People call me eccentric.
They are probably right.
And that influenced my first Jeep purchase after Native Jeeps bit me with the wheeling bug.
My dad always had Broncos. My best friend’s dad growing up in the early 80s had a blue CJ-7.
I loved how stripped down the CJ was compared to the Bronco – no doors, bikini top, rear jump seat, those flat dash analog gauges … and of course the manual transmission.
Fast forward 35+ years, I bought my 20.19 (stripped down) Sport 2-door manual. My five options included a Dana 44 limited slip rear axle, air conditioning (yes, AC is a $1,295 option on the Sport!), Sirius XM, tinted back windows and floor mats.
Before wheeling with Native Jeeps in my very own rig, I naively believed all I needed was to swap in Rubicon takeoff springs, shocks and 33″ tires to give me the extra 2 inches of lift to be a bona fide Rubicon.
Riding in the “tail gunner” position, I soon realized my gearing was way too high as I was going too fast and crawling up my friends’ butts on the trails.
My Sport differential gears were 3.45 whereas a Rubicon’s are 4.10! Additionally, my Sport transfer case 4L ratio is 2.72:1 vs. the Rubicon’s 4:1. I was going way too fast on the trail and compensated by remaining in 4L while my friends were in 4H.
In addition to being frustrated on the trail, I wasn’t having fun on the highway. I was constantly shifting to keep the engine in the power band. Before our last day, I bought manual front sway bar disconnects for more articulation and a better ride (Rubicon comes standard with an electronic disconnect).
I learned my lesson and re-geared my differentials to 4:10 before my next outing with Native Jeeps in Moab.
Big improvement! I was no longer overrunning my friends as the tail gunner.
In addition to wheeling bringing you closer to your friends, you meet new random ones on the trail!
On our penultimate day in Moab, we met Brian (2 door Rubicon / manual / same color as mine / with a hardtop) who ended up taking over the tail gunner position.
I’ve been rowing gears for over 30 years. My last three vehicles are manuals along with owning motorcycles. My uncle raced at Indy. I thought I was good. Brian noticed right away I wasn’t and taught me how to wheel with a manual.
1. Stay off the clutch and trust your gears! It’s amazing how slow you can crawl in 4L / first gear and modulate speed with the brakes or skinny pedal.
2. It’s okay to stall. See lesson #1.
Makes sense. As an example, you’re going around a tight turn on a bike. You have more control in the right gear than in neutral or with the clutch pulled.
1. In 4L, I only use the first three gears. Anything faster has me shifting into 4H. I’m only using as much as I need to overcome the trail.
2. With the manual, I’m much quicker shifting my transfer case than my automatic buddies.
3. Also much less braking than they are going down hills letting the gears work.
Lastly, I’ll address the elephant in the room. Do I regret not getting a Rubicon?
I’ve spent roughly $4K getting close to a Rubicon but I still don’t have front and rear differential lockers and the beefier Dana 44 front axle.Not having lockers hasn’t bothered me. I’ve kept up with my Rubicon friends running 37 inch tires on the trails. Right now, I’m mostly on paved roads so I use the limited slip rear more.
Not having the Dana 44 gnaws at me and complicates my quest to where with 37 inch shoes I have a Dana 30 (aka “Dana Turdy”) up front which limits me to 33 inch tires. Bigger tires equal bigger axles! I have three options:
1. Roughly $8K for an upgraded front Dana 44 axle and re-gear and locker the stock rear Dana 44.
2. Roughly $16K for Dana 60s!!!
3. Swap in Rubicon takeoff axles for roughly $4K and hope to find ones with the right gears for 37s. I do have a rear Dana 44, but… it’s a different length than the Rubicon’s so I’d need both.
I just went on Jeep.com and did a price comparison between my Sport and a comparable stripped down Rubicon. Price difference is $7K. I’m at $4K now and would need another $4K to be on par with a Rubicon. So in hindsight on cost, I should have ordered a Rubicon, but I wouldn’t have additional dash cubby holes and crank windows!