So I did it. I can now cross of my list that I have wheeled a basically stock flat fender in Wheeler’s Paradise, Off-Roading Mecca if you will. Not only did I wheel some of the most fun trails in my Flattie, but I did it in the snow and cold. Go me and the Colonel.
I have always wanted to “Man-Up” and wheel something cool, something old school off-road. It is easy for us modern day wheelers to hide behind excess horsepower, long travel suspensions, climate control, ultra low gearing, and protection from the elements – too easy.
With all of the excellent modern machinery I am privileged to test out in the course of this job, I felt that I was getting a little soft and needed a re-education with what it was like to experience wheeling without doors, radios, comfortable seats, and horsepower. I wanted to get back to basics.
And when I say basics I mean getting back to the roots of off-roading (well, maybe not quite as far back as horseback riding). No power steering. No power brakes. No power period – in this era of wheeling, it is gearing that is your friend. Just you and your machine against the trail and against elements. Yes, that’s right, did I mention it was snowing the first couple of days of Easter Jeep Safari? Thank God for down jackets, or I would probably still be thawing out.
Most of the week the morning air was a brisk 34 degrees or so, but that didn’t stop Publisher VonSeggern from hopping in and doing Hell’s Revenge with me in the snow during Warn’s trail ride or Brubaker from braving the elements once. However, it did stop them from joining me twice, oh well, going in I knew this would be my mission, most likely accomplished solo. And how can I blame anyone for that?
As for the Colonel, other than carb problems (wouldn’t idle), it performed exceptional with no breakage or breakdowns on the trail. Although, I do have to admit to having 4WOR’s Flattie guru and Editor, Rick Pewe, on cellular speed dial, and hey Rick, here is my public thank you for all of the help getting the carb cleaned out and where to bang on it with my screwdriver to get it running again. It is a lost art to my generation.
Rick also brought out an MB (or two), and we raced our Flat Fenders in the dunes. I must add that even with taller gearing (4.88 vs. 5.38), Rick beat me handily in the sand, to which I offer up my token explanation of my 400 or so extra pounds (full Powertank, lockers, Hi-Lift, Warn 8274-50, overdrive, etc.) on the Colonel, that and my painted solid steel panels are much heavier than the oxidation-lightened Jeep Rick was piloting. Despite the ugly defeat in front of Jeep executive and engineers, that may have been the highlight of my entire trip. Thanks again Rick and I challenge you to a rematch, but I won’t be packing 60hp next time.
During the course of the week I put about 150-miles on the Colonel, and it was everything thing I had hoped it would be and more. The experience even made me appreciate the modern amenities I am so used to, giving me a new perspective on the importance of skill and technique required in a vintage rig. Another cool part of driving the Willys around town was all of the good will from other Jeepers. Waves, thumbs up, compliments, and countless questions – even after holding people to 45mph on the highway, SORRY! It was, as Brubaker would say, getting more attention than riding a Zebra bareback in your skivvies. It was nice to see folks filter out of the Jeep display just to check out the Colonel up close. Maybe next year we’ll get it IN the Jeep display.
A few things, like the 11-inch front brake conversion we did a day before I left (we ran out of time for the rear), were worth their weight in gold on the slick rock, and other things became apparent – my Willys just barely has enough power for steep hill climbs, such as those found on Hell’s Revenge with nothing in reserve. So either a carb update or some other power improvements will be on the short list for what’s next. Also, in certain situations where both lockers were engaged and the Willys was up against an obstacle, Low Range First was just not enough without a violent bump to get me over, even with brand new BFG M/Ts aired down to 10psi. Fortunately the folks at Terra Mfg. make a deeper Spicer/Dana 18 low range gear set that will eventually find its way in to the Colonel.
Lastly, none of this would have been possible without the help of Mel Wade at Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, Ca. Without Mel’s three week wrenchfest on the Colonel, I wouldn’t have had nearly the fun or benefited from the increased capability. Check Mel’s site out at www.offroadevolution.com.
So that’s the short version of Easter Jeep Safari in a Flat Fender, look for some more stuff in upcoming issues of Four Wheeler. Thanks to everyone for your compliments on the Willys, I appreciated every one.
--Sean P. Holman
Tech Editor – Four Wheeler Magazine