I built two two extra days into my 1,700 mile Michigan-to-Moab expedition to give us some leeway in case of breakdowns. I’ve now used those two days before ever leaving my driveway, thanks to my 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer’s copious brake problems. Now the Jeep is ready, but there’s no margin for error. If the Woodie dies en route, we’re going to miss our deadline.
For two days now, I’ve been dealing with brakes. Brakes, brakes, brakes.
First it was rear wheel cylinder leaks, then it was a broken hard line, then it was a locked drum (thanks to a seized park brake cable), then it was bad hardware that wouldn’t allow the adjuster screw to work properly, and then it was a leaky front caliper hose.
I underestimated how big of a pain brakes can be, and they came back to bite me.
Having rebuilt a number of drum brakes and swapped out entire brake systems before, I’ve never really had any trouble with this kind of work. And, mechanically, it’s pretty simple. I figured swapping the stoppers on Project Redwood would follow that same trend, but I was wrong, and it nearly drove me into madness.
Andrew Collins and I are finally on the road in this Rusty But Somehow Still Beautiful old Woodie. I’m in the passenger’s seat right now, and Andrew just said “What is that sound?” Something tells me that will end up being the catchphrase for this trip.
As for what we’re hearing right now going about 45 mph through the suburbs of Detroit, well, there’s some sort of whirring noise coming from the rear of the vehicle. It almost sounds like something’s out of balance; it’s similar to that unsteady rumble you’d hear from a Star Wars pod racer with engine has been shot out. Everyone knows what that sounds like, right?
I’m wondering if this is an out-of-balance tire or a bad U-joint, though I did have the rubber professionally installed just a few days ago and the U-joints seemed fine to me. I did check the rear bearings too, and they seemed okay, but who knows. We’ll keep an eye (and ear) on it.
There’s also a strange, metallic rubbing sound coming from the front driver’s side. “It’s almost like there’s a paintbrush daintily lapping at a very thin piece of tin,” Andrew said from the driver’s seat. We think this is the brake shield.
“It also sounds like the left rear door is open,” Andrew just told me, only to realize that the noise he’s hearing is coming through the floor, which I shouldn’t even call “floor,” so much as just “carpet over an abyss of nothingness.”
We’ve now jumped onto the highway, where we’re literally doing the minimum legal speed of 55 mph. “It looks like we’re going backwards, we’re getting just, like, smoked by everyone.”
“Just got passed by a Dodge Dart on a donut tire,” Andrew said. Yes, this old Wagoneer isn’t quick, even without a Willys in tow.
Oh yeah—we decided to ditch the towing idea and leave that Jeep behind after realizing how little power the Woodie makes, how weak the brakes are even when they’re dialed in, and just how little time we have to left. I think we did the right thing.
We’ve got to get to the Jeep concept drive in Moab by Monday afternoon. This means we’ve got today, tomorrow and a few hours on Monday to cover a lot of America. That’s two and a half days to cover 1,700 miles and 30 hours worth of driving (we’re going to transition to the back roads so these cars stop honking at us for doing the minimum speed, and also because back-road road trips are the best). That means we’re going to be driving for 12 hours straight every day in an untested vehicle that’s been sitting for 12 years.
We’re not optimistic.
But we’re doing it anyway, so if you want to follow along, follow me, Andrew and Jalopnik on social media for updates from the road. And if you live anywhere along the route above (which we might change; we’re contemplating driving through Denver), and you’re maybe up for helping us repair Project Redwood when it inevitably strands us on the roadside, let me know.