Now...The Real Test!
you've probably read enough about what the Liberty is and
how it drives in grocery-getter mode. Either that or you skipped
ahead. Shame on you if you did.
came quickly and we headed out to Jim Oliver's Smokehouse,
where the morning's rides would gather and leave. Being a
Friday morning, the lot had but three other Jeeps in it when
we arrived. We parked the Liberty three spaces over from the
three very-built TJ's and headed inside the screened pavillion
to eat our breakfast. What ensued was fascinating!
sat there grazing, the TJ owners were gazing. Curious as could
be, they were dying to take a gander at the KJ parked just
a few feet away. They would inch closer and slide sideways
when they got within ten feet of the Jeep and then they'd
circle back to their TJ's. It was as if there was an invisible
force field around the Liberty. After about 10 minutes of
watching this bizarre behavior, I had to go outside and talk
to them. Walking out, I said "Y'all can step closer and
look. It won't bite you." Laughing, they did just that
and the question and answer session began.
stop was in an area to the side of the parking lot where we
parked to take some glamour shots. As people began pulling
in and untrailering their rigs, they said things like "You
aren't planning on wheeling that are you? I hope you don't
mind breaking it." We giggled a little and moved on to
the RTI ramp where we gave a spectacular display of articulation
(or lack of it).
experience reminded me very much of my first Jeep Jamboree
with my TJ back in 1997. The TJ was all-new and I can remember
like it was yesterday, how the CJ and YJ owners sneered at
me. I remember the mean comments. I remember how none of them
would speak with me. They all resented the new TJ and said
it wasn't a Jeep. Sound familiar? Now look who's all running
coil springs these days!
were done messing around in the lot, we got together with
a small group of trucks. Friday was not really an official
event day so the mood was light and nobody was out to break
parts yet. Our friend, Neal Tew and his buddies were very
curious to see first-hand what the Liberty could do and though
they were more than prepared for most of the trails around
Monteagle, they chose to head out with us. Our leader, Doug
Rasberry, was also very eager to check out the Liberty and
would prove to be a great help during the day. We discussed
what we felt the KJ was capable of doing and decided to hit
the Trail Between the Highways.
got its name because it is just that - the trail between the
North and South lanes of Interstate 45 as it climbs up the
6% grade mentioned earlier. We aired our Goodyear SR-A's down
to about 18 pounds and headed into the narrow trails. Most
of the trails around Monteagle are not maintained so with
just over 1,600 miles on it, we braced ourselves for plenty
of pinstriping on this brand new Jeep.
of you who have followed our Project TJ know that it has been
down for most of this year, so I have actually only hit the
trails a few times this season. Not having driven the Liberty
off-road yet, I was a bit uneasy as we headed in.
the Liberty would prove to be a wonderful experience for me.
It has been years since I have driven a stock vehicle off-road
and I have never driven an automatic off the pavement. In
addition, I have never driven anything with a limited slip
rear end. I could tell right away that a wonderful driving
experience lay ahead.
take long before we'd sink our 29" tall all terrains
into the gooey stuff. It had rained every day for the last
week or so - and rained hard. Once Doug headed up the first
muddy hill, he cut through the crust and left us a hill full
I hit the gas and headed for the hill. I was doing great,
going up...up...up...stop. I was spinning and digging my little
tires into deep, smooth ruts. I sawed the wheel back and forth
and gave it everything I had to no avail. It seemed like the
limited slip just wasn't kicking in. Then I realized it was
time to learn the ol' brake trick to get it to engage. I slammed
on the brakes as I gave it gas and each time I did, the Liberty
lurched forward a bit at a time. After trying several times
I decided I just wasn't going any further and tossed our strap
out to Doug.
later find more mud and take the strap again when needed.
Let's face it, stock all terrains were never intended to challenge
Tennessee mud and succeed. Even the guys with big ol' mudders
had some trouble here and there.
trail progressed, we came to a very long, steep hill climb.
Yes! This is what I was hoping for. The hill reminded me very
much of 4x4 Hill in Clayton, OK. It's covered with rocks and
you really don't want to break down anywhere along the way.
Filled with glee, I put the Jeep in gear and started crawling.
I was absolutely amazed! The Liberty moved upward at a slow
and steady pace, never spinning a tire or hesitating! The
motor's timing retarded and I could feel the torque doing
its thing. The Jeep took on the trail like a real pro. At
the top I got out and screamed "Yes!" with excitement.
The Liberty has a real low range! It IS a Jeep!
the hill we got to some nice flat rocky sections to test our
Liberty on. The Liberty's low range would prove more than
adequate. Not having to shift gears made easy work of guiding
the Jeep over any obstacles in our way. I have to say, I really
enjoyed learning to "drive" again. Having low clearance
and not much articulation is a far cry from my 35"-shod,
fully-locked up TJ. Driving over rocks was much more than
just point and shoot. It took finesse, patience, and a good
bit of memory. The view from the cockpit of the Liberty is
mostly hood, too, so even leaning out the window, you can't
see your tires. You have to memorize what's ahead of you before
you get there. It was a wonderful exercise and I really enjoyed
the experience of it all.
point, we got to a bit of a rock field. There appeared to
be no safe way through without scraping the heck out of the
Liberty and possibly damaging a rocker. Great spotting got
me most of the way, but, alas, we just were not tall enough
- especially with our tires aired down. We got hung up on
our rear differential and there was no way off without damaging
a rocker panel in the process. We tried rocking, lifting and
pushing to no avail. I finally asked Doug to gently tug me
free with his winch line.
the end of this field, we realized that we had mud impacted
in the bead of one of our front tires. It was leaking fast.
I tried blaming our stuck on the lowered tire but nobody bought
it. I grabbed our Power
Tank out of the back and juiced up the tire so we could
move on. We were probably the only stock vehicle at the event
carrying CO2 and air tools. Be prepared!
was leaking pretty fast so we decided that if we found an
out, we'd better get back to town and get it fixed up. Before
we could go, though, we'd get one more chance to test out
4LO. We came to a long descent that was covered in slick mud.
Putting the Liberty into 1st gear, I gently eased onto the
slope. I have to admit that I did not read up on all the specs
and new goodies on the Liberty prior to leaving, so I did
not know that the ABS and engine firing would retard when
put in 4LO. However, I learned it on my own. I could feel
the motor holding me back under compression as we went down
and I could feel a definite difference in how the brakes felt.
The Liberty did wonderfully and I kept full control of it
all the way to the bottom.
reached the bottom and found a clearing where we could get
back onto the highway, we pumped up the bad tire once again,
thanked the gang for all of their help, and headed back to
town. Two more air stops got us back and we had the local
tire shop remount and balance the tire for us. We were set
rolled around and we met up with our group. Robert Fuller
would be our trail leader. I've met Robert before and was
more than happy to hit the trails with him. Like the gang
on Friday, he too was eager to see how the Liberty would fare.
Our trail for the day would be Coppenger's Cove. Robert warned
us that the trail was on private land and was not maintained.
So, expecting more scratches on the new Jeep we headed out!
started out with just a couple of TJ's and a Samurai. We began
our 45 minute ride to Coppenger's Cove but didn't make it
very far before some other Jeeps joined the group. They had
missed their trail ride and wanted to tag along with us. The
Jeeps were modified and were over-built for the trail ahead.
arrived at the trailhead, we aired down the KJ and waited
for the others to finish preparing their rigs. Once again,
the Liberty jokes started. One Jeep owner said, "I hope
you brought spare parts." I replied by saying, "for
what?" After getting closer looks at some of the rigs
later in the day, I began wondering if he was really asking
if I had spare parts for his rig.
Jenifer, had driven us to the trail and we decided that it
was her turn to try the Liberty off-road. The first few miles
of the trail were over a dry creek bed. The river rocks proved
our suspension to be a bit on the stiff side. We did take
comfort in knowing that despite the tooth-jarring ride, it
would have been a whole lot worse in our built TJ.
took us down the long and winding trail and we eventually
came to some bigger rocks. I got out and spotted her as she
drove like a champ over the rocks, guiding the Liberty through
without incident. This would be the case throughout the rest
of the day, wherever we encountered rocky sections.
trouble spot we got to was a massive mud pit. Jenifer gave
me the wheel as I assessed our options. There were two ways
to go and neither one looked good. Had we met our match? We
attempted the main route, which looked more like the bypass.
It was a nearly-straight drop into a deep, muddy pit. The
pit was about the same size as the Liberty. The "bypass"
was a nasty mud pit which was already swallowing up the other
Jeeps as we inched into the big hole. I was afraid a rocker
would get munched so I eased on in. Sure enough, the rocker
caught and I was trapped. A tug of the strap got me free and
I pondered my route through the other side.
was to hit the mud pit as hard as I could and drive as far
as I could get. Then, I'd get strapped between some trees
to the other side. I jumped in with everything I had. I mashed
the gas pedal and slammed on the brakes while sawing the wheel
back and forth. The brakes locked the Trac-Lok quite well
and I made it more than half-way through! I began to get sideways
and my rear end was getting a bit too close to the tree-lined
edge for comfort. I called for the strap.
of the trail was pretty straight-forward and the Jeep did