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Hot Rod Honcho

Posted in Features on May 27, 2003 Comment (0)
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Hot Rod Honcho

What do you do if you're a young kid growing up in the ultimate Jeep candy store? The answer is simple: build the ultimate Jeep from the huge selection of available parts!

To accomplish this task, you first have to have the opportunity, and then you need to decide what type of 4x4 you want to build and how you're going to build it. For Neil Duncan, the opportunity and vehicle choice were more or less predetermined because Neil's father and grandparents own the world-renowned J&W Jeep auto-recycling yard located in Antelope, California.

To begin, www.jwjeep.com is not a normal junkyard in the traditional junkyard sense. J&W is a facility known for its ability to recycle parts for Jeeps and ship those parts worldwide. With more than 10 acres of Jeeps on hand, it's possibly the ultimate Jeep candy store --and the ideal location to build Neil's vehicle. On Neil's 16th birthday, his dad set him up with an original '81 Jeep J-10 Honcho as a present. Although the Jeep was completely stock, it ran well and was covered with a bright-red paintjob. As with any 16-year-old, however, that stock J-10 was merely a starting point.

Neil drove the J-10 for a while in stock trim, but he had big plans for the Jeep Honcho; he planned to make it bigger and better. The first modifications were adding a suspension lift and bigger tires. For these components, he went through the family owned yard and found exactly what he needed. This included a high pinion M-44 front axle and Wagoneer five-leaf spring packs (adding 2 inches of lift). For the rear, Neil retained the stock AMC 20 axle and added 4-inch lift blocks.

After the lift was in place, on went a set of Goodyear 35x12.50R15 Wrangler MTR tires on 15-inch American wheels. At this point, the Honcho had the look of a magazine feature vehicle, and a shoot was scheduled. But just before the shoot date, Neil and the truck were involved in an accident -- T-boned by another driver. Neil was OK, but the truck was left needing major repairs.

Neil took this setback as the perfect opportunity to build his J-10 bigger and better. The stock body was repaired and retained but Jeep Wrangler TJ taillight lenses and a Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler rear bumper were added. After all the repairs were complete, Neil's dad Mark surprised him on Christmas with a new paintjob at Walley's Custom Paint in Fair Oaks, California. Walter Capaul of Walley's sprayed the truck using urethane enamel in a stock Jeep Red hue, which was the J-10's original color.

Neil then built and installed an '85 Jeep Wagoneer AMC 360ci engine bored 0.30 over. Before installing this powerplant, he added a Melling MTA-1 RV cam, Sealed Power hydraulic lifters, a Dyna timing chain, and Hasting piston rings. The compression ratio is 8.25 to 1. For the carburetor, Neil bolted on a Motorcraft two-barrel, 500-cfm unit fitted with a K&N air cleaner. After installing the engine into the Jeep's engine bay, Neil bolted on a Flowmaster 3-inch-diameter exhaust system. For the ignition, a stock HEI setup was selected. To dress the engine up a little, Neil added red Mallory 8mm plug wires and an Optima battery.

The transmission is a stock '81 AMC 727 automatic. Grady of Extreme Offroad of Orangevale, California, helped set up the slushbox by building a new transmission mount to allow clearance for the front driveline required because of the suspension lift. The M44 high pinion front axle is from a '78 Ford and is stuffed with 4.88 gears and a Power Locker. To keep the front-wheel lug pattern the same as the rear, Neil installed a set of J-20 8-lug rotors. The new, improved front lift uses 4-inch-lift Trailmaster five-leaf spring packs. For the rear axle, Neil chose a Chevrolet 14-bolt unit equipped with a Detroit Locker and geared to 4:88.

The rear axle also sports Chevy disc brakes. The shackles for the truck were custom-built by Extreme Offroad to allow room for the 39.5x15x15 Super Swamper TSLs. The Swampers are mounted on 15x10-inch American Racing modular wheels with 2-3/4 inches of back spacing. The dampers are the tried-and-true adjustable Rancho RS9000s.

Neil's J-10 is equipped with a custom front driveshaft made at Extreme Offroad and is paired with a rear driveshaft from a Jeep TJ. The steering system includes flat-top knuckles with high steering linkage and a custom-designed hydraulic assist, all built and installed by Extreme Offroad of Rancho Cordova, California. The interior retains the stock black vinyl bucket seats and third center seat. The carpet and door panels are also stock black, but the steering wheel is a Grant G.T. Signature series. Neil also added a tilt steering column and air conditioning. Other interior features include a Pioneer DEH-P4000 Super tuner 45x4-inch head unit, an MTX Thunder 2160 power amp, and JL and Cerwin Vega speakers (5-1/4-inch-round in the front doors and 6x9-inch in the rear), all connected with Monster Cable.

If you ask Neil what was the easiest part of building this truck, his answer would be obtaining the used parts: the time to build this clean Honcho was four years total from the first version (pre-accident) to the second, much-improved version shown in this feature story. The only problems Neil had building his J-10 were a lack of wrenchin' time, as work and school naturally take precedence. As for what Neil discovered while building his 4x4, he found that used parts were cheaper and as good as or better than new parts, at least for some applications.

As for short cuts, Neil discovered that you should only take short cuts if you plan to keep a 4x4 on the pavement; for serious off-road use, a truck needs to be built right, and that's precisely what Neil Duncan's Jeep J-10 Honcho is: built right!

Neil Duncan's '81 Jeep J-10 is a true standout 4x4. It's painted  bright red, rolls atop a lifted suspension and massive meats, and has a distinctive style that's not seen on every trail ride. Neil Duncan's '81 Jeep J-10 is a true standout 4x4. It's painted bright red, rolls atop a lifted suspension and massive meats, and has a distinctive style that's not seen on every trail ride.
The Honcho is fit with aluminum American Racing wheels surrounded by TSL Super Swamper tires; the classic combination delivers gonzo traction, excellent style, and perfectly suits the J-10's functional character. The Honcho is fit with aluminum American Racing wheels surrounded by TSL Super Swamper tires; the classic combination delivers gonzo traction, excellent style, and perfectly suits the J-10's functional character.
0307or 03z+1981 Jeep J10+Front Axle Underbody Close Up view
Neil Duncan swapped in an M44 front axle along with the rear 14-bolt axle; both differentials are cogged with 4.88 gears. The front differential includes a Power Locker, while rear traction is courtesy of a Detroit Locker. Neil Duncan swapped in an M44 front axle along with the rear 14-bolt axle; both differentials are cogged with 4.88 gears. The front differential includes a Power Locker, while rear traction is courtesy of a Detroit Locker.
The retro-looking dash isn't a repop; it's the real deal, circa '81 Jeep. The modern Grant steering wheel adds an updated touch. The truck also features air conditioning, a killer stereo, and original-style bucket seats. The retro-looking dash isn't a repop; it's the real deal, circa '81 Jeep. The modern Grant steering wheel adds an updated touch. The truck also features air conditioning, a killer stereo, and original-style bucket seats.
0307or 06z+1981 Jeep J10+Front Passenger Side View Sliding Through Dirt

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