Replacing a vehicle is always a strange and peril fraught adventure for all of us. Next to a house, an automotive conveyance is likely the next most expensive thing that we will purchase in our lives. New or used, what if we get a lemon; what if we discover we or our significant other don’t like it? What if …? Worry, Worry, Worry.
As regards a new vehicle, the automobile marketers have our number. There is a plethora of automobile commercials during the hours we are most likely to be home and in a receptive frame of mind. Family hours, Soap Opera early afternoons and Saturday mornings are popular with the minivans and the conservative SUV’s and Crossover vehicles. Sports shows and late night shows focus on testosterone specials; horsepower and rapid acceleration combined with low swoopy profiles, shiny surfaces and the lure of sex appeal (night scenes with neon lights or open highways with women in sparkle dresses and long blond hair: a stereotype of a stereotype). After all, an extravagantly splendid toy on wheels might so cause a potential partner to be so focused on the neon colored LED dashboard display that they fail to notice your receding hairline, beer keg instead of six pack and the absence of other attributes of blatant virile sensuality. Or for the ultimate macho image, lets try a Hemi powered pickup truck which while ditching the blond, there seems to be an implied sexual attraction to the image of a strong hard working (muscular and tanned) male in a truck.
But then there’s me. I do several things. I play the saxophone, I make photographs, and since the 80’s, I drive a Jeep. From a practical standpoint, Jeeps fill my needs. I want to get there regardless and I need stuff to be tough and last. I need it to hold my horns and photo gear if necessary. Given that I have bad feet, a ripped rotator cuff repair and a total hip replacement, shoveling and pushing are not an option, I need something that will get me through the snow (4wd) and a vehicle height that favors my hip for sitting, entrance and egress. Lastly, my personality isn’t such that I want to show you my “fancy thing”, I want you to respect my practicality. Jeeps fit me like a custom made suit and from the very instant I sat in my first one one, the die was cast.
My first was a Red Levi’s edition 1978 CJ7 That I bought used in 82 or so. (I can’t find a picture of that one.) It had been mildly mistreated by its previous owner and the abuse shortened its useful life a bit. The engine was fine but as time went by the body tub succumbed to rust at the spot weld seams. You could see through places you weren’t supposed to but the deal changer was that because of misuse, the steering box became compromised. When I finally realized that nearly a quarter turn between a left steering correction and a right steering correction was a bit extreme I took it to a repair facility and when the mechanic pulled the box he told me it “fell apart my hands”. I had him replace the steering box but from that point forward I know it was time for a change.
My second rig was a 1987 Wrangler (YJ); a “10,000 miles and a dent pre owned” ride that I bought in the fall of 1988. I rolled in with the Red Levi on a humbug. I saw the lovely yellow clean machine. The dealer sucked me right in. He gave me the keys and said “Take it home and think about it. Come back tomorrow and talk to me. I can finance anything.” I was hooked before I got a mile down the road.
The YJ which we dubbed “the Yellow Submarine”, was the most fun of all as it metamorphosed from a mild mannered street machine with hints of off road capabilities to a full fledged dune crawler that we used for yearly trips to Race Point Lighthouse; a location on Cape Cod, inaccessible except by 4 wheel drive vehicle. As a matter of fact, it’s a fact of life that jeeps are supposed to morph over time. Their design is that of a kit car which can be disassembled and reassembled with hoards of bolt on parts from many suppliers. (Quadratec is the biggest and most well known. Check out their website, Quadratec.com.) Each new part designed to improve the durability and off road performance over the stock vehicle. I added a 2.5 inch lift kit, heavy duty leaf springs and shocks, 30 inch MT tires and a bunch of other modifications to satisfy my urge for a distinctive and capable ride. Everything however has a tradeoff. The heavy duty suspension was stiff with lotsa road feel. Compare it to a logger’s truck without the logs.
Dotty has rheumatoid arthritis and as time passed, the grunts from her as we went over even the most miniscule of bumps told me that she was stoically suffering as we motored down the road. It got to be so bad that I would say “Bump” as I spotted potential road irregularities so that she could brace herself. Reluctantly I decided that the “Yellow Submarine” needed to be retired for something less physically stressful on her joints and my guilt. After 21 years of service I sold that vehicle to a young man who was pleased as punch to own it, and I moved on to a newer ride with a softer ride.
The next truck was a blue 1998 TJ which we named the “Blue Heron” as it had just about the same coloration as the big birds I love to photograph. Five speed manual transmission and the “bulletproof” I6 4.0 Liter made it fun to drive and my conscience rested much more easily. The Jeep straight six actually began life as a tractor motor. It made its maximum torque just above idle and would pull strongly right up to 5000 rpm. Why, with a little judicious clutch work you could pull away from a complete stop in third gear. Tales of engines with 300,000 miles or more were not uncommon.
Alas a few months ago it succumbed to the red cancer of all Jeeps eminent peril, rust on the frame. An upper control arm separated from the frame on the rear suspension; a failure which could eventually lead to a bad back end boogaloo at 70 mph. Serious business indeed. Oh, I could have saved it with an investment of about 2000 in frame cutting and welding but it began to seem like that wasn’t a wise expenditure since no amount of spending short of a “frame off restoration” would alter the fact that it was a 14 year old vehicle.
So, I started looking around for a possible replacement. I wanted a standard transmission, I6 bulletproof motor, good clean frame free of troublesome rust, 2005 or 2006 as 2006 was the last year for the good motor (beginning in 2007 a redesigned body was accompanied by an engine change to a V6 borrowed from a minivan), hard top and lastly, Dotty kept muttering the words “air conditioning” to me in both my waking and sleeping hours.
As a preliminary search, I suggested we hit the “Auto Mile” as I had long ago seen several good looking Jeeps in the many car lots along that stretch. Indeed, on the first run, we came across a likely candidate in the 4th lot we stopped in. It had most of my requirements with the exception of the hard top but I was willing to give it a try so after several minutes of the introductory blah, blah with the salesman, we went for a test drive. A test drive with Linda Blair at the wheel. We swung onto route 1 and accelerated briskly which is what you must do on that road as everyone thinks they are descendants of Mario Andretti. Things were fine until we got to about 47 mph at which point the front end began to shake violently nearly jerking the steering wheel out of my hands. Reducing speed gingerly till the gyrations subsided, we limped back to the showroom, our confidence dashed. While that Jeeps problem, a bad front axle, was repairable, it had earned a dark reputation in Dotty’s heart that not even a major miracle could hope to cure. It was time to look elsewhere.
As I was surfing the net I saw several attractive possibilities that almost met my needs although all were soft tops. There was an beautiful bright orange modified 2005 in Wayland but it had lots of miles. In Abington there was a silver 2005 but it too was a soft top and rather plain in comparison to the Wayland Jeep. And then, after four hours on the web, I found a likely candidate in Westport. This is where nostalgia and the internet coincided. Thanks to good friends, the same ones that recently gave us a great treat down south; I was introduced to Westport, MA years ago in a very positive manner. For several years they invited us to share a few restful vacation days with them in Westport. For me, Westport had good vibes and good vibes can be an important element in a buying experience. The Jeep looked good but frame inspection and rust patrol needs to be done in person. Still it had all my requests including the hard top. And so skipping several other prospects, I asked Dotty to drive me to Westport, a stones throw from HorseneckBeach but 55 miles from Boston.
Bottom line, it was a gem and with a month of finagling, my fourth Jeep is now in my possession. Brian at Horseneck Motors treated us extremely well and went the extra mile to make sure we were safe and happy with the whole transaction. Dotty drove the extra miles (110 each run), chauferring me back and forth to Westport five times and a couple of runs to Quincy where the old Jeep was sitting on its broken haunches, before all was complete. I owe them both a lot of credit for the success of this venture.
The shiny Black 2006 is 8 years newer than its predecessor, has a “good lookin frame” and promises to serve me well for quite a while. Its moniker is “Black Bird” and I’m compiling a CD of various versions of tunes by that name (the Beatles version, Coltrane playing the old standard, and anything else that comes to hand.) From the death diagnosis of the Blue Heron to the acquisition of it’s replacement, the process has taken over the last couple of months and impaired a lot of meaningful progress for my photo business but now that I’m back on the road…
Last but not least, the last few days of warm and humid weather may have convinced me that air conditioning is a worthwhile option as we get older. Shhhh… Don’t tell Dotty I said that.