The phrase, “It’s a Jeep thing you wouldn’t understand” is one we have all heard, and to a point understand, but have you ever deep dived into the Jeep culture? Even just for a short time? A recent trip to Atlanta to visit Omix-ADA (i.e. Rugged Ridge) gave me a taste.
In a fairly short time, Omix-ADA has carved themselves out a nice niche in the $3 billion dollar Jeep aftermarket. Starting in 1993 they now have over 10,000 SKU’s and over 300,000 square feet of warehouse space.
Taking a tour of their warehouse was fairly eye opening, the width and breadth of their product line were substantial. If you want to farkle up your Jeep, or you want to replace almost any part in an older CJ, they probably have it. The owner, Al Azadi, is known for finding crates of parts in interesting places, acquiring them to stack them high and deep because there will be those two people who need that one part. We saw the crates, many with old Chrysler era markings from the Philippines and Malaysia. While they resell a number of brands, they also manufacture most of their own SKU’s and also white label some items for Mopar.
One of the reasons for the trip down to suburban Atlanta was to see the Jeep collection that the owner Al Azadi has put together. In a word it’s impressive. There are over 40 Jeeps in the collection that cover the history of the brand. From a 1941 Willys MA prototype, one of just 27 left, a CJ5 Super Jeep of which there are maybe 300 ever built and I got to drive. If there is a series of Jeep model that is your favorite, they have it. Levi’s Edition J-10, yep! Hurst Commando, they have that too! How about a Jeep that Conrad Hilton had commissioned to ferry guests around his resorts in Hawaii and other tropical locations? They have one of those. This is probably the best collection for width and breadth in the world. There are great placards with every vehicle to explain the model and it’s history, and the best part of the collection, all are drivable, though only a few see the road. It’s easy to tell which ones are ready for the road as they are the ones with drip pans below them.
I mentioned that the group of us down for the tour had a chance to drive a number of these historic Jeeps. Have a look at the playlist below, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the FC150. I won’t say it was enjoyable to drive because it wasn’t, it was sketch as hell, but it was a fantastic life experience! In fact, one of the great takeaways from driving these vintage Jeeps was just how much work and concentration are required to pilot one. If you’ve become accustomed to modern cars with their quite interiors, direct steering, power brakes with ABS, these would be a shock to the system. There is no distracted driving in these vintage Jeeps, if you don’t give them your full attention, you will likely die!
On day two of our trip, we headed out in a variety of modern JK Jeeps (i.e. the current edition of the Wrangler). We were scheduled to drive on the only public trail in Georgia, however, with the amount of rain they had in the preceding weeks, it made the trail too soft and the Rugged Ridge crew didn’t want to tear it up. This conservation of public trails is a big item for the Omix-ADA/Rugged Ridge crew. Since 2013 they have awarded grants of over $100,000 in total, and going forward they have budgeted money for grants to be used for education, stewardship, litigation, or any other activity advocating the conservation of public land or access to recreation trails.
With the public trail closed, we headed out on public roads that turned into a dirt road that turned into a trail with two different water crossings. I had the chance to pilot three of JK’s brought along for the drive. It may sound funny, but driving slow is hard. Trying to drive slow enough so that you don’t bounce off of rocks, ruts or go sliding off into a tree takes restraint. It is a different skill that takes patience and the understanding that you should sit back and enjoy the drive not try to rush through it.
Another takeaway from this trip is that Jeeps are best enjoyed with friends or in group outings. There are many reasons, navigation of tight or tricky terrain, getting stuck, breakdowns far from the closest parts store, etc.. But the biggest one is the shared comradery and passion that dominates the Jeep community. Of the assembled group who made this trip, most of the other journalists were ones who live and breathe the Jeep and off road community. There were a few, who like myself, have driven off road and driven Jeeps, but it’s not our focus or passion. The passion that the other journalists and especially the team at Rugged Ridge had of Jeeps, off roading and the conservation of hobby was self-evident. While I may never become a convert, I have a new appreciation for just how dedicated to their sport they are.
I took a ton of photos, far too many to upload on the site, you can check them out in this album: