I was at a popular 4×4 store the other day, and there was a “Mr GQ” looking at a hi-lift jack. You know them – smartly turned out “wanna-be-a-ranger-but-never-left-the-suburbs” types. Pressed “bush shirt” that has never seen a thorn, ironed creases in the trendy cargo shorts, hair perfectly coiffed and soft, unscarred hands beautifully manicured.
I love hi-lift jacks. They have a mechanical design that can only be described as “typical of eccentric Victorian inventors” – the kind of inventors that lived short, yet spectacularly exciting lives.
Hi-lift jacks are possibly the most dangerous, user hostile objects that the general public can still buy without special training and a permit. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t been outlawed completely by the softies in Australia and the UK.
They are, however, incredibly useful things if you know how to use them properly, and to boot, they have massive amusement value when being handled by the inept.
Mr GQ’s 4×4 was parked outside. It was a fashionable and popular model and had the full Steven Seagal* makeover – the stylish steel bumpers, the glossed up all terrain tyres, all manner of shiny bits hanging off it and sparkling in the sunlight. All it needed to complete the rugged image was a nice new bright red hi-lift jack bolted to the brand named roof rack. Or perhaps he needed it to complete his feng shui harmony. I’m sure it was something like that anyway.
He parked a few spaces away from my Jeep in the otherwise empty parking lot. I think he was worried that some of the Wrangler’s mud would find its way onto his beautifully polished, soft, unscarred paintwork.
Judging by the fumbling going on, he should have elected to stay just as far away from the hi-lift jacks.
Looking at this, I wondered if, as is often alleged, 4x4s are getting softer.
Well, underneath the glossy bits they are still pretty much the same. Today even the silliest, smallest, annoyingly fuel-efficient, teutonically precise, common rail multi turbo-diesel engined 4×4 makes more power and torque than a rip snorting oil dripping, fuel guzzling small block V8 did 25 years ago.
There is still a big robust gearbox to deal with it, plus a transfer case full of huge howling low range gears (of course, they are helically cut for your driving comfort these days) along with diffs, shafts and a chassis big enough to handle all of that lovely multiplied torque. They are tough as ever, if not tougher, despite all the sound deadening goodies and other exotic bits mentioned in the brochure.
But they have been wrapped up in cotton wool and given an automated electronic nanny to make sure that the Mr GQs of this world don’t hurt themselves – and the nannies are superb. You can go much farther in a modern nanny-assisted 4×4 without leaving the heated, ventilated, leather clad, ergonomically designed, 53-way adjustable electrically operated driver’s seat than you ever could 25 years ago.
Back then you pushed and pulled big mechanical knobs and levers and got dirt on the ugly, incredibly uncomfortable, non-adjustable vinyl clad seats. You were muddy and sweaty, and quite often both you and the 4×4 collected a couple of new scars in the process. It was hard work – and you needed some hard-earned skills and experience to get to the top of the same hill.
In a modern 4×4 (or any modern vehicle for that matter) it’s so easy to look good. ABS, ESP, ASR, EBD and all those other acronyms do so much work. They do it extremely well and most people never ever know how much the electronics actually do to keep them on the road.
The problem comes in when Mr GQ exceeds nanny’s abilities. This happens whether he’s deep in the bush thinking he’s Kingsley Holgate or doing 160km/h on a dirt road thinking he’s Sarel van der Merwe. Suddenly and unexpectedly, dear old nanny succumbs to the not so subtle charms of Sir Isaac Newton, and Mr. GQ is all alone in the real world, in a place far, far, far beyond his abilities. He needs to correct a slide, or get out of a mud pit, and his iPad doesn’t have an app for that, and that’s when it all gets nasty and the tears start.
I was disturbed from my musings by a sudden CLACK, followed by the sound of a hi-lift jack landing heavily on a concrete floor. Mr GQ was sucking furiously on his thumb.
I do love hi-lift jacks!
No, 4x4s definitely have not got softer. But their drivers definitely have!
Steven Seagal tried hard to be as tough as Chuck Norris but failed abysmally.
About the Author:
Alex Wheeler is a slim, muscular Adonis with unfashionably long hair who shaves infrequently – trapped in the body of a fat, aging punk with longer, even less fashionable hair who shaves even less frequently. To keep himself out of trouble he designs and builds large, scary mechanisms and vehicles for people who like large, scary mechanisms and vehicles.