Once in a while you get a phone call that's so intriguing you feel lucky you've answered the phone. That's how I felt when Scott Frary, aftermarket sales manager for Eaton/Detroit Locker, called and told me about an upcoming trail run he arranged in his local area. He wanted to invite me along on a three-day trip through a couple of great adventure areas in Washington state.
Some people might consider the adventure's focus an unlikely couple of trail machines but Jeep's '06 Commander and Eaton's '07 Jeep Grand Cherokee were going to be the highlight of the trip. The Commander was built by Mopar and received just the right amount of functional lift and now rolls on 35-inch mud-terrain tires. The adventure was intended to show the capability of Jeep's Quadra-Drive II system in these two vehicles. I thought to myself, "How could I not go and watch this possible festival of carnage?"
I couldn't wait to tag along on the 300-mile trip that was bound to be filled with great adventure and the possibility of learning just how capable the Quadra-Drive II system really is on trails rated 3-plus in technical difficulty.
Both of the modern rigs are equipped with Jeep's Quadra-Drive II systems and feature Eaton's EGerodisc limited-slip locking differential. Although these components aren't available from your local 4x4 shop, they are factory options on new Commanders and Grand Cherokees. We are finding more often than not that trail rigs don't have to be the bare-bones stripped vehicles of yesteryear, unless of course you're an old-school Jeep purist who hates comfort, stability, and modern conveniences! These vehicles completed the runs with the accessories not usually found on the average built-up trail rig. Accessories like power everything, navigation systems, A/C, a Bose stereo system, and heated leather seats just to name a few. If I sound a bit jealous it's only because I am. They were just too darn comfortable looking as I sat in the dust and dirt of an open vehicle. The drivers of the new Jeeps could just roll their windows up to escape the choking dust and uncomfortably hot weather. I'm still coughing up bugs and things that shouldn't be discussed around the dinner table.
Chrysler sent along two Jeep engineers for the adventure to show us enthusiast wheelers how the experts handle these vehicles: Steve Houtman, product development engineer of Jeep Vehicle Development and Vince Schrand, Chrysler's lead engineer for limited-slip and locking differentials. Sure they have long, important titles, but they offer something of equal value: as true Jeep enthusiasts, their experience of years of off-highway adventure. They also own their own trailworthy Jeeps. Steve has a prized '84 CJ-7, and Vince owns a well-built '90 Wrangler YJ. Although Michigan doesn't have the open land to explore by Jeep like we do here in the West, they still get out and play whenever and wherever they can.
Our adventure group had 12 very capable trail rigs and included Jeeps from just about every era of manufacturing. We had an MB (yes, it has the wrong grille and windshield frame), a CJ, a YJ, three TJs, an LJ, an XJ, and a ZJ. The trip started out at Evans Creek ORV. Scott and his copilot, wife Cheryl, had us running every trail except one that would have guaranteed extensive body damage for the fullsize Jeeps. We don't often turn away from too many trails: If we only have a 50/50 chance of some damage we'll give it a shot, but if it's 100-percent guaranteed the vehicle will receive extensive body damage, it's just pointless.