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June 2010 4Word - Editorial

Posted in Features on June 1, 2010
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As a 4x4 enthusiast, you've probably built a project vehicle, or vehicles. Over the decades, I've owned more than my share. Some of these didn't turn out so well, were never finished, or stayed in a pile of parts in the yard. Others looked good on paper but once finished, didn't work well. Some turned out great and are in the, "Now why did I sell that one?" category. I'd like to tell you about a few of those this month and next.

While I started owning Jeeps in 1972, my first "good" vehicle wasn't a project, but was fun. I purchased a brand new 1978 Jeep Cherokee Chief from Brian Chuchua. This was a full-size Cherokee Chief with wide track Dana 44s front and rear, 31-inch Goodyear Tracker tires, a 360ci V-8, and QuadraTrac transfer case. This Cherokee went everywhere I wanted it to (I did a LOT of exploring back then) and was large enough to carry whatever needed to be carried. I had built a couple of CJ-5s before, but the first project that actually worked well was a 1976 CJ-7 with a 304ci V-8, a Turbo 400 automatic, and QuadraTrac. I used a Detroit Locker in the rear for the first time. I lifted it using Rancho Freedom Rider springs and installed 11.00-15LT Armstrong Tru-Tracs on it.

The next project that worked was a 1984 Jeep CJ-7 with a 258ci six, T5 manual tranny, and Dana 300 T-case. This Jeep had a Power Lock limited slip in the Dana 30 front end and a Detroit Locker in the AMC Model 20 rear. The AMC 20 received a pair of Summers Bros. one-piece axles. Rancho springs and shocks were again used, along with 33-inch BFG Radial All-Terrain TA tires on white spoke steel wheels. This Jeep worked well, but was stolen from a parking lot.

I took the insurance money from the '84 and purchased a salvage 1985 CJ-7 with a 258ci six, T5 transmission, and Dana 300 T-case. The multi-colored front clip and body was painted white, and Currie Enterprises built Ford 9-inch front and rear ends with Detroit Lockers for it. Superlift supplied the springs. I installed a T18 using a Novak adapter. This Jeep had a number of tires mounted on its American Racing Outlaw II wheels, including 35-inch Yokohama Y812 Mud Diggers and Goodyear Wrangler MTs (the original ones). When I started doing 4WD&SU Magazine, this became my first magazine project called "Salvage Special" and was painted Poppy Red, received a GM TBI 350ci V-8 and a 700R4 automatic. The Salvage Special was and is a great Jeep, still exploring the backcountry today.

A few more projects came and went before the 1991 LT1 YJ project. This was another good one, especially since I was able to talk GM into sending an engineer out to do the wiring and computer. This YJ had a 4L60 (not 4L60E) automatic, Superlift YJ springs, Currie reverse Dana 44s front and rear (the rear was later swapped for a reverse Dana 60) with ARB Air Lockers, and 35-inch Goodyear MTs on Centerline alloy wheels. The LT1 Wrangler returned 16-18 mpg on the highway and was a very nice trail rig. The CARB people wouldn't let us register it in California, though, because a 49-state LT1 was installed in a California-spec YJ. So, it was ultimately sold to a buyer in Nevada.

The next good project was called the "Two-Week Wonder," because I built it myself in two weeks. Some were saying, "Phil never works on his own vehicles." So, I decided to show that I could, just like I did in the old, pre-magazine days. This YJ had a 4.0L six, three-speed automatic, and a NP231 T-case. Full-width Currie 9-inch front and rear ends were built with Detroit Lockers front and rear. Once again, Superlift leaf packs were used and 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT tires were mounted on 15x10 Centerline alloy wheels. Once all the parts were acquired I went to work. It was a long two weeks with late nights every night, but Two-Week Wonder was finished by deadline and was a great Jeep.

Wow. Already out of room. Let's finish this story next month in 4Word.

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