Preparing a Jeep for 1,000 miles of desert
The first year of the Rebelle Rally was 2016, and Emily Miller of Rod Hall Racing
had put together an all-women’s off-road rally lasting seven days and covering more than 1,000 miles of desert roads. The competition would not be for speed, but for navigational accuracy using only a map and compass—no GPS allowed. I was asked to prep some Jeeps for that first Rebelle Rally and decided to compete as well, and I have ever since. Having completed our third year in the rally, we have fine-tuned an approach to preparing a Jeep for such an endeavor.
Since the tires are what actually touch the ground, we start there and work our way up to the steering and suspension components. We inspect and tighten all of our control arm mounts, tie-rod ends, ball joints, steering columns, track bar mounts—anything that attaches the frame to the suspension and steering—to proper torque specifications. Shocks and springs are next, and anything that looks questionable gets replaced. Air filters (don’t forget cabin air filters), oil filters, differential fluid, transmission fluid, and transfer case fluid are all checked and cleaned, topped off, or replaced.
Finally, we look at what additional equipment will be needed for self-sufficiency. On the Rebelle Rally, teams can have mechanical or recovery assistance with the push of a button, but they pay for it in penalties, so it’s good to be as self-sufficient as possible. Recovery devices such as traction boards, kinetic rope, and appropriate screw-pin bow shackles and soft shackles are a musthave. The factory Wrangler jack can be used to lift the axle high enough to change
a flat or get the vehicle unstuck from many high-centered situations. We don’t provide Hi-Lift jacks, but we recommend that participants carry one if they know how to use it properly and safely. The same goes for winches.
Beyond the minimum vehicle basics, you should think about what specific spare parts might be needed for your rig, as well as how to change them out in the field when you’re tired and hungry, at night, in the rain. Truly, the most difficult challenge of any long-distance trek like the Rebelle Rally is overcoming the mental and physical fatigue to make smart navigation and driving decisions for 10 hours a day, many days in a row.
Raynham, Massachusetts, is home to Marc Herbert and his 1987 Jeep Comanche Chief. He swapped in a 1996 4.0L H.O. engine, and it has the Aisin-Warner AW4 automatic transmission and an NP231 transfer case with the Tom Wood’s Super Duty rear yoke eliminator conversion. He runs 4.56 gears and ARB Air Lockers front and rear, and he has over 7 inches of overall lift with a combination of spring-over rear and 4.5-inch springs up front. This helps him easily clear the 35-inch BFG MT tires. Marc tells us he still has a few tweaks to make here and there.
Past and Present
Joe Korpiewski from South Dakota shared both of his Jeeps with us. His vintage 1947 CJ-2A is a full frame-off restoration with the addition of a pair of vintage seatbelts from a 1958 flying boat. He also sent in his daily driver 2006 LJ that he has cruised from Florida to Alaska and many places in between. His LJ is outfitted with a 2.5-inch lift and 33-inch BFG tires.
Summer Couture from Marrero, Louisiana, sent in her 2017 Jeep JKU named “Teeter.” This is her daily driver and adventure vehicle. Teeter is equipped with a 3.5-inch Rubicon Express lift, Bilstein 5100 shocks, 5.13 gears, an Eaton ELocker in the rear, an Aussie locker in the front, and Ten Factory chromoly axleshafts.
East Coast LJ
Mark Stout from New Hampshire gave us limited information on his 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. It’s the Sahara edition, and he tells us it is number 336 of 1000 and only has 37,000 miles on it. Mark added a 4-inch Rough Country X-Series lift, Smittybilt front bumper, Smittybilt X20 winch, KC Gravity Pro lights, Adams driveshafts, and 33x12.50x15 Goodyear MT/R tires.
Squeaks—It’s a JeepThing
Marco Sierra didn’t tell us what part of the world he and his Jeep known as “Squeaks” call home, but he did give us the lowdown on his build. Marco has owned the 2001 TJ for more than 14 years. Under the hood is a mostly stock 4.0L backed by a five-speed manual transmission and a 4-speed Atlas transfer case. A pair of Dana 44 axles with ARB Air Lockers and 4.56 gears have been beefed up with chromoly shafts. The suspension is a Rock Krawler X Factor 3.5-inch long-arm kit with a 5-inch rear stretch and Fox remote-reservoir shocks. Squeaks runs 35x12.50R15 BFG KM2 tires on Raceline beadlocks.
Traverse City, Michigan, resident Terry Biglin submitted his 2004 Jeep TJ. He bought the Jeep in 2005 and began modifying it right away. Terry pieced together a 4-inch suspension he calls a “Frankenstein” lift to clear the 33-inch tires, and he told us the rear axle is a Super 35 with a Detroit Locker and the front 30 sports a Truetrac. It has a custom front bumper with a VR8000 winch. He frequents Drummond Island in Michigan and attended the 2017 Jeep Jamboree there.
Preston Rhea from Auburn, California, responded to our Instagram call to action for Jeep Shots. He sent in his 1984 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler he rescued from a local shop where it had been sitting for many years. He has done a lot of work to get it back on the road. With a 1995 EFI 4.0L it is California smog-legal. It sports a T5 transmission and a stock Dana 300 transfer case. The Dana 30 front has 4.88 gears and a Spartan locker, and the AMC 20 rear has one-piece axleshafts and a Spartan locker. Old Man Emu springs with shackle conversions on all four corners make up the suspensions mods.
Jeepers for Life
Bill and Jan Finkel from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, sent in their 2015 Wrangler JKU Rubicon. They have been wheeling for 40 years on trails in Colorado and around the country. They were with Jp Magazine on the 2017 Dirt ’N Drive event and were chosen for 2018, but unfortunately couldn’t attend. “Red Dog” is equipped with a
BDS lift, RockHard bumpers, and rides on Goodyear MT/R tires.
1. What will your Jeep have to endure for 1,000 miles of desert? 2. How old are your tires?The date is the last four digits, “1517” in this case, which means this tire was produced in the fifteenth week of the year 2017. In our dry environment, and in our commercial world, we don’t like to see a tire that is more than 3 years old. 3. Extra front lower control arm skidplates are cheap and easy insurance against unforgiving desert rocks. 4. Don’t just look at all of your bolts; torque them with a wrench. Sometimes things don’t appear loose, but a mere quarterturn can make a difference. Also, have a friend turn the steering wheel back and forth while you observe the bushing movement on track bars, control arms, and all steering components.5. Air filter, cabin air filter, and oil filters should be clean to start a long trip. We often shake or blow out air filters mid-trip, too. 6. This road doesn’t look that tough, but drive “washboard” like this for 30 miles and then carefully feel your shocks. The constant vibration is friction that can cook weak shocks to death. Make sure your shocks are large enough capacity for your Jeep, and that they are in good shape before you leave. 7. These are the basic items that we stock every Rebelle Rally Jeep with, and this is part of a larger kit that goes in every guide Jeep.8. Traction boards such as these Maxtrax are invaluable in any soft surface—sand, mud, snow, or cinders. Make sure you have at least one traction board.