I used to be a pure car guy, and I didn't like SUVs much. I used to argue against high CG, bad handling, lumbering girth, and gas-guzzling nature of SUVs. Thatís how I was until I moved to coastal Karnataka, where one can truly experience bad road nirvana. Since early last year, I learnt more about SUVs than I knew about it all my life. As I was learning about SUVs, it was hard to miss the 4x4 and off-roading aspects of SUV. Pretty soon, I rejected all non-4WD SUVs from contention. Instead I started looking for a family SUV that can do off-roading. Before the end of the year, my fast car (Baleno) made way for the nimble bad road SUV(Grand Vitara). The current look (Aug 2010) of my CJ340
Before I took GV out for any serious off-roading, I attended the basic off-roading training at Kelambakkam. That was an eye-opener towards the possibilities. There I drove the Jeep for the first time in my life. Hmm, technically that is not correct, I have driven Jeep Cherokee Laredo before, but here I am referring to the Indian Jeep, the MM540. But as most Jeepers know, there is day and night difference between the two. After driving Arkaís MM540 most of the day off-road and on-road, my view of off-roading and 4x4s changed drastically. It is one thing to comment on 4WD over the keyboard, but being out there doing it, is very different.
Keeping the Kelambakkam lessons in mind, I routinely took out GV for short off-roading forays. I even got custom skid plates made for the GV. While GV performs well in moderate situations without any hitch, the chances of body panel damage increases significantly at higher degree of difficulty. After scraping the body panel, and cracking the fiber rear bumper, I started thinking seriously. Fortunately, all the damage so far was superficial and not even visible normally, one has to literally get under to notice it. But this luck may not hold for long. And GV parts have to come from Japan and it can be very expensive. Pushing our primary family vehicle for off-roading started to appeal less and less.
Considering I had caught the off-roading bug pretty seriously, there was no going back. But GV won't take me all the way, I needed a hardcore and cheap grunt I can push anywhere without worrying about body damage. After discussing my dilemma with many team-BHPians like GTO, Arka and Sideways, I finally considered getting an old diesel Mahindra Jeep, say MM540 or CJ series. And GV would remain as my primary bad road family vehicle, the main reason why it was bought. This decision caused quite some buzz in the DBHP section.
This time however, I moved very fast. Before people could say Mahindra & Mahindra, I had landed a 1994 CJ340 DP. The seller is a well-known Jeep Thrills member called Jam_Anand. He buys old Jeeps and rebuilds them for resale. He has some wonderful Jeeps including a rare MM440 and couple of Willys Jeeps. When I bought it, it didnít have soft-top, wipers, side-mirrors, seat belts, horn, etc. Fortunately, Anand was able to retro-fit most of them in a week. However, it already had new off-roading tyres, aluminium skid plates, bucket seats, locking hubs, etc., he even put new front shocks and bolero coolant overflow tank. Donít ask how much I paid, I was told by many that I overpaid, so I donít want to reveal it publicly and get my nose rubbed-in few more times. Considering I live in the coast where there are few 4x4s, it would have taken me long and many trips to Bangalore if I was too picky about price. Besides, this is already prepped very well for off-roading, leaving me very few items to mod. It is done, I am happy, so letís leave the price alone. It is water under the bridge.
The new home (my office).
My first challenge with the CJ340 was to bring it home this weekend. Driving an unknown, 14 years old open Jeep for 425Kms was no joke. Many things could go wrong, vague steering, bad handling, no Jeep driving experience, high possibility of breakdown, etc. In addition, my wife got very excited about driving down in an open Jeep, so she too stepped up. So we both flew into Bangalore on Friday, in one of the last flights that landed in the old airport. But she doesnít come often to Bangalore, so there was whole lot of shopping to do on Saturday. Meanwhile I was wondering how I can safely store luggage in an open Jeep. After much thought, I bought a hard suitcase and a bicycle lock to secure it to the Jeep roll cage.
After multiple delays, the Jeep finally got delivered around 7AM on Sunday 25th 2008. The odometer read 08248, which doesnít mean anything. The odometer wasnít working when Anand bought it, he had to get it fixed. Frankly, nobody knows how much Kms this has logged. But the engine sounds to be in superb shape, soon I have to get the engine rebuilt, just to be on the safer side. The delay meant I have to deal with Bangalore traffic, which I had hoped to avoid by leaving at 6AM. But on the bright side, he had delivered the Jeep with full tank of diesel, four liters of water (for the radiator), a big can of coolant and new red tool box with all the tools and parts routinely needed by jeeps. Originally the steering wheel had too much play giving a vague feeling, this time it felt much more precise. But the radiator had developed a leak where it connects to the hose. Anand pulled out m-seal from the new tool box and plugged the leak. He asked me routinely monitor the problem on the drive. Thus started Jeep 101.
Our journey finally started at 7:45AM. Our drive till the beginning of NH4 was very uneventful and was in very acceptable traffic conditions. Then the nightmare began, we spend little over an hour through the unrelenting stop and go traffic from Yeshwantpur to Nelamangala cross. Here I should mention that I rarely encounter stop-n-go traffic these days, I have become out of touch with heavy traffic. The brakes on CJ340 is drum type, very hard to apply, one has to literally stand on it to affect it. Even the lightest slackness results in rolling. Many times my wife detected the rollback and warned me in time. The very first mod has to be disk brakes, the current brakes are pathetic, and it is useless for panic braking.
Meanwhile, I noticed a black vehicle behind me with the old Maruti logo, but it wasnít a car. As it passed me, I realised it was the older V6 GV. In the prevailing traffic condition, I managed to see it closely from rear as well as side. Later if I had a chance to meet that GV in a rest stop, I thought I should talk to the owner and exchange notes. But as the traffic finally cleared up, that GV just took off and I erased all thoughts of seeing it again.
We finally reached Nelamangala cross at 9:45AM, it had taken us 2 hours to cover 42 Kms through Bangalore traffic. We decided our first stop as Mayura restaurant at bellur-cross, our usual pit-stop. It was close to 11:30AM when we made it there. The main agenda was not about eating, we werenít that hungry as we had broke fast at home. As I was walking towards the Jeep from the shop, I noticed it properly for the first time from the distance. I hadnít seen it from far after the soft top installation, now it really looked very cute, and wife concurred. After the customary toilet visit, we bought some water and biscuits, and almost started on our way. Then I suddenly remembered my Jeep owner duties. I need to check under the hood. So I promptly open the hood and checked the condition of the m-seal fix. It seemed to be holding except for a tiny part. That looked quite harmless, I also checked with Anand before leaving it alone.
About this moment, a singular event happened, the very first time in my life. A middle-aged gentleman stepped up to me standing in front of the open hood and popped a question.
He: What kind of Jeep is this?
Me: This is a CJ340, a short wheel based Mahindra jeep.
He: Can this be bought new from the dealer?
Me: No, they have stopped making such Jeeps long time back. This is based on the original WWII Jeep, the original Willys Jeep.
He: Yes, the Willys jeep. I was closely monitoring this Jeep, it is very cute, I was really envying you all the while.
Me: Well, until yesterday I was like you. But starting today I own this Jeep. (And I gave a big proud grin).
After that he walked away. This has never happened to me before, a stranger coming to compliment my ride. Not with Baleno, not with GV and not even with the Acura 3.2 TL. A first time event, that too on my first day of ownership.
Then I closed the hood and instantly notice that the same gentleman climbs into the black V6 Grand Vitara and starts off. I immediately rushed forward and waved him to stop. When he stopped I told him I too owned a Grand Vitara, but a newer one. His GV was 5 years old. He said he was thrilled to meet another GV owner, which is a rare event for him too.
What a strange co-incidence. I had noticed his GV and wanted to talk to him, but he too had noticed my CJ340 and beat me to it. A 2003 GV V6 owner was envying a 1994 CJ340 owner. Thatís the Jeep Effect, not unlike Axe Effect.
By this time I had started pushing it. I was cruising at 60-65kmph and later raised it to 70-75kmph, often hitting 80kmph in very straight and deserted stretches. Apparently 80kmph is the top speed in stock CJ340. So, I didnít push it beyond that. Meanwhile we had noticing that the temp reading was crossing 85C and moving towards 90C. Anand had asked us monitor the temp reading constantly and keep it below 85C. Since the coolant tank was 90% full, we attributed the raise to harsh sun and continued. By 2PM, we reached Sakaleshpura for lunch break. I also took the opportunity to update the mod team with my progress.
After lunch the sky looked very cloudy, a serious rain looked imminent. So we closed the side flaps, but left the rear flap alone. Since we are driving forward, we figured it shouldnít affect us much. Besides, I didnít want my rear view completely compromised, the deployed side flaps made the side mirrors useless. The sky practically opened up as we started. It rained cats, dogs and some cows too. The visibility became 25% and we decided to stop for a while. The situation didnít improve after 15-20 minutes, so we decided to continue driving in rain. By this time our temp reading was showing 40C because of the pouring rain. After some time we hit a traffic congestion caused by fallen trees, one more gift from the rain gods. We lost another 45 minutes here, as police coordinated the de-congestion of the traffic. Here I was in for a rude shock. A police SI directing the traffic flow, wanted some of us to move backwards. He asked the Alto driver (a family car) behind me politely (hinde hogi sir) to reverse, then he tells me ďYe Jeepu, hinde hogayyaĒ quite rudely. He obviously couldnít see me through the side flaps.
We eventually reached Uppinangady by 5:20PM, and had some light snacks at a restuarant. Then we turned towards Belthangady, which turned out to be a scenic but very rough road. I did this to avoid Mangalore and other crowded towns for fear of traffic and election results celebration. Our max-speed there was 40kmph and average speed about 25kmph, this went on for 20 Kms. We finally hit the belthangady-karkala highway at Guruvayana Kere and turned towards Karkala.
Notice the aluminium skid plates
Meanwhile, my wife was constantly checking the temp reading. It was again closing in on 90C. Now we were passing by cool evening breeze next to Kudremuk forest range. There was no reason why the reading should be so high. So we stopped and checked, the coolant level was same, and there was no extra leakage. We were quite puzzled, so we continued. After 10 minutes, the situation didnít improve, so we again stopped. This time I decided to open the radiator cap and investigate. To my horror, I couldnít see any liquid, the water/coolant level was really low. Obviously the coolant overflow tank was not doing itís job. But Anand had provided 4 litres of water, which came in very handy. I poured 3 liters of water to finally fill the radiator. The temp reading after that really came down and stayed below 80C for the rest of the journey.
As I turned on the lights after 7PM, I came across a strange issue. It has 100/90 bulbs, but there is a problem in the wiring. At normal setting, one goes highbeam while the other stays lowbeam. If I switch to highbeam, the first one goes lowbeam and other goes highbeam. It was driving me crazy, I got quite a few angry reaction from oncoming vehicles (flashing highbeams at me), but there was no way I could go completely lowbeam. So I kept it such that the curb side light was highbeam.
Somewhere on this road I filled 10 more liters of diesel, the fuel guage was very vague, didnít want to misread it. After crossing Naravi, Bajagoli, Karkala, we finally reached Manipal at 8:45PM, a full 13 hours of open Jeep driving covering 448kms. The first 42kms took 2 hours because of traffic. We lost one hour in the ghats to rain and fallen trees. One hour for various breaks. If you consider the rest, 406kms in 9 hours, the real driving average is 45kmph. In the flat lands until Sakaleshpur, I often hit 80kmph, but mostly cruising between 65 to75kmph. After that I rarely got straight roads all the way home, so my cruising speed dropped to 50-60kmph. Didn't want to push the handling of CJ340.
During the whole trip, Anand was calling regularly to check on our progress. And we too called him whenever in doubt. I think he can teach a thing or two to car dealers about after sales service. He prepared the Jeep very well for the long journey and took care of every possible issue, even small details like water bottles and full tank of diesel for the early morning journey.
The engine on this Jeep is just fantastic, I know it is just 62bhp and 12.3kgm. But how it delivers, that is phenomenal. It has very good passing power, I found it very surprising. I have never owned a diesel before, but this kind of low end torque can get addictive.
The Mug Shot