Off-road driving in
is a popular pastime. A full half the area of
is desert, rich in historical sites and trails, and most importantly
open to the public. We still enjoy a freedom to roam with our Jeeps that
was long lost in many parts of the western world. However, owning and
maintaining off-road vehicles in Israel is much more expensive than in the
US, due to heavy taxation. Fortunately, Jeeps are assembled locally in
Israel, for the armed forces, and thus a steady supply of surplus vehicles
and parts nourishes the Jeeper community.
The M240 "Storm" "Sufa"
in Hebrew, has been the hard-core wheelers vehicle of choice in Israel
since its introduction in 1992. It is a militarized version of the
Wrangler YJ, made by AIL (Automotive Industries of Israel) of
Yeah, the original one, hometown of Jesus Christ, is also the Jeep capital
of the middle east.
The plant at
Nazareth has been churning out several hundred Jeeps annually for the
last three decades. An official Jeep assembly plant, it receives CKD kits
(Complete Knock Down), assembles and modifies them according to the needs
of its customers the IDF, police, border patrol, park rangers and such.
Until 1991 it still turned out heavy duty versions of the CJ-8 five
years after the last new CJ was seen in the
US. The Storm brought
modern YJ technology and that awesome 4.0L straight six.
The 104 inch wheel base
Storm came with a soft top or a metal "world Jeep" top and featured a Dana
60 rear axle, NP241 transfer case, 12/24 volt electrics and various other
heavy duty modifications. In its last years of production, 1998-2000, it
also offered a VM diesel (not very good) and 4.10:1 ratio axles. It did
not, however, offer electric windows, power door locks, or even decent
carpeting. It was all go, no show. We loved it, except for one big
drawback, not enough doors.
The average Israeli
family can't afford more than one or two cars, and this makes most Jeeps
daily drivers by necessity. Daily driving means getting kids into and out
of safety seats several times a day, every day. And with no rear doors,
this becomes a real nuisance.
By 2000, M240 Storm
production dwindled to a trickle. The
production lines had long since switched to TJs, and CKD kits were no
longer available. However, the armed forces needed Jeeps. Although the TJ
was already a few years into production, AIL decided to start the
development of a new Jeep- the Storm MK2, based on the TJ-L chassis.
But The MK2 came very
late. For reasons political and irrelevant, development took years and
years and production did not start until 2006 the last TJ year in the
As badly as the IDF
needed fresh vehicles (they were so desperate they started buying Land
Rover Defenders), us weekend Jeepers needed them worse. Good buildable
getting harder to find, as the last year that had seen substantial production
numbers was 1996.
In January, 2006 we
finally put our hands on the final pre-production prototype and took it
for a weekend of wheeling in the Judea desert, courtesy of AIL.
Boy, were we excited.
We've been eagerly waiting for years, and here it is, Military Tan,
waiting in the parking lot for us. It looks familiar, almost the same as
the old Storm, but the proportions are different. It seems to stand lower;
the longer wheelbase (longer than the perfect 104 inches of the old Storm)
makes a very short rear overhang, and a very long belly. The Fiberglas top looks awkward. Money was obviously saved in the
"exterior design" department. And then it strikes us. Doors. Five of
them. Our dream of many years has come true. The sporty TJ hood looks
somewhat out of context with the long, tall body. Above the fenders, we
see the words "Storm 2", Yep. It's here.
Enough ogling, It's time
for wheeling. The Judea desert makes a perfect proving ground for Jeeps.
The wady's (dry river beds) here are steep and rocky, changing their
appearance several times every winter under furious, deadly flash floods
that appear and are gone within minutes. They make for excellent trails,
ranging from hard to impassable. We are used to turning back.
The Achilles heel of the
old Storm was always the suspension. Punishing, coarse, heavy duty leaf
packs made it known as a bone breaker in sharp contrast to its major
rival in Israel, the British Defender 110, one of which accompanied us.
The Storm MK2 with its TJ coil suspension is plush in comparison a bit
too soft for our taste.
Bilstein shocks on all
four corners help a lot, with the 116" wheelbase making a very stable
platform. We climb a steep, rocky, ridge like the backbone of a dinosaur,
appropriately named Lizard hill. The 4.10 axles and 6-speed manual give a
great crawl ratio. The day is clear and cold and we have a windy cup of
coffee at the top, then drive back down, into the dry wash of the Zeelim
wady, strewn with boulders of all sizes.
We find that the 32 inch
tires (Military Goodyear G171 235/85R16) combined with the stock ride
height give poor clearance. The skid plates keep pounding the rocks. The
stock suspension (stock TJ pieces with higher spring rates) does not
deliver a lot of travel, either.
These are minor issues
when we get our hands on surplus Jeeps in a few years, 4-6 inch suspension
lifts will complement the long wheelbase very nicely better than any SWB
Inside the cabin,
everything appears stock TJ. Dual AC promises to keep us cool in the long
summer. Unlike the old Storm which was quite a handful to drive, the MK2
instills confidence and is a pleasure to drive off-road.
The best part of the old
Storm they kept - the fabulous 4.0L engine. We love straight sixes, and
this one is the best ever. With a 6 speed manual transmission, HD transfer
case with slip-yoke eliminator from the factory, we can hardly ask for
anything more. Well, a 4:1 LO and Dana 44 front axle from the Rubicon
parts bin would be nice.
On the road again, it
rides almost like an SUV. It handles, steers and brakes well, much better
than the older YJ based Storm, but the extra weight takes it toll. With
five large adults inside seated quite comfortably actually it is a bit
slow on the highway.
Overall, The Storm MK2
makes a great 4WD. Five door utility, low gearing, indestructible tires,
great power plant and the feel of the universal Jeep that something
that all other makes, including the Land Rover accompanying us, are
missing. We don't need any more out in the desert, on the old Spice road
or Sultans "highway. And on the paved road, it's more than adequate. Not
perfect, though, this is, so far, the best Jeep we ever drove.
In the last year an undisclosed number of Storm 2 Jeeps entered service
and are a common sight on the roads of Israel. While we are waiting for
them to come out as surplus, once again, supply of CKD kits for the TJ-L
is stopping. But we're not worried - the JK based J8 is coming, with a
rear Dana 60 on leaf springs, Rubicon Dana 44 front, and a powerful 2.8L
170 bhp VM diesel, hopefully better than earlier versions. This so called
"Storm MK3" looks to be even better - and this time, AIL seems to be
synched with Chrysler, so the third generation of Storm Jeeps will have a
long, healthy production run. The few hundred Storm MK2s will remain