Transforming The Worst Wrangler Ever Into The Ultimate Street/Trail Jeep
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.