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!

When I bought this mean machine, I of course named it The Rotten Tomato. It was red and disgusting.
Obviously, the first thing you do when you buy a disgusting jeep with 1/4 million miles on it is drive up into Yosemite for the weekend... on 3 different brands of tires...
One day, I freaked out and bought a set of TJ Canyons and a case of spray paint. This transformed the “Rotten Tomato” into “Rommel”. I was pretty proud of myself.
I did a header swap at work. It was dry inside and the floor was heated. I’m not ashamed.

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!

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Anyway, bought a house with a garage to keep my junk in. Rommel moved inside for the first time in its life.

For the first time ever, Rommel becomes and inside dog.
With my triumphant return to The Motherland, Michigan, Rommel got pressed into winter duty. She accepted her mission and took to it with a aplomb.

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Of course, now that I’m in Michigan I have to go to Silver Lake because that’s just what you do with a jeep in Michigan. SIde note: 4.0 XJ is really good in the sand. REALLY good.

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.

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Old Goodyears and the new BFG meats
Jeep with puddles of various fluids, degreasers, and mineral spirits. And all the hydraulic oil leaking out of our damn lift. I think it started leaking in like 1995, but apparently we’re still waiting for it to fix itself... because that’s what leaking lifts do...
Rommel got pushed outside so I could clean up like 2 days worth of oil slick under the lift. I snapped a pic before pushing her back in to finish some stuff.

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Exploded view transfer case. It actually looked pretty darn nice in there, considering I don’t think it’s been off the jeep in 26 years. Had to play hydraulic press games to get all the bearing squared away, but it eventually fell in line.
I did remove the bottom leaf from each side to get her down a bit in the rear. Ya ya, I know this changes the way the stresses flow through the pack bla bla, but it’ll live plenty long for me to get bored with it and change it up completely. I’m thinking Deavers. Or maybe a coiled 5 link. Who knows what future RockBottom will want.
Hard to tell, but this thing it filthy. Over a year of tree poop and pollen has embedded itself into the paint. It’s positively gross.

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About to get it’s first bath in a couple years.
Safe and clean-ish, next to the way less-awesome daily traffic warrior JK.

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.

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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.

Case of flat khaki spray paint? Check.
Anyone who’s ever tried to degrease a 300,000 mile diesel engine knows exactly what this face means. This better be worth it.