So I bought this 91 XJ in California about 5 or 6 years ago because they’re cheap and un-rusty out there. I grew up in Michigan, and have since lived all over the country. Rust is a way of life in Mitten Land. It’s part of the car culture. People in the West simply would not understand the twisted sense of pride one gets from cracking a rusty brake bleeder screw without breaking it off in the caliper! It’s a relief like no other. Anyway, this old machine has developed quite a character, and I’m pretty happy about where it’s taken me. I’ll share some of my misadventure with you!
After several years in Northern California, I decided to shift professional gears out of the government sector and into the automotive industry. My new company graciously moved Rommel across the country to Michigan (my ancestral home land). I am certain they spent more to ship this thing than I paid for it!
Anyway, bought a house with a garage to keep my junk in. Rommel moved inside for the first time in its life.
So here is where the story gets a little sad. I bought another jeep. A purple Jeep Grand Minivan. And then a silver JK. Sadly, Rommel was left behind the family race shop for over a year. Never started, never washed, never opened, still with a CD wallet on the passenger seat and the dune flag zip-tied to the roof rack, getting bleached by the sun. I’m not really sure what I was thinking. I mean, I had what might be the last rust-free XJ in the state of Michigan and it was just sitting out in a commercial back lot next to my engine-free W123 Mercedes with 2 flat tires and a dead battery. I didn’t really think about old Rommel much at all for a good while. Out of sight, out of mind. God I feel terrible for abandoning it out there. She was a good jeep and she deserved better.
Suddenly, in July of this year I had an epiphany... er, well actually I got drunk, remembered I owned an XJ, and started buying internet parts like a crack head buying... well, crack. Six-inch-lift coils and leafs, some fancy shackles, 33 inch KM2s, some cheap shocks (Ranchos?), Tom Woods rear driveshaft, slip yolk eliminator, and a few other odds and ends. I had made my decision, committed to my course: Rommel would rumble again. This time, I wanted to build it into a trail and quasi-overlanding rig.
And that’s pretty much where Rommel stands today. I drive it to work once or twice a week, chase my dad’s dogs with it, park it on curbs at the grocery store like a real bro, and generally enjoy the weird culture of The House of XJ. People wave at it (only dudes, really), my neighbors hate it, and my garage floor will never recover from the oil/antifreeze/trans fluid/diff dope that constantly oozes from pretty much everywhere. I think I’ve had this thing longer than I’ve owned any car, and that’s quite a feat. Pretty sure I’ll keep it for a while longer.
So what’s next for Rommel? Repaint and a new beating heart, I suppose. I learned a lot when I painted it all those years ago. I can do it again, better. As for that heart transplant... well, I spent a fair amount of effort freshening an old Mercedes diesel and mating it to a Jeep transmission. Then I wrapped it in plastic and pushed into a corner in the shop. It’s ready to go in, whenever I get tired of listening to this billion mile 4.0 rattling away, hammering the intake valve seats ever deeper into the head. One day I’ll just freak out and pull the motor. I’ll try to remember to dump some pics when I do.