Friday, August 24, 2012

Save Johnson Valley OHV Area from the Marines' Takeover!

Johnson Valley OHV Area is hugely popular
The ongoing fight to save Johnson Valley from complete (or at the very least, a vast majority) takeover by the United States Marine Corps' 29 Palms is coming to an end, and it looks like the American Public is going to be locked out of yet another huge expanse of public lands.

I've written about this treasured area numerous times, and just about everyone within the OHV community, the Marine Corps, the California Legislature, and the Pentagon is acutely aware of the impact this land closure will have on recreationists at (and residents in the area of) Johnson Valley.  The King of the Hammers event alone brings tens of thousands of people (and fame) to Johnson Valley, but this bit of desert has been a valued bit of land since long before the Marines, the Bureau of Land Management, the State of California, and the United States of America ever assumed control.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming adversity to the proposed closure seems to make no difference to the Powers That Be.  The media has certainly picked up on the severity of this issue, as there has been no shortage of reports on the future of Johnson Valley:

Johnson Valley off-road lovers fight Marines to stay on trails

Enthusiasts float own alternatives to military's plan

Marines propose Twentynine Palms expansion

The Hammers' draw riders from across the globe

There is nowhere on Earth like Johnson Valley.  Keep this American treasure open to the public!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two Interviews with Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design

Mark Allen posing with one of Jeep's finer creations, the Pork Chop Concept

As Head of Jeep Design, Mark Allen is one of the primary driving forces in the direction the Jeep brand goes.  As a very specifically-defined brand, any change in the core vehicles - particularly the Wrangler - is critically considered by executives and consumers alike.  Thus, two recent enlightening interviews with Mr. Allen provide both relief and concern regarding the future of the Jeep brand and its core vehicles.

A year ago, Jeep published this Executive Interview with Mark Allen which gives us an idea what he's like as an individual, and what his views are of the Jeep brand.  While informative, this was much more of a "fluff piece" than the following interview that recently turned up in one of my favorite automotive publications:

Truck Trend Magazine published this brief interview from the 2012 Jeep Experience in Colorado where they ran into Mr. Allen.  His comments are candid and therefore much less scripted; I found his words here to be much more reassuring regarding the future direction of the Jeep brand.  In particular, this quote from the article:
Unlike some newer upstart brands contrived to appeal to an idealized youthful, urban demographic with features such as loud colors and flashing synchronized speaker accents, Allen said Jeep sees itself as a much more grounded, authentic brand. "We've got these brand boards we put together in the studio. It's like a visual representation of Jeep. It's this whole idea of a competent, rugged American. It's a WWII, greatest generation guy, just there to help. It's not an obnoxious, in-your-face brand. That's kind of what's in our head. Going back to the World War II days, Jeep was really the replacement for the horse. That's what I'd consider the essence of Jeep. It's not a rowdy brand, it's a confident helper," Allen said.

I did find the following quote from the interview to be a bit discouraging, though:
The Wrangler and its predecessors have long used the same basic formula -- body-on-frame construction, and front and rear solid axles -- but Allen doesn't necessarily see those two attributes being the defining characteristics of the brand or even the Wrangler itself. "I don't know if I'd consider body-on-frame as that big a part of the Jeep identity. I consider tractive capability more of the core of what Jeep is. It really doesn't matter if it's body-on-frame or not, it's all about the capability. I wouldn't say body-on-frame is a driving factor in how we build the next Wrangler."
It's true that the XJ Cherokee and ZJ/WJ Grand Cherokees were respected unibody Jeeps with solid axles which were therefore were very capable off-road, but they are notorious for unibody weaknesses that lead to the main structure of the vehicles failing long before the drivetrain was worn out.  Aftermarket reinforcements to the unibody's structure are little more than band-aid fixes to a problem that should never have happened in the first place.

While I'm relieved to hear that "tractive capability" is still a top priority, I fear that a unibody Wrangler will result in a huge reduction in (if not outright destruction of) the Wrangler's offroad-first capability.  Look to Land Rover's Range Rover and Discovery, Nissan's Pathfinder, Suzuki's Vitara or even Jeep's own Grand Cherokee as recent examples.  Even the downgrade from a solid front axle to an independent front suspension completely neuters an SUV's capabilities; the Toyota Land Cruiser, 4Runner, and pickups, and the Chevy/GMC pickups and SUVs illustrate how a loss of focus on a 4x4's offroad abilities completely ruins the vehicle for the core offroad/heavy-duty market.

Mark Allen (and everyone else at Jeep) I hope you're listening:

Please don't ruin the Wrangler by equipping it with independent suspension or a unit body.  You have several other vehicles to experiment with, but the Wrangler's formula simply should not be messed with!

Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design, holds the future of Jeep in his hands.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Eldorado National Forest Approves Rubicon Trail Easement and Route Improvements

Look, ma - no environmental damage!

Big news for the Rubicon Trail!

The United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service has issued a road easement to El Dorado County for the Rubicon Trail where it crosses Eldorado National Forest lands under R.S. 2477.  The decision also authorizes a number of trail improvements that should help keep the right-of-way open year-round.

The Forest Service published the decision on their website, and the Sacramento Bee newspaper actually wrote a reasonably unbiased report on the decision, much to everyone's surprise - especially after their previous propagandized report.

The Rubicon Trail Foundation deserves major kudos for this settlement.  Although the recreational community has had to accept some concessions in exchange for this victory, the health and future of the trail is much better managed by locals of a smaller bureaucracy than by the nationwide Forest Service and its countless layers of bureaucracy and ineptitude.  This is a big win for everyone who loves Nature, who appreciates their Constitutionally-protected liberties, and who is disgusted by the faux-environmentalist organizations' money-grubbing agenda.

Join the fight to keep public lands like this open to the public!

The fight to keep public lands open to the public still has no end in sight.  However, hard work and a stubborn refusal to give in to the anti-access faux-environmentalist groups such as Sierra Club, PEER, Center for Biological Diversity, and Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation can help keep public rights-of-way such as the Rubicon Trail open for current and future generations to enjoy.  If you want to help preserve the Rubicon Trail, please consider joining one of the numerous pro-recreation environmentalist groups, such as Rubicon Trail Foundation, Friends of the Rubicon, Friends of Eldorado National Forest, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, BlueRibbon Coalition, and many small local 4x4 clubs.

Funny New Zealand Jeep Commercial

This funny Jeep commercial from several years ago is making the rounds on the Internet again.  The Wrangler JK is CGI of course, but the video itself is a legitimate home movie of a typhoon blowing through a city.

Willys Jeep 8x8 Creation

Jalopnik brought to my attention what is undoubtedly one of the world's unique Jeeps in their article The World's Most Adorable, Badass Jeep Is For Sale on eBay Motors.

Constructed from two Willys Wagons and a Flatfender, this custom 8-wheel-drive, 8-wheel-steering, Corvette-powered Jeep was built by legendary fabricator Dick Cook in collaboration with Big Daddy Ross.  This is quite possibly the only vehicle that's cooler than a 6x6 Pinzgauer 712M.

Chrysler Fixing Pentastar Cylinder Heads

As modern and well-designed as Chrysler's Pentastar V6 engine is, a fault in the cylinder heads has affected enough vehicle owners that Chrysler is voluntarily providing dealerships with replacement parts for the affected customers.

Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette has published a definitive article on Pentastar engine failures, which several other news sources have picked up on.

Chrysler has not elaborated on the specifics of the issue, but affected customers report a ticking sound from the engine, stalling, and other problems.  The check-engine light illuminates on all affected engines.  Chrysler's executives said the problem arises only with an unusual combination of factors, such as low-quality fuel and unspecified driving conditions.  Chrysler said the issue does not disable the engine.  The most telling admission is:
Betts, who as head of quality oversees a team of 1,200 people dedicated to improving Chrysler's once-woeful quality reputation, declined to identify the exact cause of the problem.
He said the malfunctions were the result of "an interaction of a lot of rare things that ultimately come together to affect a small percentage of the population." Those could include different fuel mixes and the way the vehicle is driven, he said, though he did not explain further.

Lee said there are limits to the percentage of Pentastars that will experience the malfunction because of the variables involved.
"You have to have this fuel characteristic, you have to have this drive cycle -- and all of these things have to line up in order to have this situation occur," Lee said. "That's why" the number of potentially affected engines "is so small. If it were a design defect, or if it affected [a basic component] like the integrated exhaust, we'd have issues on everything, which we don't."

A revised cylinder head design is already in production for new Pentastar engines, and Chrysler is supplying these new heads to dealer service departments under warranty for affected owners of Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, Dodge Avenger, Charger, Challenger, Caravan, and Journey, Chrysler 200, 300, and Town & Country vehicles.

Chrysler is without a doubt doing everything they can to fix this issue, as the Pentastar will be the company's only V6 engine once production of the archaic 3.7-liter V6 in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Liberty comes to an end this summer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

U.S. Forest Service's Interactive Travel Map

The United States Forest Service has finally entered the 21st Century with a new feature on their web site: a new interactive travel map developed by the U.S. Forest Service for the National Forests.

Some, but not yet all National Forests have provided their GIS data: the dark green areas of the map have data.  The map data should continue to improve over time.  It operates similarly to Google topo maps, but with a much clunkier interface.  I'm hoping the map's interface will also improve with time.

You can filter on the type of road or trail you are interested in by selecting buttons in the “Route Designations” menu on the left.  This map includes each Forest’s Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), so you can see what public Forest Service roads haven't yet been closed to the public.

You can also search by Forest Service Route Numbers or by trail names, with a legend that explains what each symbol means.

It’s worth a bit of your time to become familiar with this map and learn how to use it because this is likely to be the future of how the U.S.F.S. will communicate to the public what roads & trails are open or closed.

Click here to view the new map.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Decision For a Jeep Wrangler-Based Pickup Coming Soon

Jeep Gladiator Concept

Multiple news sources are reporting that Jeep president Mike Manley has stated that the world will finally have an answer "Pretty soon" to the big question about whether we will finally see the return of a Jeep-based pickup truck model.

Pickup trucks are no stranger to the Jeep lineup:

Jeep Forward Control

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jeep Wrangler Stars in "One Car Too Far" on Discovery

Autoblog brought to my attention an upcoming program on the Discovery Channel entitled "One Car Too Far":

Autoblog describes the basic premise:
For the right kind of person, this sounds like an awesome adventure with a Jeep Wrangler. For everyone else, it probably sounds like hell.

Discovery has teamed up with former British special forces soldier Gary Humphrey and self-proclaimed gearhead Gary Wu, and sent them into a remote peak in the Chilean volcanoes. Also heading into the wilderness? A used Jeep Wrangler, airlifted to another location in their general vicinity. Their job? Track down the TJ and use it to get home. What could go wrong?

The show is called "One Car Too Far," and is a five-part series, chronicling the pair's escape from the mountainous region of Chile. The duo encounters the full breadth of Chilean terrain, including alpine tundra, deserts, and humid subtropical regions. Oh, and they have just three days to get out and back to civilization!
 Another clip from the program shows the typical TJ broken c-clip rear axle:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Truck Trend Preps a Jeep Wrangler JK for the Great Outdoors

Truck Trend Magazine is a sister publication to Motor Trend Magazine.  They don't typically specialize in highly modified off-road Jeeps and trucks, but they recently published an article covering their buildup of their 2011 Jeep Wrangler JK for moderate off-road use:

10 Ways to Trick Out Your Jeep:
Readying Your Ride for the Great Outdoors

They didn't build a hardcore Jeep, but they made some smart modifications for their intended use as a general-purpose backroad explorer.  Their upgrades included a 3-inch lift kit, front and rear bumpers, a winch, lights, tube doors, a cargo rack, dual batteries, hood struts, and undercarriage armor.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Driving Across America in a Jeep GPW

My buddy Rick Péwé, Editor-In-Chief of Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine, is undertaking another one of his epic Jeep journeys.  This time, he is driving his 69-year-old military Ford GPW Jeep across America, and blogging along the way with Facebook updates.

I ran into him at his first stop along the way at the 60th Annual Jeepers Jamboree on the Rubicon Trail.

 He showed up a couple days late, but arrived in time for the Flatville Reunion:

His final stop will be at the Bantam Jeep Festival in Butler, PA where more than 1,000 Jeeps are expected to attend, in hopes of surpassing last year's Guinness World Record.

Israeli Special Forces Jeep Wrangler

I've shown some current Jeep Wrangler military vehicles recently, and discussed Jeep's military history, but a new Jeep J8-based military Wrangler for the Israeli Special Forces warrants some more attention.

Jeepolog and Jalopnik have both published articles on the Jeep J8 Storm 3 Type R built by AIL of Nazareth in Israel for the Israeli Defense Forces.  It is intended as a replacement for the HMMWV (Humvee) in Middle-Eastern desert duty.

Like other J8-based military Wranglers, the Storm 3 Type R comes equipped with a VM Motori 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine and a leaf-sprung Dana 60 rear axle and coil-sprung Dana 44 front axle, both with Trac-Lok limited-slip differentials.