Jeepster: Gearhead Interrupted

It started with a first generation GMC S-15 Jimmy seen out of the back seat of the old Accord. Red over white, with a roof rack, and a swingaway spare tire with a metal gas can. The big flat sides and big windows, like a van kinda. But with big donut offroad tires and fender flares, not captain’s chairs and wood paneling. I liked it. My mom made fun of the name in some oblique way. My fascination with the Tonka Toy shape stuck, the unfortunate pubescent association of the General Motors truck and my mothers implied penis humor completely destroyed any youthful ideas of getting that as a first vehicle. So back to the original, neverending debate: DeLorean DMC-12 or The General Lee. Both timeless classics!

When I was first learning to drive my father was insistent that I learn how to drive “the right way” and I frequently had to perform wide ranging vehicular learning exercises. Memorizing the grid of streets miles in all directions and performing an oil change. Driving around a parking lot at high speed backwards, then launching forward and doing emergency stops until he was comfortable that I understood how the car handled. Understanding just happened to coincide with concerned shop keepers gather and pointing and trying to get license plate details. Ohhh memories. Anyhow, he took an opportunity with a neighbor’s 2nd Generation 4Runner, red again, and owned by pack a day smoking alcoholic idiots, so it was DESTROYED inside and probably outside too. I struggled to adapt to operating the clutch pedal and gear shift at the same time as I first experienced the dune-buggy like handling of a spring and shackle lifted four-bah-four with a three beer alignment, but it undeniably had… it. I binked a curb and it just went blorp and RAN UP IT. The hoonage potential was electrifying but the horrorshow handling and my own ineptitude with the clutch found me struggling and stalling it twice getting it back into the driveway. I walked away from it sweating and cursing, but the next time somebody asked if I could drive stick I said yes and I’ll be damned if I couldn’t. And now I knew that you could buy a truck and drive OVER stuff with it. LOGS AND SHIT. Epic knowledge for 16.

When I bought the baby truck, aka the Taliban truck, I originally dreamed of it as a 4×4 SAS project. Buy an old Datsun, do a leafer front and flip the rear axle plus Dana twin stick. Really, read the forums. It sounds great. Lots of finished rigs to look at. Tons of people have done an L20/L18 to a 4 speed and a Dana 20 with some offroad-shop fencepost driveshafts and had a ton of fun buggying, and it seemed like a laugh, especially when I was driving around in my 2007 Versa. “So easy” I thought, “I’ll just buy an axle and kinda line it up and weld on the eyelets square! But first lets get these weird old doors out of my attic and these old tires to the dump.” And there she sat. I helped a couple folks move with it, did a brake job and threw a Pertronix on it and my brother in law helped me put a weber carb on it. It ran like a top but eventually it needed wiring work and I bought a hot rod harness for it but never really… started on it. It seemed very hard now, to get all this petrified kingpin nonsense off and put a straight axle on the front.

I don’t even know how to weld really. So I’d have to learn that for starts.

And if I’m gonna rewire it I have to probably paint it. So I’d have to learn how to paint I guess. Red maybe.

And so I abandoned it. Well, I sold it, and dickered with the guy the way you’re supposed to when you’re done with a project car but I was glad to see it go. It was just too original and complete for me to be fucking around with and the only things I could do to it would lower its value. I was only gonna be bad to you girl, you weren’t meant for turbos and fender flares. Bosozuku dreams and stance-u? God I was gonna fuck it up.

And so I started finally looking for my red 4×4. It didn’t have to be red. But it had to be 4×4, automatic because I’ve clutched and shifted my way to my last back spasm, with room for four people or two and dogs or cargo. And it had to be small, I wouldn’t have any GMC Yukon class barge shitting on my driveway forever and since Chevy killed the Colorado that crosses off any modern GMs. I’ve had Fords and they’re fine but the Escape is a Hairdresser McSoccermom, and just as I mentioned re: Yukons, I don’t do fatties so we can write off the whole Explorer-Plus range. Dodge Nitro just… yeah lets just not talk about the N-word or the Durango for that matter. The Grand Cherokee is a porker that has only gotten uglier and more horrible with each passing year, the Liberty is the middle-manager but swears he’s gonna start camping someday counterpart to the Escape. So Daimler Benz Chrysler Renault whatever the fuck they are now, Pentastar Financial’s car branch has nothing to offer either.

So we’re out of modern “domestic”, patriotic and American economy supporting vehicles to purchase. On to the furreners and the old shit. Honda still makes a great minivan, even when they call it an SUV so no thank you to anything that’s not an Isuzu rebrand. While we’re on the topic of Isuzu – whatever they have now is huge and whatever they had back in the day was a little too rough and ready for me in the trim department. I wouldn’t turn down an old Trooper/TII in good shape but gooood luck finding that y’all. A Mercedes Benz G wagen? Hot. Like baller hot but what the fuck am I? A baller? And it will ALWAYS COST YOU MERCEDES MONEY PLUS A 40% MARK UP FOR BEING WEIRD TO FIX. A Subaru of any height or vintage won’t ever really be a 4×4, even though I hear they’re just a killer car. I may still own one of these one day, I love me a good boxer motor. Daihatsu Rocky? I mean of course I’d drive it, it looks like a GI Joe toy but when’s the last time you saw one of those that wasn’t either ridden to shit or about to be?

Unmolested first gen S-15 GMC Jimmies like I saw as a kid (and their GM Partner Platform vehicles) just don’t seem to exist anymore. I don’t know if the rust worm ate them, they started giving away Rancho lift kits with the purchase of a case of Skoal, or they all just got driven till they smoked and traded in during cash for clunkers but it seems like that first generation S-10 Blazer isn’t as plentiful as its counterparts in the SUV world. And that 4.3 v6 has a not great rep everywhere for like… everything. And the 700r4, at least back in the day, had a horrible rep when pushed. Nobody bought them with an iron duke 2.5 and a slushbox. The second gen is ugly as balls so big old mehquake on the classic GM options. Plus I just have a hate on for the General, second rate when new, the cars also seem to disintegrate in value faster than most of their peers. Bleh.

Ford Bronco is too big except for that super early 66 style. Ugh so hot, but too expensive. Again, who am I? The Bronco II has potential, the windows on the back are like… huge. They wrap onto the top of the thing like a greenhouse. But it apparently also rolls over onto its back like a dog that wants belly rubs and I like staying upright most of the time when driving so I guess Ford’s dead to me now too.

An old friend had a Jeep Cherokee XJ, I can’t remember if it was a two or four door, but it was definitely fun to drive. I did the ball joints and tie rods on it for him because he had some mysterious shake at speed (I now know it was probably the track rod bushing, which I didn’t check/know to check). He paid me half the cost of the 20 ton Harbor Freight press I bought to do the job, which sits 10 feet from me today, dozens of ball joints and harmonic balancer seal savers later, one of the least frequently used but undeniably lifesaving when pressed to service (do you see what I did there do you see it) tools in my shop. I remember the job being startlingly easy for a then-contemporary car. Working on my folks’s Honda was a comparative nightmare of hoses and wires, and every other new car seemed to have more crap to take off to get to normal service items. And it wasn’t like my old cars either, the Benzes and Opels and Corvairs and the like – they were simple but also not really built for fleet service. They were cars. This was more like doing a service on a tractor, it kinda WANTED you to be able to take it apart with regular tools. Like that was a design goal. I dug that a lot. In fact I ended up doing more of the front end than I originally told him I could because it was just so easy to get at. We got it aligned up the road and took it out for a spin and declared any shakes solved (it wasn’t, I don’t think, and he went on to replace other stuff, transmission mounts and motor mounts and the like), but his little white truck left an impression for sure. Dre sure seemed to like it too.

So I started shopping for my Jeep.

Next problem (and blog post): Uhhh the turn signals won’t cancel after you turn. We’ll talk about trying to navigate the parts catalog and car company politics.

2 thoughts on “Jeepster: Gearhead Interrupted

  1. My buddy just bought a low mileage, stripped-down early 90s, former fleet Cherokee. Well-maintained too, w/ records. Perfect car to “tweak” I’d think.

  2. Mine is the Country with all the power and options. It’s not been loved but neither has it been offroaded that I can see. I’m actually not thinking of doing much to it, aside from regular maintenance and a few operationals like fixing the rear passenger window motor and drivers door speaker. It is missing the deluxe digital compass rear view mirror console thing, which I might try to find in a jy, along with the center console latch assembly. But remarkably complete for a two owner car. I’m a little worried it doesn’t have a thermostat in it but that’s fixable.

    It’s great to tweak and play with, but I kinda want to keep it as stock as possible right now, with a little paint work and elbow grease it has time capsule potential.

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