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1987 Jeep Wrangler - Woods Ready

Posted in Features on February 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Terry Ulven
Woods Ready has conquered trails on public land and in private parks for more than a decade. Its heater was removed to save weight, so the Bestop SuperTop is often on from about Labor Day to Memorial Day.

These days, not many people set out to build an incredible YJ. Most Jeepers are better off starting with a used TJ. That is, if they want to spend more time 'wheelin' and less time wrenchin'/cussin.'

An exception to the Wrangler Rule above is any YJ that was bought and built before TJs became comparatively affordable. One prime example is Superlift owner Bret Lovett's 1987 YJ. That model year is undeniably the worst Wrangler ever assembled in Toledo. Although its OE 258ci/4.2L I-6 is one of the more enduring Jeep engines, the computer-carbureted '87 version isn't the best of the breed. Emissions spaghetti and finicky tuning caused the 258 to bow out without tears when the 4.0L I-6 appeared in 1991.

Things get worse down the line. Backing the straight-six was the Peugeot BA-10 five-speed, a transmission that's so weak it isn't worth rebuilding. Furthermore, the 2.61:1 Low-ranged NP207 transfer case was quickly replaced by the beloved NP231 and its 2.72:1 granny gears in 1988. The YJ's vacuum-disconnect Dana 30 front axle and 35C rearend are adequate for stock power and tire size but are overmatched for tumultuous trail use.

These drawbacks didn't matter for Bret Lovett. He bought the YJ cheap in 1995, intending to use it as a test mule for his company's products. The plans called for much more than a Superlift 4-inch suspension system, though. An avid outdoorsman, Bret decided to call his YJ project Woods Ready.

The YJ's first transformation included a powertrain swap by John White at JB Conversions (Sulphur, Louisiana) before that company became a mail-order-only manufacturer. JB stuck in a Chevy 350 with Howell throttle-body EFI, backed by an NV4500 five-speed and a Dana 300 transfer case. Custom Currie Ford 9-inch axles accommodated the passenger-side-offset driveshafts. A bolt-on Superlift 4-inch leaf-lift made way for 35s.

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Accessories were added to make the YJ truly woods-ready. These included Currie RockCrawler bumpers and rear spare carrier, a Warn 9.5 XD winch, a Ready Air engine-driven onboard air system using a Ford AC compressor, a Premier Power Welder, Steel Horse seats, and a Tuffy console. The Jeep represented Superlift well at various events around the country in the mid to late 1990s.

Then 4x4 competitions began to gain widespread national exposure. Previously, 35s were high-end for trail rides, but the extreme 'crawlers were on at least 37s toward the late '90s. Superlift became a title sponsor of the ProRock series, so Bret decided to reconfigure Woods Ready for rockcrawling events. The YJ went to Sam Patton at Sam's Offroad in Tulsa. Sam's custom Dana 60s (Jeep-width) were mounted under Superlift's 1.5-inch-lift YJ springs. This SOA conversion totaled 6-plus inches of lift, making room for 16/38.5-15 Super Swampers on MRT beadlocks. Also, the Dana 300 was replaced by an Atlas II at this time.

More power was needed to propel the bigger tires. Chevy had just released its 350hp/400-lb-ft Ram Jet 350 crate engine. Bret got one through Scoggin-Dickey. JB's 4x4 (Kingman, Indiana) put in the motor, feeding it with a JAZ fuel cell. Cooling issues were addressed with a larger radiator and with custom hood louvers by Scott Carol Race Cars (West Monroe, Louisiana).

Woods Ready tipped the scales at about 5,700 pounds when Team Superlift campaigned it throughout 2002 at events in Farmington, Las Cruces, Montrose, Table Mesa, and Johnson Valley. Bret's best finish was Ninth (out of 60) at Montrose. In Las Cruces, Woods Ready wound up upside down (many say thanks to Trent McGee's overzealous spotting), destroying its tub and radiator.

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The Jeep was moth-balled while Superlift moved into a larger facility and purchased the Black Diamond suspension line from Warn. In 2005, Bret decided to dust off Woods Ready and use it as a research platform for the Black Diamond X2 kit. This recently released 7-inch Wrangler kit is the follow-up to the ground-breaking Warn-designed XCL four-coilover system. Superlift also produced the Off-Road Adventures cable TV show at the time, so the transformation translated into some exciting episodes.

Knowledge gleaned from the school of hard rocks dictated even more updates. First, wider-track Dynatrac Pro Rock 60s were swapped in. These high-pinion Dana 60s feature disc brakes, Warn hubs, 5.13 gears, and Detroit Lockers. Dynatrac set up the axles for the Black Diamond X2 kit for TJ coil brackets in the front and SOA leaf pads in the rear. The X2's trick Torque Fork traction bar connects to the top and bottom of the rear 60 and to the kit's bellypan with dual shackles to cancel out wheelhop without sacrificing articulation.

Also, Dynatrac offset the pumpkins to the driver side in OE fashion. This required a new Atlas case, into which the guts were transferred from the previous passenger-side-offset Atlas. J.E. Reel driveshafts span the gaps between Atlas and 60s, compensating for the 7-inch X2 lift in the process. Dynatrac also set up the front Pro Rock 60 for its high-steer system. Bret added AGR ram-assist to help maneuver big tires in tight spaces. Harold Oft's Off-Again Navajo master/booster was plumbed into the brake system.

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While the Atlas was out, a Bowtie Overdrives 700R4 was added. This eliminated the NV4500's long throws and added compression-braking. It was completed with Bowtie lines and dipstick, a Cheetah shifter, and a B&M cooler.

The Superlift crew also decided that the YJ needed to go on a diet. An aluminum Be Cool radiator shaved some weight. Also, the crack Superlift R&D squad made a custom fiberglass dash to house the Auto Meter gauges and K-Four switches. A big weight-saver was removing the "Armageddon" rollcage in favor of a Poison Spyder weld-in kit, which ties into Poison Spyder Helldorado rocker-knockers. In all, about 500 pounds were dropped during in the TV transformation.

This fourth rebirth of Woods Ready successfully completed Ultimate Adventure 2006. The street/trail event covered nearly 1,000 untrailered miles from Louisiana to Idaho and back. The only mechanical problem was transmission bellhousing bolts that backed themselves out.

Bret and Woods Ready 'wheel regularly at the world-class Superlift ORV Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in Moab, and other destinations. The Jeep is set up so well that it's basically point-and-shoot; Bret routinely tosses the keys to co-workers, clients, and hunting buddies to let them experience one of the country's top street/trail YJs first-hand.

But this company-car approach has one drawback. "Jamie Morgenthall at Jamie's Body Shop (Downsville, Louisiana] keeps a supply of olive drab paint on hand for the annual rock-rash de-scabbing," Bret says.

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Specifications

Year/Make/Model: '87 Jeep Wrangler
Owner/Hometown: Bret Lovett/West Monroe, LA
Engine: Chevy Ram Jet 350 small-block V-8
Induction: MPI
Transmission: Bowtie Overdrives TH700R4
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II 3.77:1
Axles: Dynatrac Pro Rock 60s, Detroit Lockers, disc brakes, Warn hubs
Ring-and-Pinion: 5.13
Suspension: Black Diamond X2 7-inch system, SSR remote-reservoir shocks, Torque Fork traction device
Tires/Wheels: 40x13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grappler Extreme Terrains/17x9 Trail Ready beadlocks

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