Now and then…

My first Jeep was a 2001 TJ model in firecracker red with a “spice” soft top (that’s tan to normal people). It came standard with plastic zip-down front windows, a few squares of carpet in the foot well, a 5-speed manual transmission, and an in-line 4-cylinder engine turning 150 horsepower. The only “upgrade” on that long ago Jeep was the factory installed air conditioner. She was profoundly underpowered from the day she rolled off the assembly line. The top leaked around the top left corner of the windshield. Everything rattled and it rode like a cinderblock. From old logging roads, to open fields, to mud holes, to snow drifts, to the beaches north of Corolla Light that old Jeep never once failed to go through anything I pointed its nose towards. It would beat the hell out of you for the privilege, but it was hands down more fun to drive than any other vehicle I’ve ever owned.

In what some might consider a misguided effort to recapture my early 20s, I find myself back in a Wrangler – my way of indefinitely extending the life of a pickup truck running towards 110,000 miles on the odometer. That’s the justification I used in my own head anyway. The truth is I’ve wanted another Jeep almost since the day I sold the last one. There’s just something about that wind-burnt, sun burned, ride that gets under your skin if you’re the right kind of personality.

If you were never around one of the old models, you’d be hard pressed to realize that the JK’s are quite a leap ahead from their predecessors. Hard doors and power windows, a top that can be dropped in segments, almost twice the old horsepower, plastic molding covering what use to be bare metal interiors. It’s downright civilized by comparison.

Fortunately it still has the aerodynamics of a brick. On the right road the suspension will still rattle your fillings. The soft top is still noisy as hell and the whole contraption still does some kind of strange pitch and yaw movement when taking corners faster than 20 miles an hour. It’s almost exactly what I want in a vehicle that nominally traces its lineage back to 1941 and the war to save Europe.

The Jeep is a throwback – and I love it for that.

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