Shops can be branded as a Chevy shop, Ford shop or Honda shop and these labels can be worn as a badge of courage or reviled as a plague that limits the reach of the shop, insulting the proprietor’s ability to innovate and think outside the box. Carl Jantz and his Jantz Engineering is an outside-the-box venture.
“When the ore was mined from the earth they didn't know if it would become a Jeep, Toyota, or Chevy…I’m a metal man,” quips a prideful Carl. The 53-year-old is one of those people who has great stories and knows how to tell them; fans of Madden NFL video games will do a double take as Carl’s voice has a hint of announcer Chris Collingsworth in it.
Carl is Jeep guy for sure and Jantz Engineering, a well-equipped, well-weathered shop on the outskirts of Poulsbo, Washington, is considered an off-road 4x4 specialist. But even that is a bit limiting - as Carl was fixing an articulating garden tractor trailer, a wood chipper and tuning the carburetor on a 1928 Model A during our time shadowing him in the shop.
What is a roadblock in the middle of the street for most is barely a speed bump to Carl who isn’t afraid to go off-script. Sometimes the fix requires Carl to make his own tool on the fly - no problem, he can improvise like a seasoned stand-up comedian. “It’s a gift. I can just see how to fix things, it’s all in my mind and just comes natural,” says Carl. “People will want to know how I am going pull off the repair at hand and I say ask me two minutes before I do it and maybe I’ll have an answer. I don’t know until it’s done.”
Jantz Engineering has carved out a niche, tricking out differentials for use in off-roading and competition rock crawling. His Jana Hybrid kits allow a more robust gear set from a higher series of Dana diff to be utilized in a lower series case (more on this here). He also receives royalties from the Super Joint, a heavy duty u-joint manufactured through Yukon. Carl is quick to point out only two reported failures since 2004 and those broke when the whole rear of the truck was torn apart.
Every shop has a test mule and for Carl it’s been his Super Jeep, a 1952 Willys Jeep fortified for the fiercest trails or rock obstacles. The rig has been extended 25 inches so the rear fenders could be honed to accommodate 42-inch crawler tires. Jantz is currently fitting the high-riding hombre with trick, super-wide bead-lock wheels he has fabricated himself that will be home to monstrous 47-inch tires. He is also deep in development or as he says, “in the process of inventing” a special adapter that will give him an 8-speed transmission by allowing a Muncie four-speed to work in conjunction with an overdrive unit.
Carl opened his first shop, Smokin’ Rods, in Spokane Washington in the early 80s. He ‘hung out his shingle’ for Jantz Engineering after being let go from Boeing following a flurry of layoffs post 9/11/2001. During his 10-year stint at the aircraft company, where he was a ‘Scientist II,’ he worked with tooling, composites and under-wing systems, which along with his mechanical engineering degree gave him the tools for success.
But he related a story that made his rise to literal ‘gear-head status’ seem like it was pre-ordained. Carl recalls a John Deere pedal tractor he had as a youngster and how it wouldn't climb a small mound in his yard. Frustrated seeing one wheel spinning and the other dormant, he flipped over the green and yellow plaything and saw what made it go. Then with a light bulb firing over his head, he envisioned how to conquer the mound. Drill motor in hand he devised a ‘locker’ using a nail to join the two axles under the tractor’s tin seat. The nail sheared off when he turned a corner so he made his set-up a ‘selectable locker’ by taking the nail out at the top of every hill.
Carl Jantz is an American original and his Jantz Engineering is one of those honest, time-honored, result-driven operations nestled in the ‘boonies,’ that keeps America’s wheels rolling.