Classic from a Distance, Remarkable up Close
What would you do if you got your hands on a clean classic? Some choose to keep everything original, right down to hardware that didn't work well even back in the day. You know what we're talking about: coughing carburetors, brakes that only Fred Flintstone would put up with, and weak-sauce tires. Others might toss out any resemblance to the original vehicle, chopping and massaging sheetmetal until a classic rig becomes a rock buggy with a semi-original grille.
The bottom line for a vehicle owner is that once you have the keys and the title, the end result is up to you. You're not building it for someone else's enjoyment.
With all that in mind, we dig David London's approach to building his 1987 Jeep SJ Grand Wagoneer. The classic sheetmetal remains, right down to the wood paneling on the inside of the tailgate.
David was enamored with the classic styling, but when it came to the drivetrain and the suspension, the old stuff had to go. Some purists might cry foul at ditching the carbureted AMC 360, but they're not the ones driving the vehicle. A GM LS1 now resides in the engine bay, backed up by a 4L60-E transmission. You'll find an Atlas II transfer case behind the 4L60-E.
With a modern powerplant concealed by classic looks, David knew that the next steps of his Wagoneer build were going to involve extensive metalwork. He had a custom coilover front suspension in mind and needed the services of a shop versed in both Jeeps and custom suspension. Research, referrals, and the grapevine brought him to T&J Performance in Orange, California.
T&J Performance is not a run-of-the-mill Jeep specialist. The crew at T&J has also been involved with the JeepSpeed Challenge since the series started more than a decade ago. Versed in what makes a Jeep handle and perform under the harshest off-road racing conditions, T&J was perfectly poised to create a suspension that could take David and his Grand anywhere they cared to go, haulin' or crawlin.'
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The resulting front suspension package is based on a pair of radius arms, a plated and gusseted frame, shock hoops with an integrated crossbar, a custom steering system, and coilover and secondary smooth-body shocks. The rear suspension is closer to what came from the factory, but the stock leaf packs went by the wayside in favor of custom packs. The rear shocks followed suit with custom smooth-body shocks residing in T&J-fabricated mounts on both ends.
Details abound. The crusty factory body mounts were painstakingly removed and replaced with urethane mounts. A dual battery system includes a custom-fabricated mount that sits under the Grand's rear quarters, a battery switch under the driver seat, and a jumper cable connection under the hood. Both front and rear axlehousings were gusseted and are home to the selectable traction of Ox lockers. Although we're not a show-and-shine magazine, we couldn't help but be impressed by the ultra-clean interior.
So, what would you do with a clean classic rig? It's completely up to you, but we're big fans of what we see here: an ideal combination of vintage looks and modern hardware. If David London comes calling, you'll know what his Grand Wagoneer has in store. It's classic from a distance and remarkable up close.
Vehicle: 1987 Jeep SJ Grand Wagoneer
Owner/Hometown: David London/ Lilburn, Georgia
Engine: GM LS1
Induction: Stock GM EFI
Transmission: GM 4L60-E
Transfer case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Front suspension: Custom radius arm and coilover conversion by T&J Performance, Dana 44 axlehousing was gusseted, shock hoops were prepared, 14-inch-stroke King coilovers and smooth-body shocks with compression adjusters, Ox Locker
Rear suspension: Deaver leaf packs and King smooth-body shocks with compression adjusters, Gusseted Dana 44 axle with Ox Locker
Ring-and-pinion ratio: 4.11 (front and rear)
Tires/Wheels: 35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2s; Mickey Thompson Classic II wheels fitted with Champion beadlocks