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Cross-Country Scrambler Recovery

Posted in Events on June 1, 2009
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"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.

PhotosView Slideshow
The beginning of two days of crappy weather: on the west side of the pass going through Vail, Colorado. Before I was done, I'd see 4 inches of snow on a three lane interstate, 17-degree low, and a 15-mph top speed for 3 hours on the same interstate, a half-hour ESP workout (the light was flashing for at least 30 minutes thanks to ice and snow on the road and pulling a trailer up through 7,000-8,000 feet of elevation), and a 30-degree jump in temperature making the inside of all the windows on the tow rig fog instantly at 70 mph.

With A Little Help From My Friends
As you might imagine, being in the business of writing about Jeeps, a person meets a lot of people that are into Jeeps. So, when I headed off on a half-cocked hair-brained trip to cross this great country of ours twice, I sent tons of emails, and made a plethora of calls to people I've met not only in the last four years of writing about Jeeps, but the last 15 years of living them. So, looking back on it, I'd like to say thank you to my friends who made the dream that I've had for half of my life of owning a Scrambler come true.

Thanks to Mike from Ohio for nabbing the thing for me, keeping it in his yard for months even though his wife wasn't thrilled about it, and donating an inline-six and front clip to the cause.

Thanks to John in New Jersey for taking a day off of work, killing his back helping me load the trailer, and most of all, helping me pull my hand out of the cherry picker once the jury-rigged setup collapsed and crushed it.

Thanks to Jon and all the other guys in Ohio that helped bring the engine, the cherry picker and the tools to that Wal-Mart parking lot.

Thanks to Phil, Heather, Adam, and all the other people who came to help and heckle during the engine swap, transmission and transfer case install, and too many other parts swaps to even begin to mention here.

Thanks to Bob, Jason, Mike, and all the guys in Wyoming. Bob for the killer deal on the body and associated parts, and the other guys for making a major swap happen in a matter of hours.

Thanks to Cody from Reno, Nevada, for schooling me on trailers, trailer tires, and the safe way to change them while under load. Sure, it was really late in the trip, but better late than never.

PhotosView Slideshow

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