This feature is the first of a two-part segment, the objective of which is to present a solid argument for both sides: perceived Jeep purists vs modern mall crawlers. In the end, there’s no real winner or loser – just a ton of Wranglers off the leash.
A Battle of Capability & Creature Comforts
It’s a battle of mindsets, as loyalists from both the Jeep purist and futurist camps go head-to-head about what it means to be a Jeeper. And the biggest winners in all this discussion are those driving the rigs and the professional shops willing to capitalize on the payday.
Surely readers are familiar with the My Jeep Story campaign by now. You know, the one that touts all walks of life entering the Jeep-wave community in record numbers. And then said-enthusiasts proceed to document their change-of-life experiences from behind the wheel of an iconic platform. Well, if Aaron Brown, owner of The Garage Shop in Catawba, North Carolina, had a highly-publicized story it would look nothing like a Jeep. But it would symbolize every aspect of what it means to be a purist at heart.
Respected writer for The SHOP Magazine, Anthony Bowe, introduced readers to this interesting fellow in the January 2017 issue. And understandably his story resonated with many old-schoolers across the industry. Exploring off road is a testament to both the vehicle at hand as well as the driver at work. And both are eager to display trophy mud like an Olympic gold medal.
Referring to his 2015 SEMA Show attendance, “We were watching people push these catalog Jeeps and trucks wrapped in plastic with white gloves. So many shiny things that will never see dirt; it’s almost overkill for the average guy. I didn’t think this was what SEMA was intended to be about. And I wanted to see if we could reel it in,” explained Brown.
Epic SEMA Build
Bowe presented an interesting scenario where Brown felt compelled to “talk the talk” and then “walk the walk.” So he partnered with his pal Ed Goff, owner of Goff Metal Fab in Falls, Idaho. Together, they customized a 1970 Toyota FJ-40 Land Cruiser and co-piloted a trip to the 2016 SEMA Show. Now, don’t purse your lips and give us the signature brow frown, while stomping your feet and screaming, “WTF, this is supposed to be a Jeep feature!”
And you’re right; it is. Because, of course, only a Jeep purist could fathom the skill required to travel for 25 days and cover 4,500 miles on predominantly back country trails. Brown and Goff plotted their own course, setting their own terms and putting in 18-hour days – sometimes wheeling deep into the twilight just to stay on deadline. They set up camp each evening and survived off a mountain man’s feast of beef jerky, trail mix, potatoes and some steak, bacon, or eggs to start the next long leg of the trip.
Few are brave enough to even consider a monumental task such as theirs. And many would agree that not much, if anything, sets Brown apart from any Jeep
purist we know. Except maybe the obvious fact of vehicle choice. But both believe in the power of their respective mechanical beasts; both place ultimate faith in the driver’s incredible ability to overcome challenging terrain; and both can trace that fascination back to nitty-gritty wrenching. Because truly, only a purist can snag an old CJ with a stout drivetrain for $1,000-$2,000 bucks, sink a couple grand into it, and take ‘er deep into the trails for wheeling.
“Guys like me started with little Jeeps as members of clubs. About 90% of the guys in the clubs learned to turn wrenches on their own Jeeps. On weekends, we’d get a bunch of guys together and tinker. That tribal knowledge is what makes clubs, clubs. We can all tear things apart and weld and build, helping each other wrench on stuff. There’s zero formal training in anything automotive (yet leave a purist with his ingenuity and a set of tools and be in the midst of magic). So we learned by being hands on. That was all part of being in the club,” said Dan Guyer, an outside sales associate at Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc.
Although there aren’t as many enthusiasts devoted to hardcore Jeep clubs as in years past, the sentiment is still alive and well. “Jeep purists don’t need bells and whistles, just the product that is sure to get him out of trouble when off the beaten path,” said Guyer. It’s the same guy who dreams about getting lost on the Rubicon Trail to be one with Mother Nature, carving initials in the dirt with his tires; he yearns for wide open spaces, narrow turns, jagged rocks, and steep declines on his ascent of the Stairway to Heaven.
There’s dirt caked to his wheel wells and battle wounds on the paint from hugging tight turns and entering thick brush. “His focal point is the adventure and off-road capability, not on-road handling. A lot of Jeeps do great off road but dumpster fire on road because it’s not what they were set up to do,” added Guyer.
“No Man Left Behind”
Retailers, restylers, and installers have been serving this proud crowd with name brands like WARN, Bestop, Dana-Spicer, Warrior Products, Teraflex, Yukon Gear, and M.O.R.E. for decades. “These customers want what we have to offer. When in the middle of nowhere, they want reassurance that their products are going to work and no one is left stranded,” said Melissa Richardson, VP of Marketing and Sales at Warrior Products. “For them, it’s super important for the products to be strong, durable, and Made in the USA. We’re one of the few companies still producing for TJs, YJs, and even CJs. And we not only love it, but also see it as a great thing. We won’t leave anyone behind!” she added.
And that’s a good thing for Guyer who lives a function-over-form lifestyle with his 2005 LJ Rubicon; it features a six-speed manual, factory 4:1 transfer case, 5:13 Richmond gears, RCV front axle shafts, and a WJ knuckle conversion with twin piston brakes.
“For Jeep purists, it’s about what’s under the hood (not all the bling that will never get used in a natural surrounding). If there’s something on my ride, then it serves a distinct purpose off road – plain and simple. Jeep purists aren’t worried about creature comforts,” said Guyer. Who needs leather, navigation, or even a radio for God’s sake?! “We want soft doors year round (even in the blistering sun and tundra cold) and a long wheel base. The open air is freedom,” continued Guyer. “Traditionally, being a purist meant you had to be a little special or nuts. Because they’re just not practical (prior to the mall crawler JKs). It’s a big trade off. But it’s worth it to the Jeep purists who love the platform for all its (perfectly imperfect) shortcomings,” he added.
Big names like Rugged Ridge, Hanson Off Road, Pure Jeep, and Rampage provide the legendary off-road protection Jeep purists have relied on for years to get them out of a backwoods jam. “I have A to Z Fabrication bumpers, an A to Z Fabrication custom roll cage, WARN Zeon Platinum 10S winch, Factor 55 thimble, Bestop two-piece soft doors, Rugged Ridge floor mats (gotta catch the outdoor elements), TNT custom fenders, Currie Antirock sway bar, Bilstein 5100 series shocks, and a Clayton Off Road 4.5” lift with 37” BFG mud-terrain tires stuffed underneath 17×9 ATX wheels,” added Guyer.
Bring it, mall crawler.