An ’86 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is still a prime bad-weather, rough terrain road trip machine. I know that because I just spent a day driving David Tracy’s $800 Jankmobile through the worst weather I’ve seen since Winter Storm Nemo and it doesn’t even have a working four-wheel drive system.
As many readers know, Tracy and I are on a 1,700 mile quest from his base just outside Detroit, Michigan to the off-road mecca of Moab, Utah to join the festivities at the 2018 Easter Jeep Safari. To make said mission a little more interesting, we’re doing the trip in a rusty-but-trusty Grand Waggy that he spent days and weeks reviving after pulling it out of a field it had been hibernating in for a dozen years.
On Friday afternoon we weren’t sure we were going to leave at all, but we got the critical parts (braking, steering and tires) sorted out to acceptable safety parameters and by the middle of Saturday we were cantering across Indiana at 55 mph.
The plan was to meet a Jalopnik reader named Alex at a gas station just south of Indianapolis, because he’d most graciously offered to give us a Grand Wagoneer skid plate. That’d be helpful if we were going to put our Waggy through any real rough driving, because Tracy’s, of course, is almost completely consumed by rust.
Anyway, we’re charging across flatlands watching the sky get darker, and eastbound cars looking suspiciously... snowy. Tracy’s phone blinged with an ominous winter storm warning.
“We’re only 40 miles away though,” he said incredulously. “You’re telling me it’s going to be really snowy and heavy traffic that close.”
Yes. Yes it was.
We crossed a line somewhere just east of the state capitol and all hell broke lose. Or, maybe more like, all Hoth broke loose.
Visibility was reduced to a few hundred yards, the road became as slippery as a shuffleboard surface and highway lanes were reduced to two-tracks through the slush.
I was at the wheel, and decided to proceed conservatively.
Our Wagoneer’s situation was suboptimal for such conditions. The Selec-Trac that would have given us all-wheel drive was compromised on account of our missing front drive shaft. There was no ABS or computerized traction control and an open differential in the back. The 4,500 pound vehicle was riding on all-season tires, and the brakes were pretty primitive: single-pot front caliper discs and of course drums out back.
And then there was the windshield wiper, which only cleared half the driver’s field of view because reasons? That part wasn’t too bad, though. I just leaned on the center console and had a McLaren F1-style perspective of the road ahead.
Most of the time, the immense curb weight and lack of power was actually advantageous. The Jeep stayed pretty well planted even as I nudged it across lanes to avoid other cars that had wiped out, and really only stepped its tail end out once in an intersection where, I’ll admit, I gave the gas pedal a little goose to see what would happen.
The key to getting a rear-drive machine with meager stopping power through rough weather is actively managing momentum and deliberate inputs. As long as the Jeep was moving, it was a lot easier to keep it moving. As long as it didn’t pick up too much speed, it was easier to stop.
I was also keeping a close eye on the mirrors and positioning of other vehicles. The roadsides were straight-up strewn with cars that had spun out, and I was trying to be extremely proactive about not getting nudged or rear-ended which would have been catastrophic for a couple boys in a beat-up Jeep.
The scariest part of driving on slick stuff is coming down a hill, and we did have a few overpass crossings where I knew I was one excessive brake-pump away from loosing traction completely and spinning sideways.
But like said–slow, consistent inputs along with some planning ahead made it possible to skate the old Wagoneer across a very snowy Indiana without incident.
And thank god we had the most important component, the heater, working like a charm.
We made a motel in Missouri by the end of Saturday, and after I finish blogging this blog, we’re going to power up again and keep heading west. Hat tip to John, by the way, who met up and rolled with us for a few miles in his extremely cool long-wheelbase Wrangler to offer assistance. Once again, the Jalopnik community proves it couldn’t be cooler.