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My Jeep Saga
Guest post, by Jason Lambright.
I was texting with Jason yesterday, just checking in at the start of the writing day, which is something we do, when we went off this epic riff about his Jeep. It was such a good story I asked him if I could repost it here.
He said yes.
In 2012, I was stranded in the confines of the US Army Medical Board, which evaluated my fitness to serve. Spoiler- in 2014, the Army put me to pasture and I was medically retired.
However, first I had to endure an agonizing series of evaluations, extensive medical treatment, and layer upon layer of slow-moving bureaucracy. Somewhere in there the Army and the VA decided I shouldn’t drive, and I was ordered to surrender my license.
That year was the pits. I felt like I was fifteen again, and the folks at the BMV gave me the fisheye when I turned in my license. I think I flipped out on them a bit when they tried to make me pay a fee- I told them to go get fucked if I was going to pay a fee because I had to turn in my license as a result of wounds and injuries incurred in Afghanistan.
A kindly supervisor waved the fee before the Sheriff showed up, so that was a plus. I was a little tight-wound in those days. But I digress.
I cast about for anything to stay busy. It was difficult coming off a fairly intense combat mission to… enforced idleness, and a dawning awareness that I’d never be able to do again what I was best at. That there were problems with my body and mind. Permanent problems.
Of course, a single visit to the local VA hospital will show you in living color how lucky I am, and I never forget this. At least I have a face. And balls. And both legs. But back to topic.
Someone I knew had a sorry Willys Jeep, a CJ-5 model from 1955. I decided to fix it. Guys, within a hundred days, it was ready. Yeah, I had some help, and I needed it. But the deed was done. I also started writing when my shrink suggested that my life would be a good book. I didn’t know about that, but I sat down and wrote In the Valley, a thinly-disguised stream of consciousness no-plan novel. I sold maybe twenty of them, and I retired.
When I got my license back, I drove the Jeep all over the place. It was great fun. I’ve spent a significant percentage of my life in tactical vehicles, and none could surpass the humble WW2-style Jeep for off-road performance. Not even the vaunted Humvee, which I think sucks compared to the Jeep.
And then one day I got stuck in a mud hole whose depth I had badly misjudged. The engine on the Jeep started to go south, and I parked it before it blew up.
A year or two went by, and then I hired a supposedly reputable shop to put a new engine in my Jeep. Covid struck, so I cut them some slack. For a year. Then two, there was always a new story or excuse in between. One day, I came across truly horrifying Google reviews about this place and wondered if they still had my Jeep.
So I dropped in, unannounced, and took a look. My Jeep had barely been touched, and two years had passed by on what should have been a straightforward job. I gave the shop owner fair notice- progress within 90 days, or I wanted my money and vehicle back. Sure, he said.
90 days passed. I emailed.
More excuses and a request for more money. I took a deep breath and told him hell no. I gave him fourteen days to return my Jeep and my money. Fourteen days passed. Nothing. I contacted him. More excuses.
Fine, I said.
For the first time in my life, I contacted my family attorney. This was in February of 2023 when I delivered the Jeep to the shop in October 2020.
Well, friends, I didn’t get my Jeep and my money until this past Friday, shortly before I took this gentleman to court.
When that fella dropped off my wreck, gave me my check and took off, I cashed it immediately. Then I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I decided I had enough of the project from hell, and I posted it on Craigslist.
It sold in forty-five minutes.
The following day, the buyer came to my house and we worked all day long to get my Jeep, an engine, and a parts Jeep ready to haul.
The parts Jeep really sucked. Before this guy came out, I had to prepare stuff to load, and if you’ve ever done this with cranky, shitty vehicles, it can be a bear. Well, I discovered that the parts Jeep had not one but two tires that were totally fucked. They needed to be swapped. Fortunately, the “good” Jeep had a spare, and the buyer brought out a wheel that would work when he drove down.
When we loaded the good Jeep, I told the buyer while he ran home and unloaded that I’d change the two tires on the parts Jeep and see if I could get it out of the field, where it had set for over a decade.
If any of you have dealt with ridiculously rusted vehicles, you know this is a chore. I used a farmer’s jack, or an old bumper jack, to lift the damn thing so I could get the front wheel off. Of course, being in the dirt, the jack started to lean dangerously so I decided to drop it and reposition it.
It had been a while since I had used a farmer’s jack, and I forgot the cardinal rule. Stow the meter-long steel handle and get your head out of the way when you hit the reversing lever.
Yeah, didn’t do that. The handle flew up and smacked me in my face like a baseball bat, I hadn’t taken a hit like that since I was overseas. Painful, but glad it wasn’t my mouth or nose. As it was, it caught me on the cheekbone and temple, and I shook it off. Still a bit sore as I type, several days later.
As an aside, this is why you don’t punch someone in the face. There’s a good chance you won’t actually hurt the target, and you will certainly hurt your hand. Just sayin’.
Well, the show had to go on, so I made it happen. And this time I used the jack properly, lesson relearned. I yanked the shitty thing out of the field, and five minutes later, the buyer rolled in.
As I watched him leave with the last of the junk, I was gratified that I reclaimed all of that frozen money. However, I was short one Jeep, and I loved that thing. It was loads of fun.
My chances of finding a good CJ-5 in working condition at my budget?
I was back to square one.
And then I remembered something. A few years ago, an Indian company, Mahindra, started to import their version of the venerable CJ, a direct descendant of the WW2 Willys, into the US.
Of course the assholes at Chrysler sued to keep the Mahindra Jeep, known as a Roxor, out.
They lost, and they lost again this past July, as well. Here’s why.
In 1947, the Indian government bought unlimited production rights for the WW2 Jeep from Willys, the original manufacturer of the Jeep. They have every right to produce the original design Willys for as long as they want, and Chrysler can’t say boo. In fact, examining the Roxor, it is far closer to the original Jeep pattern than anything that “Jeep” makes these days. The current Wrangler is hardly recognizable compared to the wartime Willys, and a series of federal judges agrees with Mahindra.
Remembering the Roxor, my fingers flew to the keyboard looking for a dealer and pictures. Sure enough, the Roxor is a true WW2 pattern Willys, without the outdated and antiquated crap. In fact, Mahindra never stopped making the CJ series, it’s known as the Thar in India and is still in production.
The US Roxor is mostly US made, in Detroit. It’s probably more “American” than the Chrysler-Jeep, despite the wails from their lawyers. And it sure as hell is tougher than the modern Wrangler, and it comes standard with an efficient diesel, while that is an enormously expensive option on a Chrysler Jeep.
The Roxor- good Lord. All heavy gauge steel, five-speed standard transmission with high and low range, 5.38 gears, high parts compatibility with the original Willys Jeep, no carpet or dumb shit anywhere to be seen. Pure function over form- it was exactly what I wanted.
I stabbed the buttons on my phone with prejudice, and started planning my dream new Willys (OK, Roxor) with the salesperson at the nearest dealership.
Long story short, hell yes, I bought one.
I got a base with the following add-ons:
A cloth roof. Kind of nice to have.
Automotive windshield. Hate to eat bugs or get mud in my face.
Windshield wipers and optional washer fluid pump.
Spare tire holder.
These add-ons are the bare minimum, and this is exactly what I want in a Jeep.
Hey Chrysler- instead of suing the piss out of Mahindra (and losing), how about you build a Jeep that is a true peer competitor with the Roxor? An off-road, bare-bones beast in the 20’s? If Chrysler built such an animal, they would sell like hotcakes.
But they don’t, and I’m sure you know why. To grease the profit margin as high as possible, and to make shit that breaks so that their dealers can cha-ching on repairs.
Well, at least Chrysler won one aspect of their multiple lawsuits. Mahindra can’t sell a grille with seven slots, as the judge ruled that the seven-slot grille is a recognizable trademark of Jeep, Inc.
The seven-slot grille is the only remaining vestige of the wartime Jeep in Chrysler’s current offerings, so I guess it’s fitting.
They can keep their stupid grille. I’m getting the vehicle itself.
The Mahindra Roxor. Check it out.