Surrey Off-Road Specialists Limited

When Chris said did I want to come along to Jeep Fest? I wasn't slow to say, yes! What better way can there be to spend a Bank Holiday weekend?! When he said could I drive the Rubicon II – Wrangler TJ up I knew was on to a winner. Some how turning up in my Isuzu Trooper TD wouldn’t have been the same. Not that I wouldn’t have been welcome, but you really needed to be driving a Jeep to join in the fun. ‘It’s a Jeep thing… ‘, or, so they tell me.

I had to be down at the Surrey Off-Road workshops for around 06:00, so, for me it meant a very early start. Having loaded the vehicles and roughed out a route we collected Iris (a friend of Chris’s over from Germany for a few weeks) and headed for the M25, enroute to pick up the M1 North to Sheffield. As I followed Chris in his coil sprung YJ up the motorway our little two Jeep convoy got its fair share of interest from other drivers. Maybe I was beginning to understand this ‘Jeep thing’. There again, I think we were upstaged by the group of classic Mercedes also headed north on the M1. Iris was in charge of the map and all was going well until we hit Sheffield. In the end it took us an hour and half to negotiate the various one-way systems, tramways and housing estates, before heading out on the road to Worral and the Jeep Fest site at Middlewood Hall. I think Iris had lost the plot, even if she did keep assuring us she knew where she was. Chris took us on a tour of the industrial sector. This looked like something out of an early James Bond set. I kept expecting to see an Aston Martin come screaming round the corner rapidly persued by Odd-Job! Eventually after some help from one of the locals we were back on track. I’d also lost track of time (Sheffield seems to do that to people – they lose all sense of time and direction) but, eventually we arrived. First on the agenda, unfortunately, was to hand over the Rubicon TJ to the Chrysler Jeep Off-Road team. They had set up their stand in an adjacent field and the team was busy demonstrating the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee on their off-road course. Actually when I say demonstrating, Barry, Mick and Roger were actually tutoring the drivers from the passenger seat. Understandably the queue waiting to drive Jeep’s latest creation was getting quite long.

Chris decided he wanted to go ‘play’ so, we left them to it. Along with Chris from Intamech the three of us headed for the off-road route in REDOCT. The easy section was in an open area next to the campsite. There was a short muddy section along the top edge of the field and what can best be described as a ‘bomb-hole’ full of water in the middle. REDOCT took the short section in its stride and in fact there was a YJ in front on All Terrain's and apparently still in two-wheel drive only making slightly heavy work of it. The ‘bomb-hole’ was capturing the interest. Essentially the hole had two entries and one exit or two exits and one entry if you approached it from the other end! Several of the ‘stock’ vehicles were getting hung up dropping into the hole but it was getting out that was giving the most fun. About then Barry, having managed to escape for a while, turned up in the Rubicon I – Jeep Cherokee. The back seat of the Wrangler was getting a bit ‘friendly’ so when he called me over I was more than happy to trade for the passenger seat of the Cherokee. Little did I know what I had let myself in for! Both vehicles despite differing wheelbases dropped into the hole and up out the otherside with out any problems. Going out the other way was were the fun started. The steeper exit, obviously the one to choose, had a nice little cross-axle at the top. Several vehicles had tried and failed before Chris had a go in REDOCT. After three attempts he conceded and left by the other route. Barry was convinced he could make it. In fact he had already taken one of the Grand Cherokees up it with a customer earlier that morning. By now however, the route was ‘chewed up’ from several failed attempts by other drivers. In the end the Cherokee, like the Wrangler, made it to the crest but couldn’t maintain the traction to pull it over. Again the diesel powered Rubicon Cherokee had proved it was capable of matching the Wranglers. Leaving by the other route however, was not without a minor drama. On the right hand side was a narrow gully with a rock either side ready to grab an unsuspecting tyre in a pincer grip. As we crested the climb the hiss of escaping air confirmed the worst. Seeing as how Barry had been nice enough to invite me along the least I could do was change the tyre. The Rubicon Cherokee carries two spares. The Hi-Lift made short work of jacking up the car by the side-rail. With the tyre changed we headed for the harder route!

This section was made difficult by the fact that the tracks were covered in soggy peat with a selection of boulders, tree routes and stumps thrown into the mix. First up was a steep(ish) decent with an awkward left-hander at the end. To add to the fun the track continued to slope off to the right and there was a nice little tree to get wrapped around. Barry managed it with out too much problem. Like many of the other drivers, he simply made a series of shunts and let the back of the vehicle slide round to point us in the right direction. The next bit was down hill over a series of boulders and tree roots. The momentum carried us through the ‘sticky’ spots. At the crossroads we had to wait whilst various vehicles were being recovered. REDOCT seemed to be hard at work recovering stuck vehicles. There was certainly a range of vehicles on the section from. I saw all sorts, from Willys to Cherokees. Then one of the marshals came running down behind us to ask us to head back up the track and recover a Jeep stuck on the bend we had just successfully navigated. Unfortunately the ruts, boulders, and tree routes we had successfully slid over on the way down now worked against us with the result that the Cherokee became wedged with a tree stump between the side rail and the rear tyre. To add to the problem, gravity on the well-laden Cherokee was doing its best to keep it there. At this point, I set off on foot to see what the situation was with the stranded vehicle we had attempted to come to the aid of. The Jeep in question turned out to be the Rubicon II which was similarly wedged around the tree on the tricky left hand turn we had negotiated earlier. Seeing as how the Rubicon II is equipped with both front and rear winches and there were plenty of stout trees around I was a bit confused as to why the marshal felt they needed help. Apparently however, they couldn't find the remote for the winch (they didn't think to look in the cubby box)! It’s always the little things in life! With Rubicon II back under way in no time we turned our attentions to the Cherokee. The plan was to pull the back end slightly sideways using the rear mounted winch. The only problem was that the only viable tree was way back in the undergrowth. Chris, from WARN, volunteered to do the honours. Somehow I didn’t think his light tan trousers and white shirt were going to stay that way very long! To cap it all, he was also wearing open toed sandals. Having successfully extradited the Cherokee from it’s close encounter with the tree stump, Barry then had to reverse down the track to find an appropriate point to turn round again. Moving again, we were headed down hill until, of course, we had to head up hill again. Uphill it most definitely was and to add to the fun the surface was again that slick mud that we encountered enough problems getting down safely, let alone up. At this point Barry decide to head back. His half-hour play was already well over budget! There was already a TJ parked half way up the slope having failed the climb and broken his winch in the process of recovery. Chris also, soon aborted the climb and winched up ahead of the stricken TJ, which he was then able to recover. The rest of the trail wasn’t too torturous apart from an awkward moment with a tree on a slick side slope. The TJ behind made good use of the tree as a pivot to get back on track!

The main display arenaBack in the main show area we spotted two very familiar TJ’s; Kenny Shann’s and Peter Roach’s. Peter it turned out had escaped for the day, his wife Jackie had declined in favour of going shopping! He’d been there a while and had already driven some of the course, including completing the climb out of the ‘bomb-hole’ that the rest of us had failed at. Kenny and Kath had also been out on the course already but were having some problems with overheating on ‘Daisy’ their TJ. The remains of the afternoon were spent in search of a replacement fan. Chris however, managed to get side tracked into fixing an electric wheel chair – is there no end to this man’s talents! Kenny had managed to find a rather old fixed fan assembly probably from a Willys! Chris was a little dubious about fitting it in case it caused more problems. Eventually with the aid of Peter’s faithful biscuit tin, which contains spanners of all sizes for all occasions, the fan unit was re-assembled until a proper replacement was found.

Europe's first two Warn XCL Coil Sprung YJ'sPeter, it turned out had not tried the tougher of the four off-road routes and wanted to drive it before he went home. Trouble was according to Peter’s watch it was twenty to five and everybody else said twenty to six. At which point Peter took the rather expensive looking Lacosse watch off his wrist and stamped on it! Cheep copy apparently – cost less than the replacement battery! The course closed at five o'clock, having got special dispensation from Mark Askew in return for checking that there was nobody left stuck out there, we set off. First obstacle was the bomb-hole. I joined Peter in Godzilla and despite assurances that he had managed the climb out that morning, after three attempts we had to admit defeat. Next was on to the slippery descent with the awkward left hander. The fact that the TJ was automatic meant that Peter had to cover the brakes on the way down. On the slippery surface this was a bit tricky. The diesel Cherokee had been easier; select first low and let the engine braking ‘walk’ the vehicle down. A few shunts at the bottom and a quick ‘juggle’ of the diff-locks and we were round and on down the track. Then off course it was the slippery climb, which had everybody winching up earlier in the day. This time the track was clear of other Jeeps so Chris decided to go for driving it. Peter and I climbed to the top to watch. After a couple of attempts REDOCT seemed to be making good progress until a bump throw threw the Jeep to the side of the track. Then despite the diff-locks the nearside front wheel seemed to have stopped turning. Chris unaware of this knew only that he didn’t seem to be making progress and decided it would be safer to winch up. With the cable attached to the ‘winching tree’ Peter and I stood at the top to watch. It was then that Peter spotted something a bit strange was occurring with the front end of the Jeep. We yelled for Chris to stop and as the winch came to a stop the nearside front corner of the Jeep collapsed to the ground. The wheel just slipped out sideways from underneath the vehicle until the axle hit the ground. We were in trouble! What had looked fairly comical as we stood at the top of the slope was now going to be a major problem. For whatever reason the mount for the bottom end of the kingpin had sheared as had the halfshaft UJ effectively leaving the wheel unattached. As we were standing there assessing the situation, Kenny and Kath turned up in their now repaired TJ. The logistics of recovering the vehicle were getting more complicated by the minute as each one of us considered the engineering involved. There was no way the wheel was going back on so we removed it from the hub. Chris went to lay it on the side of the track but instead it rolled off down the hill and came to rest in the undergrowth! By jacking up the axle we were able to collapse the nearside front spring to some extent. Suddenly long spring travel was definitely going to be a hindrance. The axle was held in position using a self-locking chain. Next the Jeep was lowered back to the bottom of the climb using the winch. Attaching the winch form Godzilla (Peter’s TJ) to the back we were able to slew it round back on to the track at the bottom of the climb. Back in the display area this YJ stayed all nice and clean and shiny!Back on the flat we then attempted to persuade the Jeep to favour lifting the wheel-less corner by compressing the offside rear corner. Patrick ‘big foot’ Kear had turned up by then in his similarly coil-sprung YJ. Ideal candidate to help. With three of us perched on the rear corner we were able to compress the rear spring some way and similarly hold it with a chain. In fact REDOCT was then able to make some progress under it’s own power up the track. When the going got more difficult. The three of us jumped off and Godzilla was back in action with the winch. By now, it was getting dark and Kenny and Kath had to go back to the hotel for dinner. Various other members of the ‘recovery crew’ came and went during what turned out to be a four-hour exercise. Progress was slow and we alternated between winching and towing depending on the terrain. As it got dark communication became a problem. We couldn’t see each other clearly and using the high power lighting only served to blind us from each other. So, we adopted a chain of people to relay messages from REDOCT to Godzilla. Peter was really having to work hard to keep his Jeep in just the right place to prevent REDOCT from being dragged through the trees and undergrowth on the side of the track. Chris was struggling to keep REDOCT on course with severely restricted steering. Just as we were beginning to tire Barry Stallard (of Chrysler Jeeps’ Off-Road Team) arrived with Patrick (back from his dinner). Barry immediately took charge and his calming methodical approach kept us with it. Progress resumed at a steady rate. The last and trickiest stage was to come. We had opted to take the up hill route to the hard track surface. This, we felt, gave us more control than the downhill way. The trouble was the track was deeply rutted, with a few boulders and cross-axles along the way. Whilst Barry organised a double headed pull, stationing Godzilla half way up the climb and Patrick’s YJ at the top, I went off to fetch the Rubicon II as backup. In the end we didn’t need it and eventually with much shuffling of the two recovery vehicles REDOCT was finally back on the tarmac and drove back to the camp. A good job done and a big thanks to all involved. By now it was around ten o’clock and the procession of Jeeps headed back up to the parking area. REDOCT was moving under it’s own power by virtue of the fact that half a dozen people were hanging off the rear corner keeping it balanced. Up at the bar we all in need of a drink. Kenny did the honours and even talked the bar man into rustling up a tray of well-needed sandwiches for those of us who had missed dinner. For many of us, me included, it had been a crash course in recovery techniques and teamwork in difficult circumstances all at the same time. We’d achieved it with out injury or further vehicle damage – a good job well done.

Kenny lent us his Jeep and around midnight Chris, Iris and I headed for our hotel. Despite directions from the bar man, we got lost and had to ask the way. Never was I more pleased to get to bed.

Day two, Sunday, started badly. The shower in my room expired midway through! At least we didn’t get lost going back to Middlewood Hall. Time to wander around the various stands and Jeeps of all description on display in the arena. The Chrysler Jeep off-road team had organised a trial section ready for the Ladies event that afternoon. Chris took the Rubicon I Cherokee round the course just to prove it could be done. Unfortunately he managed to clip a few canes on route so he didn’t win any prizes. There was a good turn out for the event in the afternoon. Despite some entertaining driving there were actually three women who cleared the route without collecting any penalties. Pretty impressive considering many had never driven off-road before and even less had driven the Rubicon I Cherokee. The Chrysler Jeep Off-road team took turns as co-drivers and spotters for the canes. After the event had finished, and when no one was watching, I had a go. I didn’t win any prizes either! Chris talked Iris into giving it ago too. Somehow however, the directions must have got a bit confused and the next time I saw them they were coming down the ramp off the demonstration trailer rig. As evening approached we headed up to the hotel onsite for dinner. Unfortunately they weren’t serving except to guests. Back in Sheffield we found a great Italian place and the three of us had great laugh. I ordered a shandy and was told, ‘No, sir we don’t do those’. Iris ordered a beer and lemonade in a mixture of German and English – and got exactly what she wanted! Umph! So, I ordered ‘the same as she had’! Back at Middlewood Hall a couple of hours later. The party was in full swing. Presentations were being made for various categories of Jeep and of course the winners of the Ladies event earlier that afternoon. Then followed a session of throwing ‘goodies’ into the crowd, pantomime style. Eventually towards midnight we headed back to the Hotel. The bar was still open and a rather drunken game of 3 way 301 darts ensued until the earlier hours.

REDOCT: Three wheels on my wagon and I'm going home!The following morning we had to arrange for REDOCT to be recovered back to Surrey Off-Road. Since both Rubicons were also due back for routine maintenance Chris was able to use the Cherokee to get him and Iris home. With little to do until the RAC showed up, I took my turn in the queue to drive the New Grand Cherokee round the Chrysler Jeep Off-Road route. Barry took the passenger seat just to make sure I got things right going up and over the trailer based demonstration bridge. This puts the vehicle through some quite severe axle twists. I was so impressed; all you had to do was steer the vehicle, use minimal amounts of throttle and cover the brake when necessary. The big 4.7 V8 just purred away taking everything in its stride. The big leather seats made it like piloting an expensive armchair despite the undulating terrain.

The recovery truck arrived about two o’clock and with REDOCT safely loaded we said our goodbyes and headed home. We arrived home early evening and the recovery truck arrived about an hour later. It had been a long but thoroughly enjoyable weekend.