail users on proper etiquette that helps keep the trail open; many 4x4 clubs work together to cook trail-saving tacos and nachos; and a gigantic raffle with nearly countless prizes ensures everyone is a winner since proceeds go directly toward supporting the Rubicon Trail.  To date, over $300,000 has been raised to preserve and protect the Rubicon Trail from damage and closure.

This year's Cantina was a particularly special event because the Rubicon Trail Foundation held a ceremony to honor the 4x4 club that started it all a decade ago:  TDO - This Dysfunctional Organization.  In addition to presenting the club with RTF's "The Rock" Award, the reveal of a bronze plaque permanently mounted to the Loon Lake Information Kiosk was humbling to all in attendance.

My friend Shana Whitford wrote her own article for Driving Line that gives another perspective on the event with some of her great photography.  A collection of my photos from the 2014 Cantina for the 'Con are assembled below, and as you can see no trip to Cantina is complete without a drive on the world-famous Rubicon Trail itself; camping partway in at TDO Camp with (who else?) the TDO Club was a perfect way to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Cantina:

A Message From Your Favorite Trails

It's election season, so political issues are at the front of everyone's mind.  OHV advocacy is one issue from which we must never back down, since motorized recreation is shown little to no love by politicians as the anti-access faux-environmentalists' incessant haranguing and lawsuits lead to the tragic closure of millions of acres of public lands.  With that in mind, United Four Wheel Drive Associantion's Jerry Smith wrote the following story from the Jeep trail's perspective:
I am one of your favorite “motorized” trails out here on some of your public lands.  It gets lonely out here, all alone since the federal government closed me to motorized travel.  They closed me and won’t tell me why… hell, they won’t tell you why if you ask them to.  Have you even asked??  Do you even care??

I used to enjoy all the emotions I could instill in you as you rode along my length. 

Crossing the washes, deep with sand and rocks of varying size in the bottoms seemed to bring a smile to everyone’s face… once you were safely through them.  I liked the apprehension look as you entered the washes not knowing if you were good enough to make it or not.  It was always something of a thrill to watch as I brought your customized, one of a kind vehicle to a halt while you got out to look the situation over.  That was a smart move you know?  I had that trap set to stop any vehicle.

You outsmarted me on that one though.  Moving those rocks must have taken quite an effort on your part.  That rushing, flooding water had a lot of power behind it to place those rocks to block your progress.  I admire your persistence.  Where was that persistence when it came to resisting the government when THEY decided to close me??  I could have used a little help you know?
You see, those land managers don’t listen to me much.  I am just a commodity to them… something to be managed is all.  They don’t give one damn about me as a resource. 

I’m just a maintenance expense that they can’t cover, and a source of “conflict” between user groups, so they take the easy way out and close me for now… just waiting for the time to come when they can take me out of their inventory, drop me from their maps, and then I am included in another “Roadless Area” so the “Preservationists” can name me to another Wilderness Study Area or similar entity.  Why don’t you care???

Didn’t I provide some special times in your memory?  Wasn’t I something to cherish?  Didn’t the times you rode my twists and turns, my hills, valleys, and steep off camber climbs mean anything special to you?  They sure were to me!!
I loved seeing the looks on the faces of your family as they questioned the sanity of traversing me.  Scaring some until a tear formed in their eye.  UNTIL --- they saw the panorama at the top of the rise that took their very breath away.  Let me tell you, seeing that tear of fear turn to one of exuberant joy was a major thrill for me.  It just made me want to quake with overwhelming feelings of happiness… but I did not want to scare all of you away.

There has always been a strong connection with you and me.  Your times on my back were very special to me.  I miss you so very much.  I thought YOU cared about me.  How could you just let them take me away??  Was it something I did?  Was I not enough fun and excitement for you… were there not enough great memories?  What did I do wrong??  I’m sorry I let you down!

Now that you must go elsewhere for your vacations and weekend trips, I hope you know that those trails will be more crowded because they are the few left for your pleasure… FOR NOW!!!

Oh yeah, didn’t they tell you?  They are already planning to close them too.  You’re “overusing” them and it is causing too much environmental damage that they can’t afford to fix.  Guess what… that short drive to them will cost you two or three times as much to get to the next trail that they will leave open ---- until that one is “overused”!!  Get the picture?  It’s a cycle that YOU have allowed to grow into a repetitive sequence.

Your neglect to protect me has allowed the Preservationists to win every battle… not that YOU fought for me. 

Did you write to the government agencies about how you loved me?  Did you call them and voice your concern for me?  How about all those meetings that you could have attended?  Did you take an hour or two to support me??

How about the organizations that had people there representing YOU?  Did you even respond to their pleads of support?  Did you even rejoin them this year?  You know how much your membership means to them in both your numbers being represented and the few dollars that help them carry YOUR voice into battle don’t you?  They work hard for YOUR ACCESS to YOUR TRAILS you know?
Is it right that the very few who fight for YOUR ACCESS to YOUR TRAILS should do it all at THEIR expense?  Don’t you care at all that I could have still been providing you and yours the thrills and enjoyment that I once did?  Hey, I miss you!!!  I want you back!!!  Will YOU DO SOMETHING to get me back??  PLEASE!!

I know that your time is limited.  I know that you don’t think your voice is heard.  I know that you don’t like writing letters, attending meetings, learning the land management laws, and all that stuff.  But you CAN do something.  Really!!

Donate to the organizations that do work their hearts out on YOUR behalf.  Make it easier for them to travel to meetings, pay for their expenses doing what YOU don’t wish to do… but MUST BE DONE!!!  Their personal money can only go so far before it can no longer be counted on.  They have families to care for just like you… THEY are supporting YOU.  Can you do less than help them do that???

I want to be there for you!!  Will you be there for me??

Your favorite trails… I miss you!!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

AEV JK Brute Doublecab: The Ultimate Overlander

Expedition Portal, the online presence of Overland Journal, has extensive seat time behind the wheel of overland vehicles of all types, in every corner of the globe.  Having experienced Land Rover Defenders and Discoveries, Range Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens, Nissan Patrols, and numerous other 4x4s, they have declared American Expedition Vehicles' Jeep Wrangler JK Brute DoubleCab The Ultimate Overlander.

Citing the expanded cargo and weight capacity along with the Wrangler's world-famous offroad capabilities, they build a strong case for the DoubleCab.  Although it is not a regular-production vehicle, it is one that can be bought from many Jeep dealerships, directly from AEV, or even built at home by the very skilled.  And unlike its most directly comparable competition (Land Rover Defender 130 and Toyota Hilux) it is relatively easy to source in America and is designed to cruise our interstates comfortably and at a high rate of speed.

The article goes deep into defending its assertion that the Brute DoubleCab is The Ultimate Overlander, but it also acknowledges that "ultimate" and "affordable" rarely go together in the same sentence.  The starting price for the vehicle is $30,000 on top of the cost of a Jeep Wrangler.  There are certainly countless less-expensive vehicles available, but none can offer the broad range and high levels of performance benchmarked by the JK-based Brute DoubleCab.

Toledo Gets Proactive in the Fight to Keep the Jeep Wrangler

Jeeps have been produced in Toledo, Ohio since 1941.  The people of that city and Jeep owners worldwide take great pride in its consistent, historical production.  Some recent comments at the Paris Motor Show have raised some major concerns about the future of the Wrangler's production.

After reports that the aluminum construction of the next Jeep Wrangler may mean that the iconic Jeep's production may have to be relocated from the Toledo North Assembly Plant in Ohio, Toledo's mayor D. Michael Collins and Ohio's governor John Kasich made a stern conference call with Fiat/Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Upfitting the Toledo factory to produce aluminum Wranglers will be an expensive undertaking.  However, Toledo's enthusiasm for retaining the Wrangler's production and the fact that the future of automobile manufacturing will trend toward increasing use of aluminum in vehicles of all types means that there is hope that the next generation of the Wrangler can still call Toledo its home.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Wrangler Rubicon is "Freakishly Capable"

After just a short off-road test-drive, Road & Track published a raving review of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon X.  With so many "cookie cutter" cars and crossover SUVs being reviewed, the Wrangler really stood out as a uniquely fun and capable machine.  As a result, some choice words were used to express the author's enthusiasm for the Jeep:
Jeep has built more than a million JK-generation Wranglers, and people still stare when you come bombing through downtown. It’s hard to blame them. There’s always some beauty to be found in utility, and the Rubicon wasn’t not molded by wind tunnels or corporate groupthink. It was hammered into shape by rock trails and sandy scrambles.
. . .
On the road, the Wrangler feels like an old school truck in the best way possible. The soft coil spring suspension and solid axles float and wiggle, and there’s plenty of body roll at every corner. Crossovers have conditioned us to think every machine should drive like a Camry; The Rubicon reminds me that it’s good not everything does.
. . .
I quickly realize that like the Porsche 911 and Corvette Stingray, this machine is far more capable than I am behind its wheel.
. . .
A light drizzle starts down out of the sky on the ride home. With the side panels back at the house and the glass windows down, I smell the rain and feel the temperature fall long before I see the first drops on the windshield. It’s a perfect moment. A Jeep moment. I put my arm out the window just to feel the rain on my skin. You can keep your laminated glass. I’ll be in the sticks.
It's no wonder why the author proclaimed the Wrangler "freakishly capable" - it offers driving opportunities that no other vehicle does.  You will always find car reviewers who just don't "get" the "Jeep Thing" and will bemoan the fact that the Wrangler doesn't fit in today's homogenized world.  But when an open-minded reviewer gets to experience a real Jeep outside of the city, you'll find praise heaped upon praise.  That's why Jeep has sold over a million Wrangler JKs.

The 10 Best Off-Road Vehicles You Can Buy Right Now

In light of the emmasculation of U.S.-market "trucks" over the last 20 years, Popular Mechanics has published a list of the 10 Best Off-Road Vehicles You Can Buy Right Now.  In their words,
Vehicles have gone soft lately as SUVs and pickups have prioritized fuel economy and comfort over all-out off-road capability. For most buyers, that's a good thing. But plenty of truck buyers still enjoy a romp in the mud, and these 10 rides are for them.
Naturally, as the pinnacle of off-the-dealer's-lot vehicular capability, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is found at the top of their list:
When a collection of hardcore off-road-duty parts came together in the TJ version of the Jeep Wrangler in 2003, it was as if every four-wheeler’s dream list of components had been built into Jeep’s most capable platform. And for more than a decade since, the Wrangler Rubicon has been the benchmark 4WD SUV.

Today’s Rubicon package adds hardware such as Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 transfer case for easy slow-speed crawling, and a swaybar disconnect system to free up the suspension when the Jeep needs additional suspension flex on the toughest trails.
From the article, it sounds as if the new Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock Edition is a continuation of the 10th Anniversary Rubicon, with its upgraded bumpers, red tow hooks, and blacked-out trim.

AEV Customer Tour: Colorado Rockies

Engineer Pass Road, part of Ouray's Alpine Loop
American Expedition Vehicles specializes in high-end Jeep accessories and turnkey offroad Jeeps.  They have led a series of Customer Tours in some of the most iconic 4wheeling areas of the United States.  Their latest trip followed the famous Alpine Loop (Engineer Pass, Corkscrew Gulch, Black Bear Pass, Imogene Pass) outside of Ouray, Colorado, and they produced the following video.

Of particular note is the synergy with which offroad recreation and the flora and fauna happily coexist.  Contrary to the anti-access propaganda spewed by the self-proclaimed "environmentalists," Mother Nature is the perfect place for families and their Jeeps to explore.  With 110 million acres of public lands already behind the lock and key of Wilderness Area designation, it's no wonder why we nature-lovers fight so hard to keep the remaining backcountry areas like this still open and accessible to the public:

I've written about AEV's previous Customer Tours to Anza Borrego, The Rubicon Trail, and The Oregon Dunes, but you can view their full collection of videos on their website.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jeep Rollover on Black Bear Pass

The photo above, taken by Deputy Kirkendoll of Colorado's San Miguel County Sheriff's Department and posted to Sheriff Bill Masters' Twitter account, illustrates the care that must be taken when 4wheeling - especially on treacherous trails like this one.  CBS Denver shared the photo with the following comment:
SAN MIGUEL COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - This jeep was involved in a rollover accident on Black Bear Pass in San Miguel County, the sheriff’s department said.

Sheriff Bill Masters tweeted the photo taken by one of his deputies. No one was injured in the crash. It’s unclear how many times the jeep rolled.

Black Bear Pass is part of Forest Service Road 648, a jeep trail that begins at 11,018 feet at the summit of Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton. It connects to Telluride.

The pass’ elevation is 12,840, and the road descends via switchbacks above Telluride.
It's amazing that the Wrangler's occupants were not injured.  Had the Jeep's rollover not come to a stop where it did, the precipitous tumble down the cliff surely would have been fatal.  For the experienced driver, Black Bear Pass should be at the very top of your off-road "bucket list."

*** UPDATE 9/24/2014 ***

In-cab video of the rollover has been published to YouTube.  Be advised of the adult language:

*** UPDATE 9/25/2014 ***

Additional photos of the rollover have been published: