When you hear the words “summer camp,” what are the first things that come to mind? For most, its probably thoughts of a fun filled week out on a lake as a youngster fishing with your friends, sleeping in a tent, and cooking your meals over a campfire. And now that many of us have grown up, we get to think of summer camp as time where we get to temporarily release control over our kiddos and take a short break from parenthood. While these immediate kneejerk responses to summer camp are accurate, the most recent remembrances we at Power Products have are wheelin’ with our friends on Peterson’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine’s Ultimate Adventure, dubbed “Summer Camp.”
For those unfamiliar with the Ultimate Adventure, essentially this is a gathering put together by Petersen’s that occurs every year in which they invite sponsors and a handful of readers to an unknown location with short notice to spend a week offroading. The week is also filled with several “road days,” as multiple destinations and states are covered in order to get the chance to play in numerous areas. And to top it off, you are required to drive your offroading vehicle to each destination, sleep and survive out of that vehicle, and if you break, you’re left in the dust (or in the case of this year, mud, and lots of it).
Let’s first cover the most important part….what we drove! In previous years, we have taken vehicles such as our Cummins powered Mega Cab, the Raptor SuperDuty, Project Mjolnir, and our 4BT Cummins powered Jeep JK, basically a host of very well-functioning, but also very nice vehicles, on a trip that is destined to bring at least some type of carnage. This year, we decided to change things up a bit. Recently, we had acquired and completed a short build of a 1975 Jeep Cherokee Chief that we took to this year’s Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. We thought so highly of it, we ended up doing a more thorough build and decided to take it on this year’s Ultimate Adventure. And as usual, with very little time to accomplish it…..about three weeks.
First things first, check and change all fluids, but wait, there’s metal in the oil of this old, original engine. And, let the frame-off begin! So yeah, the 360 AMC was pulled and completely rebuilt, and we opted to add an MSD Atomic EFI for consistent fuel delivery. To back up the 360, we bolted up a fresh Turbo 400 featuring a heavy duty torque converter with a manual valve body for driver controlled shifts. Backing up the transmission was a fresh NP205 transfer case with twin stick controls from our friends over at Off-Road Design.
Coming out of the transfer case, we had Tom Woods Custom Drive Shafts build us a pair of drivelines to send power to the front and rear axles. We heavily modified the front Dana 44 with a Synergy Manufacturing truss, Reid Racing knuckles, an 8 lug wheel conversion, ARB Air Locker, and 4.88 Nitro Gears ring and pinion. Out back, we fitted a 14 bolt axle with Nitro chromoly axles and an ARB Air Locker stuffed with Nitro 4.88 gears to match up to the front. Air operation of the lockers comes via an ARB Twin Air Compressor mounted at the tailgate area of the interior cage using a custom mounting bracket that we manufacture. At each corner of our modified axle assemblies lie one of the new 37” Falken Wildpeak M/T’s mounted up to a Method 105 beadlock for maximum offroading traction and the ability to run extremely low tire pressure for when things get gnarly.
In order to deliver the performance from the suspension we required, we went to work laying out the laundry list of components we would need to gather, manufacture, and install on the Chief in short order. Up front, we designed a custom three link that gave us amazing articulation capabilities, while still being extremely street friendly. To provide the height and dampening for the Chief, we opted to go with a set of Fox Performance Series 2.5 x 12 remote reservoir coilovers featuring their Dual Speed Compression (DSC) Adjusters mounted to a pair of Artec Industries coilover towers. These are awesome because you can literally change up the low and high speed compression via a simple knob located right on the shock assembly to create harmonious shock performance, no matter the situation. Out back, we again looked to the professionals at Fox for a set of their 2.0 Performance Series remote reservoir shocks that mount to a custom crossmember that we fabricated. And to keep the low slung ride height we desired, we got with BDS for a pair of their leaf springs that allow for a ton of flexibility, while again, still being super capable on the street, which were mounted to a pair of Synergy shackles.
As far as steering, one product that we have grown VERY fond of, being most of our vehicles run at least 40” tires, are PSC hydraulic assist steering systems. While the Chief would “only” be running 37’s, it was still determined that this project would also benefit from a little steering assistance when out on the trails, thus it was fitted with a complete PSC steering box and hydraulic assist. If you’ve never experienced a vehicle with hydraulic assist, just imagine being able to turn 40” mud terrains on pavement while not moving, WITH EASE! Yeah, its that cool. To get the motion from the steering box to our bright orange Reid knuckles, we built a custom drag link and center link with Synergy GM 1-Ton heavy duty tie rods at all corners for maximum strength that mount to a GenRight pitman arm and heim joint kit.
Now that the drivetrain and suspension were complete, we were able to focus our attention on all of the body protection, lighting, and electrical. Up front, to house our Warn Zeon 10-s winch, we looked to Mercenary Offroad for protection. We’ve used Mercenary bumpers in the past on our heavy duty Rams because they offer up unparalleled styling and ground clearance, while being extremely resilient, and our expectations were again exceeded with their bumper for the Chief. The lines on this bumper are unlike any other on the market, and keep everything high and tight for proper approach angles. To keep with the Mercenary theme, they built a matching rear bumper with an integrated receiver hitch for us that came out unscathed after a week of torture. In order to carry loads of gear and house exactly a zillion Baja Design lights (that’s right….a zillion), we broke out the welder and tube bender to create a custom roof rack that tied into an internal roll cage. The roof rack also served very purposeful to strap our Summer Camp required canoe, which we will get to later. While building the internal cage, it became evident that the floor boards had definitely seen better days, with years of moisture eroding the metal, turning into red powder. Fortunately, BJ’s Offroad makes killer replacements for this era of Cherokee that saved us a ton of time in fabricating our own. In order to keep all passengers in place at all times, we bolted down a set of PRP digital camouflage covered race seats with PRP five point harnesses. Not only are these seats built superbly for keeping you strapped down, but are actually quite comfortable.
While on the Ultimate Adventure, you are required to do a considerable amount of highway driving in order to reach each destination, so we knew a set of upgraded headlights would be necessary to avoid running auxiliary lights, which have a tendency of attracting unwanted attention. To tackle this, we went with a pair of J.W. Speaker Evolution 2 headlights, as they’ve been an amazing upgrade for some of our JK projects. To complement the Evo2’s when on the trail, like we mentioned earlier, we added a zillion Baja Designs lights….alright, alright, there were actually six of their S2 model mounted on the rack and two Squadron XL-R’s on the front bumper (almost a zillion). In order to avoid random fuses and relays mounted in every orifice of the Chief, we hooked up with our friends at sPOD and wired up one of their Source Systems that runs all auxiliary electrical through one single system for a super clean installation. To round out the electrical was one of the most important pieces to the puzzle, a RacePak dash that not only delivers us a full digital dash including speed, RPM, and fuel level from our BJ’s Offroad fuel cell, but also alerts from various sensors if values fall outside of a preset range.
Now all that was left to complete the Chief were to build a custom, high clearance exhaust system to avoid rock carnage, and some “fender clearancing.” Unfortunately, the original fender design of the 70’s Cherokee’s do not lend themselves to running 37” tires with only minimal increases in suspension height very easily. Of course, we could have gone the route of sourcing custom fiberglass units, but with the clock-a-ticking, that wasn’t an option. So we went with option numero dos….a “Falken” Sawzall and a “Falken” hammer to provide clearance for the Falken tires (the whole “Falken” thing went on for the duration of Ultimate Adventure, as they were the tire sponsor this year).
And with the welds still warm and glowing, we loaded the Chief onto our gooseneck trailer and hooked up and headed out for the long trip from Washington state to Tennessee to drop the truck and trailer. Once in Tennessee, we had minimal time to boogie to our UA meeting point in Ohio, roughly 700 miles of driving a vehicle that had next to zero testing time. And as we expected (and hoped), it performed flawlessly, guzzling unleaded the whole way.
And So The Adventure Begins…
Day one of the Ultimate Adventure is not so much about wheeling, more talking about wheeling, and ensuring all vehicles are in compliance with the rules set forth by Petersen’s, and are basically safe. So yeah, that’s what happened on day one (don’t worry, it gets more exciting). Day two started out like every other day of every Ultimate Adventure, uncertainty of what Rick Pewe, our fearless leader, had in store for us that day. And as usual, he did not let us down as we found ourselves at Powerline Offroad Park, which was riddled with deep water crossings and loads of mud due to the never ending rain. Overall, it was a great day with minimal carnage and we had a blast.
Day three was considered a road day, as we needed to make our way from Ohio to Kentucky, but we were fortunate enough to hit up Clay Valley Dirt Park located in Harrison, Ohio that was featured more mud and a ton of fun. The most interesting part was a gnarly hill climb that found many of “us” on our sides at one particular obstacle near the peak of the climb. Fortunately, with plenty of man power and winches on every vehicle (mandatory UA accessory), flopping rigs over is like flipping pancakes. While trying to get out of Ohio, we felt a bit like we were in the movie Twister, as we were chasing down a tornado, or maybe it was chasing us. Fortunately, we made it to our river barge to cross into Kentucky before we found ourselves in the Land of Oz.
Up to this point, the Chief had performed flawlessly with miles of getting beaten on, but it must have had a vendetta about crossing into Kentucky, as we found ourselves being forced to make several stops at various auto parts stores, and then playing catch up with the rest of the group. The first item on the fail list was a thermostat that caused an overheating issue, which we replaced with a high flow version from Mr. Gasket. Well, guess what, that failed in no time flat, so another stop and we popped in a Stant branded t-stat with fingers crossed. Now as the weather continued to rain down on us and the sunset looming, it became evident that while our headlight switch was flipped on to provide power to our J.W. Speaker headlights, there was obviously no illumination. After a quick check, the headlight switch had failed. So, sorry oncoming traffic….engaging Baja Designs LED’s! We finished our road trip for the day by settling in at Harlan County Campground at the trailhead of Black Mountain Offroad Park in Putney, Kentucky, a mere 700 miles from where we began our journey earlier that day.
About thirteen seconds after we finally shut our eyes for some sleep, we heard the rooster crowing to get day four started. One thing about Ultimate Adventure, while it may be one of the greatest vacations you can have the opportunity to participate in, you will by no means be catching up on any sleep! With the rain still pouring down, we were ready to further test out our Falken tires’ ability to keep us moving through the muck at Black Mountain. At this point, one issue became very clear, the Chief had the ability to maintain its own atmosphere. Let us explain. First of all, one of the rules of UA are “windows down.” This is done to create a feeling of equality between all open cab vehicles, such as buggies or Jeeps, with cabbed vehicles. This practice only accentuates the amount of humidity from the outside environment. To compound with this, the Chief has no insulation on the floorboards, thus all resonating heat from the undercarriage is transmitted into the cab. All of this equates to a substantial amount of moisture building up on the ceiling, quite literally raining down on any and all passengers and equipment within. “We really need to stop and get Fog-X” became almost a systematic dialogue throughout the entire trip as we were forced to continually wipe down the windshield. But, on a positive note, we managed to repair the headlight switch before camping out in Black Mountain again for the night.
Day five, like all other mornings on UA, started earlier than we would have wished. Today would take us on yet another road day to make our way into the great state of Tennesse, and back out again into North Carolina. What Tennessee did bring us, no matter how short our stay, was the opportunity to FINALLY find out why in the world we had these enormous canoes mounted to the roofs of our vehicles…..BATTLE CANOEING! That’s right, we reserved a few hours of daylight to stop and have some fun in the water smashing into one another like Vikings in full combat mode over a newfound haven. Upon crossing into North Carolina, somewhere, on a boat, in the pouring rain, we had the opportunity to repair our malfunctioning windshield wipers. Oh, did we forget to mention the wipers quit working? Sorry, details are somewhat foggy, like our windshield. “We really need to stop and get Fog-X and Rain-X” was the new slogan. And sleep, yeah, we slept somewhere, just not able to pinpoint that location at this point.
Now into day six, we found ourselves somewhere on the North Carolina and Georgia border at Durhamtown for some wheelin’. Here, we were able to open up our pipes, spin some tires, and play in a plethora of rock gardens to truly test not only driver skill, but vehicle aptitude in a range of different terrains. The Chief was fortunate enough to come out almost completely unscathed, with exception to a boulder deciding it wanted to try and destroy our custom exhaust, nothing a hammer and some wire couldn’t fix, though! After a full day of burning fuel and making memories, we settled into Durhamtown for another wet night camping under the stars.
Day seven, what a glorious day the seventh day was, as we finally stopped for Fog-X! Oh yeah, and Cooper drove a tank over a Jeep XJ, but we got Fog-X! In all seriousness, Rick Pewe managed to secure us some time at a tank test grounds where some of us were able to strap into a tank and turn a few childhood dreams into reality. Once we had our fill of tanks (or maybe they told us it was time to leave) we loaded back up and wound up in Pittsburgh, Tennessee for the night. For the final day before our adventure was over, it seemed fitting that we would spend the day
in Adventure Offroad Park on day eight where we could all give our vehicles everything we had, as there was little to lose with the end of UA nearing. Rocks, mud, and gnarly hill climbs seemed to be the theme for Adventure Offroad Park, which equated to a lot of questionable decisions and plenty of impressive automotive feats. Our Chief discovered that when you combine rocks, mud, and gnarly hill climbs with plenty of right footed WOOPOW, things can sometimes get a little sketchy, and she ended up on her side. But that’s okay, its just part of the UA experience, and building a vehicle that can take the abuse. Now at the close of the last day, we had one of the most welcoming sights we had seen all week, a hotel with running hot water!
Throughout our eight day adventure, we racked up over 1200 miles on the Chief, not including our transport to and from the start/stop points, averaged around eight miles to the gallon, and managed to only break miniscule original equipment components. As with every year in the past, we had the opportunity to see a host of old friends, meet plenty of new ones, and we are already thinking about next year’s event, hopefully the Chief is aired out by then, as its smelling a tad on the funky side.