Photo Credit to PlineyTheElder of The Wrangler Forum
There's been very few times in my adult life when I haven't had, or been in the process of acquiring, some sort of Jeep. XJs, ZJs, YJs, WJs, XKs, JKs, all that good stuff. When I drove my first YJ, I realized that it was something different, something special. Maybe it's because it was the first vehicle that reminded me of riding around the yard with my grandfather in his beat-to-hell CJ2A; with him perched atop a milk crate and cushion, with me on the floorboard on some milk jugs with coats on top, grabbing on for dear life.
For the first test drive, that YJ felt like a road "legal" version of that CJ2A from so long ago. The sound of the road filtered in through the panel gaps and thin floorboards, the canvas top whipped and rippled, snapping in the wind as the Jeep roared up to 45 MPH. The AMC 2.5 was winded and out of tune, but still up to the task of pushing this metal lunchbox through the humid summer air and down the road. I felt like Calvin, sans Hobbes, hurtling down the hill on a metal wagon, a rickety seat separating me from the fleeting tarmac below.
I felt a more refined, maybe cultured, manifestation of that feeling again when I test drove my JKU. Suckered in by the Pearl Natural Green paint, overlooking the dirt and condition issues, I drove it with the sales person akimbo. Like a fool, I drove it it faster than I had any business doing so. Every expansion joint and patch of ice threw the geometry of the Jeep's ill-tuned Rough Country lift into a state of confusion. Even the lag of the OEM throttle input tuning didn't discourage me from giving the dealer a tentative "yes." Besides, my '93 ZJ was already spoken for by a thoughtful father seeking a vehicle for his oldest daughter.
Since then, I've spent more money on deferred maintenance, OCD maintenance, prophylactic repairs, tuning, suspension corrections, tires, and mods. Possibly 25-33% of the original purchase price. I have an idea of what that number is, but my subconscious has done a great job protecting me by tucking it into the darkest recesses of my mind. This meandering narrative has finally brought me to one last brief anecdote and a question, though.
Last fall, before the ravages of Midwest winter set in, I was buying barley from my local maltster for some homebrewing I had on the docket. He hadn't seen my Jeep before that and said, "Hey, that's a pretty nice Jeep. You know, I always wanted to get one, but since I needed a truck for business use, that's what I went with. But some day, I'd really like to get a Wrangler." We talked a little bit about the various aspects of Wrangler ownership, talked beer, and then I left. I never really thought much about it at the time, but it popped into my head while I was taking a walk. Can something so common, so attainable be aspirational?
I'm not sure I can provide an honest answer to that question. Maybe because that would be a cop-out amalgamation of the love it/hate it ownership camps, the broad cross section of the population a vehicle like this appeals to, the desire to use something as its intended versus how you actually use it, the complex way that relates to perception, and "something, something it's a Jeep thing."
I did realize one thing, though: "Any vehicle is aspirational as long as you don't own it and it ceases to be once you do." That's as baffling circular as it is inadvertently profound. Is a Wrangler an aspirational vehicle?