I thought I didn’t like Jeeps. Then I drove one with no doors and a stick.
For years, I’ve heard people excitedly discussing their Jeep adventures—doorless drives in the countryside and other forms of off-road shenanigans—but I never really got it. As it turns out, all it took to show me the light was a friend handing me the keys to her Jurassic Park-era Jeep Wrangler for an eight-minute drive.
Last Thursday was already proving to be a day out of the ordinary. It was the first time in more than six months that the entire Hagerty Media team was together in one place, and as such, we thought it appropriate to go for a group drive. The mob gathered early in the morning, along with an eclectic mix of cars. We had everything from a growling ’63 split-window Corvette to a Volkswagen Beetle shod in knobby winter tires.
Those who contend that driving is the best therapy are wise, indeed. We played a musical chairs-like game of swapping driving duties and cars throughout the morning, giving me the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 1967 Chevelle rocking over 500 lb-ft of torque, a serene 1949 Cadillac Series 62, and an absolutely rowdy 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa. But it wasn’t until we reconvened at the end of the day that I had my “Jeep moment.”
Carolyn Greenman, our team’s Manager of Content, noticed my curious glances towards her dark-green Wrangler. She tossed me the keys. Who am I to turn down an offer like that?
I wouldn’t exactly call myself the shortest guy in the world—compact is probably the right word—but this Jeep certainly wasn’t helping my case. Tall 30-inch mud-terrain tires and a mild lift kit had this off-roader towering over of me. Keys in hand, I latched onto the rollcage to hoist myself up and behind the wheel. I was greeted with a number of familiar 1990s Chrysler interior pieces, but packaged in a boxy, utilitarian arrangement.
I pushed the clutch pedal in, turned the Pentastar-etched key and kicked the old 4.0-liter straight-six to life. The TJ surprised me with its civility; for such a brutish-looking crawler, the clutch take-up and steering were remarkably light. But it wasn’t until I was out of the lot and onto the road that I started to appreciate its greatest quality—simplicity.
No doors, no windows, no roof. It was everything you needed and nothing else. The wind began to kick up as I shifted through the gears, yet it was different from the experience provided by a convertible. Without sides, it not only delivered “wind in your hair,” but a breeze in your shoes, shorts, and shirt. Combine the open-air aesthetics with the capability to traverse essentially any terrain you’re likely to run into near civilization, and the Jeep works its way into the nooks and crannies of your understanding. That ability to go anywhere while feeling, smelling, and seeing everything sinks in its claws, becoming addicting.
Until last week, I was not a Jeep believer. I couldn’t quite find the path they were following. Needless to say, don’t be afraid to reach out and go on a new journey, because you might end up enjoying the destination you finally discover.