As a wheeler, or someone who partakes in off road activities with a motorized vehicle, your hobby is often defined by your surroundings. The goal of modern infrastructure and bureaucracy is to eliminate what you find appealing – near destitute areas with landscape in need of low range and contemplation – so you tend to post up in more rural facets of America than a mecca of hipsters and iPhones. Knoxville, Tennessee is borderline as it houses a large, state-supported university, old money, new money, and good old fashion rednecks all within a 20 mile radius. Plus, on its outskirts are a number of dedicated areas where other wheelers can gather and talk about off roading before driving off road, all without bothering ordinary people and their iPhones. It’s a nice place for gearheads who like to go slow rather than fast.
Nearly four months ago, I stopped living in Knoxville in an attempt to reside in Rochester, New York. In the time I’ve been here, I have determined that despite this city’s surprising niceness, it is not conducive to four-wheel-drive hooligan behavior. That is, not when there isn’t any snow on the ground. For sideways snow-covered heroism, my 2005 flat-six powered Subaru will be put to use – not so much the Jeep which, at the moment, is mostly bored by the little designated off road areas around Rochester. It’s time for more.
Thirty three days from now, I will attempt to drive my 1999 Jeep Cherokee the 11 hours from Rochester to Knoxville so I can wheel at Windrock ORV park for an entire weekend, and drive straight back.
Have I mentioned the rear wheel cylinder is leaking fluid? And that it needs tires? And I’d like to install a new radiator to wire up a set of aftermarket electric fans? And I’d like to remodel the interior? And I have a full-time job, a side job, a girlfriend and a cat? Oh, and that I plan to remove the Jeep’s automatic lunchbox lockers before I head back to Rochester – have I mentioned that yet?
Yesterday was the first day that it really sunk in that this is not a laissez faire endeavor – this could conceivable go very wrong. The Jeep, while reliable, is old and fairly modified. Wheeling is not a gentle sport either. It places loads of stress on critical components that are required for traveling 11 hours on highways. While I’m at Windrock, my base camp won’t be a nice hotel but rather a literal camp ground. I will have to sustain myself and my Jeep using whatever I can fit inside its compact quarters.
Before we move any further with prep, here are the basics of the Jeep as it sits now. Known as Ruby, or Hot Rod Apocalypse, it’s a 4.0 liter, four door sport with a factory AX15 manual transmission and NP231 transfer case with an Advanced Adapters slip yoke eliminator kit. Underneath are modified axles from a 1993 Cherokee – a high pinion Dana 30 front and 27 spline Chrysler 8.25 rear. The back axle can be viewed as a downgrade from the factory 29 spline, but with aftermarket Yukon 4.11 gears and a Spartan lunchbox locker, it’s an upgrade. The Dana 30 has a matching set of Yukon 4.11 gears and a Spartan lunchbox locker as well.
Suspension wise, the rig has approximately four inches of lift using various parts from various manufacturers. The front consists of 250 lb PAC JeepSpeed coils, 10″ travel Bilstein 5100 shocks, an Iron Rock Offroad double shear track bar, and Rubicon Express super flex adjustable upper and lower control arms. The rear is suspended using 3.5″ Rubicon Express super ride leaf springs, 10″ travel Bilstein 5100 shocks, and factory shackles. Brakes are factory disks up front and rebuilt drums in the back (albeit leaking at the moment). Steering is mostly factory with the exception of the tie rod which is a Moog replacement part for a V8 powered ZJ Grand Cherokee. Tires are 33×10.5×15 BFG KOs with Jeep Grizzly wheels and 1.5″ Alloy USA wheel spacers (these will be changed – stay tuned).
This is Ruby 3.0:
Because this trip will literally be an expedition, Ruby will begin her transformation from pure trail rig, to, well, expedition vehicle. This means a cleaner, more organized interior. It means sound deadening. It means a headliner instead of bare metal. It means ditching the clunky and highly unsophisticated automatic lunchbox lockers for expensive selectable lockers. It means compromising the hot rod look with a roof rack. It also means getting rid of the pretty factory fender flares and taking an angle grinder to the sheet metal.
Don’t think that these changes will make the rig soft, as no one said overlanding has to be buttoned up and proper. This is the start of the hot rod apocalypse after all and we’re getting ready to explore defunct America with style and noise.