February 23, 2011

Jeeps are built, not bought – making an 85% truck

Grrr.... stuck again. Something is going to have to be done.
The man videoing trucks attempting to scramble from a narrow, loose trail and over a near vertical bank turns out to be one of four-wheeling’s mileage millionaires.  He’s been on tracks and trails for four decades and knows a good truck when he sees one. Right now, he’s filming an off-road version of slapstick comedy. I’ve been in the little queue watching well set-up, body-lifted and generously-tyred trucks fighting the bank, but despite God knows how much torque and engaged twin lockers, a scorecard would show that the bank is winning. So what chance does my shiny little lifestyle truck have with its 32s and … hey, quite a bit.  Lockers in and moving at not much beyond idle, I’m up and over first go. I park the two-door Rubicon and walk to where the man is videoing. “You need one more modification,” he says after the last truck has scrambled through. Oh dear, bigger lift, wider tyres, a better driver? “You need to make it noisier, you made it look far too easy.”

The comment has stayed with me, because it sums up perfectly what I’d hoped to do when I bought the silver 2010 Wrangler almost a year earlier – turn it into the ideal 85 percent club truck. It’s been my observation over the years that a lot of club trucks are over-modified and over-equipped. I know this from experience because I used to have such a vehicle. My plan in changing from a modified Defender 90 to its direct American rival was to make it capable of tackling 85 per cent of club runs, the ones that that start where the shiney runs stop. If someone asks if I want to do Thompsons in the morning and Waitawheta in the afternoon, I’ll thank them and say no; been there and spent the money repairing that.
Less might well be more because several challenging trips have now proved my theory about the 85 percent truck. Indeed, it might even be a 90 percenter – but only after discovering the hard way that an original “minimalist” build plan was seriously flawed. This article is about a Jeep, but the lessons I’ve learnt are widely applicable. If you’re keen to build a truck for club runs but don’t want a winch challenge machine, yet don’t want to look like a dork by bellying-out on the first mound, join me in the passenger’s seat as we take the JK Wrangler from “oh-oh” to “Go”.
A good start
The Rubicon comes standard with good stuff, including electrically activated front and rear lockers, a front swaybar disconnect and killer low-gear ratios. In low first, this petrol automatic saunters down steep banks as slowly as my old manual diesel Defender 90! I figured, therefore, that the Jeep would only need a few mods to make it trail ready.
Mopar skidplate transferred
perfectly to the ARB bumper.
These included proper recovery points, mud tyres only a size larger than the stock all-terrains, a wired-in ARB compressor to re-inflate tyres, a good nose skidplate and decent rocksliders to replace the strong but under-endowed ones standard on Rubicon.
Mopar recovery points came and went.
These, plus the usual off-road bric-a-brac such as fire extinguisher, spade, ropes and shackles, and I’d be ready to rock. I overlooked that the Wrangler had nowhere to hi-lift from, rationalising that the toolkit scissors jack was well built and relatively long reaching.
It’s almost impossible to properly fit the familiar rated recovery hooks to the front of a JK Wrangler with a standard bumper, so I imported a set of Mopar rated hooks with integral rings that bolt to the front of each longitudinal chassis member, directly behind the plastic bumper. I also bought in a Mopar front skidplate and a set of Hanson sliders. No relation of mine, Hanson Offroad products are of the highest quality. I’m a believer in sill protection, especially protection that sticks out to help save the bodywork. Many sliders do this, but most are tubular, with openings just waiting to catch a stick or rogue root between the bar and bodywork. The Hansons are solid with a beautifully bevelled undersurface and recessed steps to help getting in and out. The sliders will rarely face rocks, but they’ve already warded off other track nasties.
But then …
Years of owning a modified Defender with truly generous clearances had put me off guard when it came to estimating how much ground clearance the Jeep didn’t have.  Clearance of 240mm at the diff heads has not been a problem. But the number of times I was getting hung-up elsewhere, and the number of times the standard front and rear bumpers were getting whacked or dug into something, told me my 85 percent goal was way off. Had the man with the video camera been watching then, he’d have suggested a longer list of mods, possibly with a sneer.

Continued in the next posting.

It was all the Land Rover's fault for having so much clearance.


  1. Nobody wants an 85% truck mate. Its either all or nothing and youve got nothing.

  2. Looks pretty girly to me.