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OF JEE JEEP: 75 YEARS
To celebrate 75 years of Jeep, we wanted to further understand that deep rooted culture and take part in a typical day in the life of a Jeep owner. And what better way to do that then take the 75th anniversary Wrangler Unlimited Sahara edition – one of eight special commemorative models released this year – on a trail run.
As we gathered at Dewdney Mountain located in east-central Ontario's Peterborough County in Buckhorn, the special 75th unit was the star attraction: dressed in a military colour called Sarge green, a rare four-door with a soft-top. It stood out from the crowd of Rubicons, not just for its G.I. Joe colour, but for its bronze-accented seven slot grille and headlamp inserts, steel bumpers, bronze tow hooks in the front and rear, 18-inch bronze aluminum wheels, Rubicon rock rails and bronze badging that featured a vintage illustration with the year 1941 on the inside and out.
“I would like to get a picture of that one,” said Raymond Prince, President of the London & Area Jeep Owners club, who came along this trail run.
The enthusiasm shown by the Jeep owners was contagious. They had smiles plastered all over their faces, licking their chops at seeing how this special edition would fare. The bigger the rock; the more steep the incline; the muddier the situation. That all equates to a great day, and this one was going to fall in that category.
“I'm glad we set this up, as it got me to hit the trail,” says Chad Kalbfleisch, our lead tour guide from Jeepoutfitters. ca before we head into the woods.
Kalbfleisch tries to hit the trails whenever an opportunity arises, and for him, it never gets dull. For some, it's an opportunity to escape for a few hours from their lives; for others, a day to hang out, have fun and challenge what you and your machine can do. Owning a Jeep is not like a regular car – it's a sport. An activity that brings family and friends together, regardless of what Jeep you own. There's no clique, no showing off.
“If I feel like a challenge that day, I will go for it,” adds Kalbfleisch. “Owning a Jeep is all about confidence and I know there's always someone watching my back. It's a team sport.”
It's that team sport mentality that has helped Jeep endure through rough patches in its history, due to various ownership changes and economic downturns. Currently, Jeep is nestled into the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles fold as of 1987, and even that arrangement hasn't been without its own ownership changes.
After learning about Jeep culture through word of mouth, it was time to hit the trails and see it first hand. I've been off-roading before, but this day would be more difficult as my Wrangler Unlimited is fitted with a six-speed manual gearshift – a more challenging balancing act when climbing hills and re-adjusting up large rocks.
The good news for that quandary is 4-LO. It becomes my saviour in this battle with nature, similar to electronic stability control in a car. On more flat ground and in first gear, it almost becomes impossible to stall, even after pushing down hard on the brakes. The Wrangler continued to crawl, along with an uptick in my confidence level.
We bypass trails that have been named through word of mouth: the wall, the crack, elephants bay and eagle rock. At first, they all give rise to doubt, but the Wrangler Unlimited proves timeand-time again how impressive it is. Everything goes smoothly until we hit an uphill path that's filled with unusually shaped rocks of all sizes. It's these situations where you feel the need to focus ahead, but you must be cognizant of everything that surrounds you. As Kalbfleisch puts it, “Always be looking 360-degrees.” And he's right. I had my eyes focused on the rocks of horror ahead and almost clipped a tree to my right. Luckily, we work in packs and someone points the tree out well ahead of an unnecessary nightmare.
Little did I know, the nightmare would come from something else, and it wasn't the two sharp-edged rocks, but another one that was conveniently placed in an awkward position directly in front of me. I crawled on top of the rock, but the Wrangler had trouble clearing
it. Perhaps, it was me being late on the clutch, but it forced me to re-adjust my position. After a little reversing action, followed by a throttle push forward, the rock showed its stubborn nature and wouldn't let me pass.
It took a few tries, but I finally made it up with assistance from my band of brothers. It's that guidance and watching out for each other that brings the whole experience together. Kalbfleisch's encouragement kept me level headed and on point. No matter your off-road experience level, these situations occur all the time, and it even happened to some of the more experienced owners on this day.
The key thing I absorbed was the exceptional capability of the Wrangler, far greater than one would think, and definitely superior to my newbie off-roading skills. It's natural to feel all sorts of noises, whether they're cracks from cracked branches, scrapes from large rock surfaces or shrieking coils compressing and axles extending – it's all part of off-roading. Just take a deep breath and assess the situation before doing anything. With more practice, these manoeuvres will be like clockwork, helping you understand what you can and cannot do.
This trail run with the Jeep Outfitters folks showed me the strong spirit of Jeep culture and why this brand has lasted for 75 years. No doubt, some consumers may look at the Jeep brand's relatively poor reliability record in various surveys and high fuel consumption figures (especially for the dated Wrangler) and wonder whether its intangibles outweigh these factors, though Jeep's soaring sales figures suggest they do for many buyers.
In the end, the Jeep appeal is all about a sense of adventure, not about competition or who can achieve the riskiest stunt – it's about going at your own pace, gaining confidence in your abilities and making friendships along the way.
As the saying in the Jeep community goes, “Slow as possible. Fast as necessary.”