Saturday, August 2, 2014

Everybody Oughta Own a Jeep Sometime During Their Life

I posted about my '83 Chevy pickup back in May, and down in the comments Pat brought up the subject of Jeeps so I thought I'd tell the story about the Jeep I owned back when I was about 18 years old (which seems like both yesterday and a hundred years ago at the same time, funny how that works isn't it?).

My Jeep was a 1975 CJ5 that I (with a lot of help) eventually modified to the point that it had a 304 V8, a HD 4spd, 3" suspension lift, and 33" mud tires along with a bunch of little things like power steering, bumpers, a roll cage, etc.. Building that Jeep taught me a lot about being a mechanic, the world of salvage yards and the people that run them, welding, painting, etc..
An iPhone photo of a 35mm photo of my '75 Jeep
With that 304 and the Jeep's light weight, it was scary-fast, and with the steering characteristics of your typical short wheelbase Jeep, it was scary-dangerous trying to keep it going in a straight line down the road.  

It was really made for one thing, and that was driving off-road, down muddy roads, or up a rocky Jeep trail back in the mountains.   When I drove it, it was almost like I was wearing or riding it instead of driving it, it felt like an extension of my body, and I was one with the Jeep and the terrain (or something like that).  I was a member of the Jeep cult and proud of it.

I eventually ended up selling it because I was almost broke and didn't need or want two vehicles any more.  My head told me to sell it, but my heart kept trying to tell me not to sell it. In the end, my head won the argument, so I tuned it up and got it ready to sell.

I quickly found out that the secret to selling something is to have the attitude that you don't really want to sell it.  Everybody that looked at it was interested in buying it, it soon sold for more than I thought it was worth, and it was gone. On a positive note, I used the money to pay off my credit cards, and that also was the last time I had credit card debt (Thanks Jeep!).

You would think that that would be the end of the story about my Jeep, but years later, I wrote a story about my Jeep and entered it into a writing contest put on by The Dallas Morning News about "Lemon Cars".

I can't find the original story, which was pretty funny from what I was told, but the condensed version was a story about how the parking brake didn't work right and I detailed how the Jeep snuck up on me one day and tried to run me over when I got out to check a creek crossing before driving across (it included a bunch of details about the engine revving as it got closer, and how I had to wrestle it to the ground before I could jump into the driver's seat and stop it).  Another part was about how I had to make sure to carry extra underwear anytime I decided to drive it on the highway because it refused to stay in one lane and was always trying to swerve into oncoming traffic whenever I drove faster than 35 MPH .   I wish I still had the original entry to share, because it was much funnier.

A couple of months after submitting my entry, I got an email saying that after all the voting, I had won the contest and would be getting a $1000 check in the mail shortly (so technically, I can sorta say I'm either a paid writer, or a professional writer).   Even when my Jeep was gone, it was still looking out for me.

My Jeep taught me how to be a mechanic, how to dream about faraway places, helped make me debt free, made me some money as a "writer", and allowed me to be a part of the Jeep cult.  Would an Oldsmobile have done all that for me?

If everybody had a Jeep sometime during their life, I think the world would be a much better place (of course, since "real" Jeeps are getting rarer as time goes by, that's going to be harder and harder for that to happen).


  1. Never owned one but I've had the priviledge of driving one. The owner was too drunk to drive and I volunteered to drive him home in his own vehicle. Even though I was sober, I remember being scared to death I was going to get pulled over because I had such a hard time keeping it between the ditches much less in my own lane. It didn't help that the windshield wipers didn't work and it was raining and that the turn signal stalk had a bungee cord on it to keep it from sagging down and constantly signaling a right turn.

    1. The older Jeeps with leaf springs had the shackles in front of the springs on the front axle which didn't help the handling at all. Throw in worn spring bushings, worn shocks, bigger tires, a short wheelbase, and they could be a handful on the road.

      I think those notorious handling characteristics helped win me that $1000, humor has to have a little bit of truth in it to be funny, and everyone that had owned or driven a Jeep knew how close to the truth my story about needing to always carry an extra set of underwear was.

      Even with all that, I'd still like to have another Jeep to drive around the farm, up and down muddy roads, and to town once in a while. They're like a hot rod or a motorcycle, almost an acquired taste, and not for everyone or everyday.

    2. That was a nice looking Jeep.

      Like you, I have a Jeep, actually two, in my past, and in spite of myself, I've found myself looking for one recently, even though I know that they are a vehicle of very limited utility. Indeed both times I've owned Jeeps I've wondered why I kept them, and both times I regretted selling them. I really regret selling my CJ2A.

      My fondest memory of Jeeps are of M151A1s, however, probably the most dangerous Jeep ever made. But man, what a Jeep they were for the type of use they were given. It's a good thing, however, that the service hasn't seen fit to release the surplus ones.

      I recently did a blog entry on Jeeps myself. And this weekend I looked a couple of used ones.

  2. It seems like I remember that it used to be possible to find some of those surplus M151A1 for sale once in a while, although they weren't cheap.

    The way I remember it, when they were sold as surplus they had to be made inoperable before they could leave the government property. There was some creative definitions of inoperable, and people were carefully cutting them in half with a torch and then putting them back together with a little welding.

    So the definition of "inoperable" was redefined as "being run over by a tank and turned into scrap metal", and it became next to impossible to put all the mangled pieces back together.

    Even if it was possible to find a M151A1 for sale anymore, I'd bet that a dangerous vehicle that had been cut in half and then welded back together twenty or thirty years ago might be a heckuva handful to drive.

    The siren song of Jeeps can be awful hard to resist, I here it almost every time I see an older Jeep. Good luck on your Jeep hunt, however it turns out.

    1. That should be "...I "hear" it almost every time...", misspellings aren't a big deal, but it was bugging me to no end.

      I had Jeeps on the mind today while cutting some hay (it always seems like I have a lot of time to think about stuff when I'm cutting hay), and I remembered that at one time I had seriously thought about trying to find a used '97-'06 Jeep TJ to use around the farm.

      At the time, I was thinking that I could buy something like a plain Jane used TJ with a 4cyl. engine for about the same price as one of those UTV's that everyone seems to need around a farm (I'm not sure if that's true anymore).

      The Jeep TJ was supposed to be one of the best Jeeps built, with a coil spring suspension, solid axles front and back, a little wider track, and slightly longer wheelbase. You could actually drive it on the highway without crashing, and down a rough road without destroying it.