National Swap Meet
"Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler for sale, $850 or best offer or trade for a set of 33 or 35-inch LTBs, TSLs, or SXs, a Warn 8274, a Lear Jet, an Aircraft carrier, or an F4U4 Corsair but would settle for a P51 Mustang." So read the online ad for my first Scrambler. Sure, I wasn't sitting on an aircraft carrier or a Corsair, but I did happen to have a Warn 8274 winch that came with a $500 CJ-5 I got years ago and had since sold off for parts.
Let me back up a minute here. I've wanted a Scrambler ever since my first Jeep, some 15 years and 30-plus Jeeps ago. The problem is, even way back then the CJ-8 commanded such a premium price tag it was out of reach of my meager means. So, instead I settled for a string of CJ-7s and a couple CJ-5s sprinkled in among my YJs. Now, I'm not some high-rolling Jeep pimp; I'd buy or trade for a basket case, put lots of time and some money into it, and often trade it away or sell it for the next big thing, aka another pile o' Jeep. It just so happened, that while I pined for a Scrambler, one never came within reach.
So, imagine my excitement when I read the above ad. After 15 years of lusting for a CJ-8, one might finally be in my grasp. There was one small catch: I was in California, the Jeep was in Kentucky, and I had just shipped myself the winch from New Jersey. Nonetheless, I sent a message- "I've got an 8274, and I'll trade you for your Scrambler." The answer came back, "You realize this isn't a complete Jeep, right? Where are you located?" After revealing I was 1,800 miles away and that I wanted to actually drive the thing eventually, the seller thought I was nuts. But, after sending pictures of my winch, and receiving pictures of the tub, axles, and frame that I was calling a "Scrambler" we had a deal.
So now the trick was actually getting the Jeep. The seller wasn't going to wait forever for me to get there from California. So, I contacted Mike, a buddy from Ohio I'd bought a frame, axles, wheels and tires off of years ago to ask him if he'd pick up the Jeep for me and store it at his place. So, I shipped the winch to Mike, he took it to Kentucky and grabbed the Jeep, and I began scheming the retrieval of the Scrambler.
So what if I had traded a winch for less than half of a Jeep? I was able to rationalize it because I had a 10-year stockpile of Jeep parts in NJ that I could pull out of the basement to fill out the CJ-8, and once I'd gone almost 2,000 miles, what was another 800 or so? I quickly realized that even though I had a basement and a garage chock full o' parts, I didn't have the right parts to make a whole Scrambler. CJ-8s never came with 304ci V-8s, a YJ hardtop wouldn't fit it, and the front clip I thought I'd kept had gone to the scrap yard. So, even though I was going to pick up a ton of parts in New Jersey, I needed tons more to make a complete Jeep, and began calling friends across the country and setting up trades to complete my CJ-8.
I talked Cappa into letting me out of the office for a while by promising to bring back a bunch of trail runs, I sold a Comanche to buy a trailer, and I took the long-term Grand Cherokee on an 8,000-mile scavenger hunt to retrieve my long-awaited Scrambler. You will see the retro-mod buildup of the Scrambler in these pages at some point in the future, but for now, here are the highlights of a madcap cross-country round-trip thrash to bring home a long longed-for Jeep.