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How Big is Beautiful?

 

Before all your glasses start steaming up end you start practising your heavy breathing techniques let roe just tell you that I finally got to road (and off-road) test the jeep Cherokee Chief.

 

I tootled off to Harrogate one sunny Saturday afternoon to meet Tom Roberts at his garage. Tom wee the benefactor who had arranged for me to test the jeep. The demo motor was late turning up, so to pass the time Tom let me amuse myself by driving his motorized skateboard, more commonly known as a Haflinger. Power is a word you don't bandy about in a Haflinger, in fact the only words you could use would have to be loud ones; Nevertheless it is a willing and easy to drive little bus and I dare say you could get to have the same sort of 'Love Hate' relationship as with a Land Rover.

 

As I puttered back into Toms yard I damn nearly collided with about 17 acres of metal, chrome and glass which was obviously my demo motor finally arrived. Tom introduced me to Gary Dobson of GE Hunt's Ltd the Deep and Diahatsu importers. Garry had to be an easy going type of bloke or I could see me spending the day in the passenger seat rather than driving the big brown beast lurking outside.

 

Not only was he easy going I think he'd make a pretty good Pennine material too. My first impression of the vehicle was just the sheer bulk size of it, not a pleasing shape to look at, the slab sides, square doors and stepped tail door all combine to give it something of the look of a hearse about to go on its holidays, however, by concentrating on the stylish chrome spoked wheels and fat 'Herbie' type tyres it was possible to be a bit more tolerant of it's 'plain Jane' styling. Our actual model was a four door 6 1/2 litre V-8 automatic retailing at a figure of £9, 500 which left me in no doubt as to how I should drive the beast.

 

We set off towards the A1 with Garry driving and me firing questions at him and sulking all at the same time. The inside was definitely a place of contrast. There was acres of room, the virtually non-existent transmission tunnel and column mounted automatic shift lever gave leg room a giraffe would have liked while the individual front seats were extremely comfortable but boy did they pong; All the trim was done in a particularly virulent vinyl that gave off the aroma of a polythene bucket.

 

We were still clogging on towards the Al when the heavens decide to open up, Garry however never slackened off and chucked all 2^ tons of Jeep through corners with the sort of relaxed optimism that I thought only Land Rover drivers had. By the time we hit the slip road to the Al my bottom lip was somewhere near my navel so at last Garry took pity on me and changed places. Tom, obviously not the worlds best passenger, wasn't sure whether to look relieved or alarmed. From the point of view of controls there is really nothing to master, adjust the seat (Garry has long legs;) adjust the steering wheel (long arms too.) gear lever to D, release the handbrake .......... where's the bloody hand brake .then?? would you believe a pedal by your right foot with a small lever as a 'fly off release?? actually it worked very well and once you'd accepted the strangeness of it I began to like it. Press the accelerator pedal and 'orft we jolly well'. Slowly round and down onto the A1, find the indicator, check the mirror, indicate and then notice a coach bearing down like all the avenging angels of hell with more lights lit then Piccadilly Circus on New Year® Eve, Always one to respond to a challenge and all thoughts of care and £9, 500 going to the wind I hit the accelerater . What happened next can only be described as paradise to one who has spent too much of his life driving under powered machinery on over rated roads. With a barely heard growl from up front a gentle change down from below end like Star Trek going into hyper-drive I watched the blazing headlights retreat from view in the mirror.

 

Power, real power, not the high revving wheel spinning kind any half decent 1300 Escort can manage, but the real thing. Lazy, indolent ready to use  power that almost yawns with boredom as you push it to its maximum of a 100 and positively purrs with easy delight at a cruising 80. After bathing in this beautiful feeling for a while I decided to start and take notice of things rather than feelings. Very little to play with or look at in the line of controls and clocks, but what was there worked well and was easy to see. There is no need under road conditions to ever hold the auto box, the engine has enough guts to pull through nearly anything in top and if a lower gear is needed the box does it easily and without any of the amateur dramatics that most English automatics seem to indulge in before finally selecting the right gear. The power steering coupled with the small steering wheel made any steering work a very precise and nervous affair, while cornering was at first an absolute nightmare, the full time 4wd making the Deep feel as if it had two rears and no front. Garry put me on the right track, put on the lock then put on the power, easy it was too, after I'd got some chewing gum so I could stop biting my lip. Some North Yorkshire undulating country roads end the suspension bottoming very slightly which surprised me a little.

 

It soon become time to stop the pussyfooting about on the black stuff, and get on to some of good 'ol Mother Natures real McCoy. I pulled off the road onto a gravel track that led to my chosen cross country test. I had, not two day® previous, travelled that particular track in my own Series 11 at a speed in the region of 30 mph with only the hint of a tremor to prove (Me had  traversed a few pot holes, naturally I,gunned the big Jeep just to raise some dust and announce our arrival.

 

After a noise that sounded as if the wheels had just deserted us we picked ourselves out of the headlining while I sheepishly apologised. I decided then and there that the shortcomings I had noticed in the suspension were definitely the biggest downfall to this mud  cruiser, the all round 5 leaf springs just can't handle 2 1/2 tons of vehicle other than on the road or VERY slowly off the road,  I once pondered many months ago in BB as to what it would be like to drive an automatic cross country.. Well in a word, its great. As long as you have a power house under the bonnet to go with it. The traction from the combined effort of a 6 1/2 litre engine and the Quadra Trac 4wd can only be described as fantastic. I deliberately stopped a quarter of the way up a 1 in 3 wet grass covered bank, a hundred revs over tick over held everything there, another hundred revs sent us smoothly climbing uphill, all 2 1/2 tons in one easy movement, without a slip, slide or murmur of  discontent. The lightest best shod eighty in England could not have set off up that hill without some theatrical spinning revving and sliding. Returning down the way we had come was not quite as pleasant, the low compression fast tickover V-8 held the vehicle in check but you had to descend at e speed that would convince any onlookers that you were destined for the local loo with a matter of extreme importance, so it was a case of to hell with the expense and get on with the job. The Jeeps sheer length and overhang were the chief drawbacks to it's cross country ability, the ground clearance was good, and the lock also, due mainly to the open uj's on the front axle and the incredibly easy end quick power steering which really came into its own on the rough, but they couldn't overcome the 9 foot wheelbase and 15 foot 4 inch overall length, especially when there's chrome bumpers and fancy pressed steel panel work hanging over both ends and all 4 corners. However with care and thought we never got into any trouble and the gentle giant purred over my cross country course like a lazy lion. Despite it's weight, traction in deep mud was excellent, and its massive 6 foot wheelbase made going sideways across a slope a relaxed manouvre rather than the usual grip the seat with your bum' type of exercise so usual with smaller machines.

As far as I can gather the Quadra Trac transmission is similar to the Range Rover except that somehow (and  please don't ask me how.) it senses when one axle is losing traction and automatically transfers more of the power to the other axle, I actually saw this action taking place while Tom took the Jeep up a steep boulder filled gully.

 

There is a knob hidden deep in the passenger glove compartment that locks this Quadra Trac to give equal power to both axles but as far as I could see it made no real difference, there was also a low transfer lever which consisted of a 3 inch stick of plastic hidden somewhere below the passenger seat (the way they hide them it's obvious Jeep are confident you'll never need either of these overide controls) for some unknown reason this particular control didn't work on our demo motor.

 

Time was now getting on and apart from doing a deep water fording job I had tried everything that I could think of to test the 4wdrive ability of the Jeep. The original pristine bronze God was well muddied and a nice tide mark down the nearside where I took it through a mud hole with 2 wheels in, and 2 wheels out of the hole, damage was nil but warnings  were to be found on the rear tow plate and a rather stupidly positioned  hand brake crank, slung an inch below the floor panel right in the centre of the wheelbase line, both wore a fine covering of well ground North  Yorkshire rock, Garry took over for the drive back to Harrogate and I had time to ride in the beck and 'gather missen' as they say. Before I sum up I would like to say that it wasn't a comparison test, the Range Rover is the only vehicle which it can be likened to and as yet no-one has lent me one of those to do a road test on, though I live in hope??????

 

So it was just a test of an imported model which is as yet rare in this country. The vehicle as a whole did not impress my somewhat conservative tastes but its several notable features left me in awe, the power and traction capability being its two outstanding features, while its suspension and interior trimming being its worst. Its cross country capability is really meant for using the thousands of miles of tracks in America where I think there would be very little in the way of gradients, mud, snow or water that could stop it, but true off road conditions away from the tracks would be fraught with problems due to its size.

 

As a motorway cruiser hauling trailers with miniature Queen Mary's on, it would be in a class of its own, overall I think perhaps I was impressed if only at the way my rather ill concealed bias I displayed at first had been replaced by an infectious enthusiasm, from now on I refuse to be narked the next time a Jeep blows me off at the traffic lights. If only I could get hold of a Rangey to do a comparison.'

 

The test vehicle was supplied by G.E. Hunt Ltd, Four Wheel Drive Centre, Ferrensby, North Yorkshire.

 

Telephone Copgrove 436.

 

They are agents for all the Jeep range plus the new Japanese import , the Diahatsu which I just happen to have been promised a road test in ....... things are looking up.„,, look out 'Autocar' and thanks to Hunts for loaning the vehicle, Garry for giving up his Saturday afternoon for me and Tom Roberts for setting the whole thing up,

 

 
 
MSA and ARC club members are welcome to come along and join our events. Phone Mark on 07866 506521 / 01282 703718

 

 

Pennine Land Rover Club, Pennine LRC