Ode to the XJ

DSC_0124I have a love/hate relationship with the Jeep – well, with all vehicles in general. We own a few, you could call us car poor, but I think of us more as car rich. We have interesting vehicles with interesting lives.

There is the Volvo – not the yuppie kind, the house kind, we refer to it as the Taj Mahauler – it’s a Volvo 770 with a Cummins 500hp engine, it travels around the country acting as our home, the condo and the garage.

We have a 2005 Mini Cooper S that I ordered brand new 10+ years ago, Miss Sally resides in Idaho with a daughter because we don’t have a place to carry her.

We have a 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser, a big blue tub that is like riding in a fish tank, there are so many windows, Lola resides in Utah with a son because we don’t have a place to carry her (do you see the theme here?)

And we have the 1992 XJ. No name on this one, because she fills so many roles.

You see, I’ve always been of the belief that cars have a singular purpose, to move you from one place to another. You get in, you turn the key, you go from point A to point B. It wasn’t until the XJ appeared in my life that I recognized that vehicles have so many more uses. In the case of the XJ, a typical week looks like this:
Monday: Load in to the garage and tie down (this is where the Volvo steps in)
Tuesday: Arrive at destination, emerge from garage and take a quick look around; Load dirty laundry and head to nearest town; load clean laundry and find a grocery store – new title of Grocery Getter established; Back to event site with my people, take another look around
Wednesday +: Loaded with stakes, bases, cones and all manner of other materials – back breaking work for the next few days – new title of Motorized Wheelbarrow engaged
Saturday: Competition day – lots of opportunity to use my Warn Winch and my JM Rigging Recovery Rope – I am loaded with competitors and raced to the wreck, over and over again – today’s title is Recovery Rig
Sunday: Clean up day – reloaded with expended Maxxis tape, stakes, cones, etc.
Monday: Load in to garage and tie down – REPEAT

My XJ has so many other roles besides point A to point B, I sometimes don’t recognize all we put her through.

She’s in the shop again this week, not because she’s broken, but because she needs an upgrade, today it’s steering. She’s quite the little harlot, she sleeps overnight in strange shops on a regular basis. She has parts from all the best places, gifts to her to keep her in tip top shape, almost as an escort accepts gifts from the men she pleases. My little XJ gets around.

She started with humble beginnings, a 1992 Jeep Cherokee, originally white in color – we think. Next stop was Off Again Offroad, a shop in Farmington, New Mexico owned by the late, Harold Off. Harold built our girl from the ground up. Steve Nantz at Moab 4×4 Outpost added the signature red bumpers, we bought her in this condition from Grandpa, of Grandpa’s Garage when the 98 Grand we were driving decided she’d had enough.

The first addition were Brown Dog Motor Mounts, installed by Mark Munson at Munson’s Rod Ship in Vernon, Texas when we added rocksliders. Next overnight was Brian and Levi Shirley’s shop in Dodge City, Kansas for some frame stiffeners from Ruffstuff. A quick stop at Blue Torch Fab in Birmingham, Alabama added a custom grill. Then came a month at Fly-N-Hi Offroad in Phoenix, Arizona – a major upgrade was in order, Curry Axles, ARB lockers, an Atlas from Advance Adapter. Crown Automotive sent brakes and boomerang shackles. Parts Mike built the brake assemblies and hubs. The rear springs came from BDS Suspension. Fox Shox were installed, Spidertrax sent the spacers and wheel adapters. Artec provided the battery holders for the dual Optima batteries. Ron Davis fabbed a custom radiator, Sparks Pro Racing build a purple transmission for her.

Externally she got some upgrades too, we won’t mention the green door, but KC Hilites provided lights; American Rock Rods, the hood vents; Roggy Enterprises fabbed the rear corner protection and the skid plate. One Works took care of the roof rack mounts and tire rack. She has Raceline Wheels and Maxxis Tires, a Lowrance from PCI, a Stashkan. The Rock Hard roll cage is the newest addition. The interior isn’t pretty, neither is the exterior but she is rock solid.

The latest additions have been a long-arm kit from Clayton Offroad, a new motor and the installation of a Genright gas tank at FatBoyz Motorsports in Colorado Springs. New ring and pinion from NitroGear (after a little mishap on I-70) and now Rockware is adding the right steering. It may not seem like I appreciate all of these companies and people, but I do, so much.

They make it so I can treat the XJ like all other vehicles, I get in and turn the key and she goes, from Point A to Point B, just like she’s supposed to, it’s not my fault that there is usually a rock or two somewhere between those points.

My ode today is because I’m a little stressed…everything takes longer than I think it should, but having never turned a wrench on this vehicle, what would I know?  Hell, I rarely even put gas in her, I’m hardly at liberty to say what she needs.  So to all of you with a little engine that can…appreciate her and the ease she brings to all the other days of your life, even if she’s not available to you today.




Day 353 – I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.

After over three years together, Rich finally took me wheeling…with me behind the wheel.  We have a 1992 XJ that is pretty well built, we picked it up last April at Easter Jeep Safari from Danny when our Grand Cherokee had had enough.  It was a necessity and a quick purchase.  We needed something that could be used as a motorized wheelbarrow and also as a grocery getter.  The XJ is perfect for that, it has a Detroit in the back and an ARB in the front, new 33” Pro Comps and some gorgeous black wheels (who knew I would ever be able to speak this language?)

The XJ

We are still packing up from the race last Saturday and had some extra time, Rich suggested a ride in the Jeep, so we could “inspect” the race course.  I’m pretty sure he and Josh managed to do that the day before, but I was game, especially when he said I could drive.  Rather than drop me off the start line, we entered at the pit road crossing and drove back to the start/finish line, around the course – all 4.89 miles of it.  As we started, Rich let me do things on my own, and then made suggestions, I corrected pretty quickly.  I’ve never really driven a four wheel drive, but I have certainly been in the car for lots of wheeling experiences.  Once he saw what I could do, he just coached me where he thought I needed it, on the climbs and the drops in particular, told me where to line up my tires, what gear I should be in.  The most important thing he told me is that I should be driving with my eyes 30 yards up the trail so I knew what was coming up.  I did all the climbs ok, went down one of the drops pretty hard and slammed the bumper, but the rest I did ok.  He’s a great coach.

Wheeling is part of our life together, just a few months after we had gotten together, Rich took me to Baja.  It was just a quick trip, we didn’t even stay for the race, just Contingency at the Baja 500.  We drove down through Tecate and headed to San Felipe for the first night.  I was introduced to the best shrimp tacos on the planet that evening at a little place called Adriana’s on the Malecon.  The next day we drove up to Mike’s Sky Ranch, it’s a bit of a gnarly trail going up, but just bumpy mostly.  We ate the traditional steak dinner with tortillas and drank the homemade tequila at the bar before retiring to our tiny room when the generator was turned off at ten.  The next morning after breakfast we headed out the back side of Mike’s towards Ensenada.  The back side is a much hairier version of the in road.  I kicked back in my seat with my foot on the dash and watched Rich drive, as I looked out over the cliff I couldn’t help thinking, “I wonder how long it takes them to find the bodies?”  But not a word did I say.  We finally were off the cliff face and down through a rock waterfall when he stopped.  He looked at me expectantly and I looked him in the eye and asked, “So, did I pass?”


“Did I pass?  I know that was a test, did I pass?”

He busted up laughing, “Yeah, you passed.”

I knew I had, I just wanted him to know I knew it was a test.  Next time we are at Mike’s I wonder if he will let me drive the cliff face, I’m betting not, he probably knows how long it takes to find the bodies.