Like the US Army, most
of the world's armed forces have long ceased the use of Jeeps as
military vehicles. Humvees and various derivatives of the original World War
II Jeep have taken the brunt of military duties, while Jeep products have
become the life style icons we appreciate and enjoy so much. When Chrysler
decided to get back into the military game, it took the Wrangler
Rubicon Unlimited, the world's most capable civilian off-road vehicle, and
made it tougher, heavier, and diesel-powered Jeep J8. But did they
actually improve it? We got our hands on a pair of fresh J8's in IDF desert
tan, complete with communication racks and checked it out for ourselves.
Sarge, What is a J8? What in hell is "Storm 3"?
Chrysler's new military
platform introduced in 2007 is not sold or manufactured anywhere in the US.
Continuing a tradition started in the '60s of local manufacturing in far
corners of the world certainly a factor in making Jeep such a recognizable
Icon everywhere J8 is assembled from kits in local plants around the
globe. One of the first plants to do so is AIL Automotive Industries Ltd.
located in the original city of Nazareth, Israel.
AIL has been building
Jeeps for four decades. Heavy duty versions of CJ6, CJ8, YJ-L, known as
M-240 'Storm', and lately TJ-L 'Storm 2' (road
test here). The Storm (actually 'Sufa' in
Hebrew) is a cult favorite in the
desert, the mainstay of the Israeli 4X4 community, and so the name carries
on, and The Israeli J8 got labeled 'Storm 3'. First units are rolling off
the line in Nazareth, and we were honored to be the first journalists to
have a go at them.
Inside, the J8 is almost
identical to the JK Wrangler, for better and worse. In the context of a
military vehicle, from the soldiers point of view (we are all reservist
soldiers here as well), this is way better than anything before it. Dual
Air-con! Automatic transmission! Roll cage mounted speakers! Let's go to
war, yea-ha! We do spot some changes, like the passenger airbag disconnect
being bolted where the left tweeter used to be, and a local made , lavishly
cushioned rear bench which does not fold, but is quite a bit more
comfortable than standard JK issue.
Outside, the flat-black
grille immediately sets the soldier's Jeep apart, as well as the no-nonsense
steel bumpers and military recovery hooks. Then you notice the air scoop on
the hood, rather odd, but necessary for the complex air filtration system
which makes J8 drivable in zero-visibility desert sand storms. 17-inch
extreme duty steel wheels are needed to clear the oversized disc brakes
lifted off the Dodge Durango. Leaning and looking under the rear of the J8
will reveal the semi-floating Dana 60, 35 spline axle, suspended by leaf
springs, which complements the Dana 44 front axle, suspended by heavy duty
coil springs. Various chassis frame reinforcements and gussets are also
the hood is the Italian made VM common rail turbo diesel. A Modern European
diesel, it is
smooth, quiet and abundant with torque (295 lb-ft available at 2,000 RPM).
The power goes through a 5-speed automatic Chrysler transmission, a great
companion to the engine, with ratios nicely matching the 4.10:1 ring and
pinions in the axles. J8 is a heavy vehicle at over 2 tons, but feels
quick, almost nimble, and handles very well on road for a Jeep that is.
Acceleration is effective and we find it easy to keep being ahead of traffic
rushing south. The road experience is however spoiled whenever pavement
isnt perfect by the harsh suspension designed for 1.5 tons of payload.
We spend a chilly night
on the shores of the
the lowest campground in the world. In the
morning we head up
Sodom. From there
several choices of trails lead north. We take the hard one today, a trail
that was re-opened recently after being washed away by flash floods during
the winter. The only tire marks in the soft soil are those of army HMMWVs
training here sometimes. Civilian SUV prints take off in on a bypass. We
play the soldier part dumb - and drive on the Hummer tracks. The J8
answers the challenge. When shifting the NV241 transfer case to low range,
the idle speed increases to 1,000rpm, and the brakes become more sensitive.
The Jeep crawls over the trenches and trough the axle-twisting, off-camber
bends with no hesitation, and then it runs quickly on the sandy wash. We
find that the suspension is flexible when crawling, and the high spring
rates work great when running fast, but it feels really bad in medium
driving speeds on the washboard roads. The semi-elliptic leaf spring setup
is simply too hard when not fully loaded.
Next, we head to the
Yair Pass, one of a handful of trails crossing the thousand foot shear cliff
wall separating the Judea desert plane from the Dead Sea. Usually, it takes
a lifted Jeep with at least a rear locker to climb here. But now the ascent
is in bad shape, with loose rocks all the way, and at the very top, the
notorious Yair ledge which denies many, forcing them to winch to the crest.
We put the Storm 3 in low range, first gear, and keep the revs a little over
1,000. It does the rest, all the way up, as we count pieces of torn SUV
plastic discarded about. And that nasty rock ledge? It's behind us, too
easy. One jeep crawls back down and up again, just for the pictures.
What made it so easy? A
Jeep made of steel upon nicely sized BF Goodrich rubber, no useless plastic
on the outside waiting to fall off, a great drive train, and a superbly
effective traction control system on top of limited slip differentials. No
lockers to engage, no decision making required of a tired soldier, just put
her in low gear and go.
This very combination
took us the next day to the ridges of Dimona. Long off-camber goat paths,
dry river beds strewn with boulders and dry waterfalls, steep hillsides of
soft soil mixed with limestone. We usually don't come here with Jeeps
wearing less than 33s, not to mention two diff locks. But we feel reassured
with the J8 by now, climbing and slowly crawling in low range. The day is
great, safe fun. And the Jeeps keep asking for more.
The drive back to Tel
Aviv is long enough for us re-think, to contemplate one of those rare dates
with a car that makes you fall in love. I look at the odometer and realize
that we never tested any SUV for so many miles, but these Jeeps didn't care.
It wasn't cheap - the turbo diesel is almost as thirsty as the lazy V6 gas
growler JK. But it was money well spent, crawling the
desert with good friends in real Jeeps. Storm 3 J8 probably, the best
Will we ever be able to
own one? Chances are slim for a civilian version. We'll probably have to
wait a few years and hope some Storm 3's find their way to the surplus lots
intact. We return the pair of tan Jeeps to Nazareth and climb back on the
trusty old '95 Storm. You need to last a few more years, baby.