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Jeep Autopsy: Wrangler YJ

Posted in Features on December 20, 2006
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Photographers: Jeep
Laredo and Renegade were top-of-the-line YJs, with the Sahara right behind.

The CJ-7 was dead, and armageddon was upon us. As a result, legions of Jeepistas laid strewn along trails all over the country wondering how they could go on now that the beloved 7 was kaput. In 1987 came the make-or-break answer: the Wrangler. Most picked themselves up and got a life. Others were forever scarred by the introduction of square headlights. And then there was the rest of humanity, who recognized the refinements over the CJ and moved beyond the YJ's funky headlights and bent grille.

The History:
If you want to blame anyone for the demise of the CJ-7, it would be consumers who wanted (expected?) creature comforts with their automotive experience, even in a utilitarian Jeep. And the Jeep execs couldn't help but notice the CJ wasn't moving off the lots all that quickly and needed to make it more appealing to the masses. So in 1987 (OK, in 1986 but as an '87 model), AMC introduced the "better" Wrangler YJ, which lasted until 1995. No, you can't get a '96 YJ. If you did, you simply ended up with 1995 overstock.

The Model/The Body:
Beyond the front-end changes, the rest of the Jeep's outward appearance wasn't a shocking difference over the CJ-7. But it was the square headlights-earning the Wrangler the nickname Wrongler-that the YJ will always be most remembered (and easily recognized) for. Jeep's foray into square headlights started with the YJ...and ended with the YJ. When the Wrangler debuted, it was available in base, Laredo, and Sport dcor, but come 1988, a stickered Olympic Edition joined the lineup, as did the Sahara and the el-cheapo-but-pretty-decent S model. Island flavor, mon, came in 1989, when the Islander took the place of the Sport dcor; it could be easily identified by the tacky Hawaii/Tahiti/Bahamas-themed big-ass stickers on the hood and doors (and even the spare-tire cover). The Laredo got standard foglights the same year.

The Fact:
There was a long-wheelbase YJ, the YJ-L. It was 103.4 inches and was assembled by Jeep's offshore joint.
The Worthless Fact:
While 1987 is key to Wrangler history, so it was for Jeep history: AMC was sold to Chrysler, creating the Jeep/Eagle division.

By 1990, there were five models (base, Islander, Laredo, S, and Sahara), but come 1991 (Jeep's 50th anniversary), the Laredo took a hike and the gag-worthy Renegade was born; it remained available (as in, people were buying it!) through 1995 (what is wrong with people?). The Sport hit in 1993, and two years later, as the YJ reached the end of its life, the choices were the S (when the Rio Grande package was birthed), the SE, and the Sahara.

Compared to the CJ-7, the YJ was longer (same wheelbase, but length was 153.2 inches for the 7), had less ground clearance, and wider at 66 inches (the 7 was 59.9 inches). The track was 55 inches and change for the CJ, 58 inches for the YJ, and the CJ-7's curb weight was 2,742 pounds, nearly 300 less than the YJ. It was also a smidge taller than the 7.

The Engine
The standard '87 YJ engine was the 2.5L inline-four 1bbl carburetor, while the alternative was the 4.2L six-cylinder 2bbl carb held over from CJs gone by. In 1988, the four-cylinder went throttle body injection, and both engines increased their compression ratios to 9.2:1. The following year, the 4.2L went standard for the Laredo. For 1991, the Power Tech 4.0L was dropped in where the 4.2L used to be; the new 242ci multiport fuel-injected mill made 180 hp at 4,750 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with a compression ratio of 8.8:1 and bore-and-stroke of 3.88x3.41.

The YJ's Off-Road Package consisted of heavy-duty gas shocks and the biggest optional tire size available, P225/75R15 Goodyear Wranglers. We believe shortly after this photo was taken, the brain trust headed to Waffle House to create the Islander.

When the Renegade replaced the Laredo, it too had the bigger engine as standard equipment, although by 1992, the Islander and Sahara would also have it as standard. The four-banger (now with multiport fuel injection) jumped to 123 hp at 5,250 rpm and 139 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm in the same year that the YJ got the 4.0L, and in 1993 the 2.5L's compression ratio went to 9.1:1 the same year the YJ switched to stainless steel exhaust. And in case you were about to ask, it's true. For a few years there, the four-banger did make more horsepower than the six-cylinder.

The Transmission
From the start, the Wrangler came with a standard fully synchromesh five-speed manual (yes, the dreaded Peugeot BA-10 with the six-cylinder and the Aisin AX-5 with the 2.5L), although if you stepped up to the 4.2L, you could get the three-speed automatic (with column shift). However, S models never had access to the auto trans. For 1989, the Peugeot tranny was trashed to make way for the AX-15, and once 1994 rolled around, the four-cylinder could be optioned with the automatic.

The Transfer Case
The two-speed NP207 was an '87-only component and had a 2.61 low range. From then on, the two-speed NP231 with 2.72 low range was the standard T-case. It had shift-on-the-fly, part-time, four-wheel-drive Command-Trac. In 1993, it was renamed NV231 (New Process versus New Venture), but nothing else changed.

The Suspension/The Axles
It was Danas at both ends. The front was a semi-floating 30 with a shaft-disconnect system, as well as Hotchkiss-type leaf springs, a stabilizer bar, and a track bar. Out back was a 35 without C-clips, which lasted until 1989 when the Dana 35c replaced it. A track bar and leaf springs located the rear axle. Borrowing Cherokee axles, recirculating-ball steering, and other mechanicals, combined with the wider, lower stance and stabilizer-bar design, made the YJ see a ginormo improvement in road performance. With the four-cylinder, the axle ratio was 4.11:1; the six-cylinder had 3.07 gearing with the manual and 3.55s with the auto. The four-cylinder auto received 3.73s. When the 4.0L came, six-cylinders had 3.07s. A Trac-Lok rear diff was optional for the YJ except on the S model.

By the time the calendar flipped to 1993, Jeep suits were having marketing meetings about "Wrangler buyers are increasingly female." There were also meetings concerning Wrangler buyers having "flair and a penchant for action and adventure." How many pieces of flair equaled YJ owner back then? We're guessing 37.
Wheelbase: 93.4 in. 2.5L inline-four OHV 4.2L inline-six OHV
Overall length (with P225 spare): 153 in. Displacement: 150 ci Displacement: 258 ci
Overall width: 66 in. Bore x stroke: 3.875 x 3.188 in. Bore x stroke: 3.75 x 3.{{{90}}} in.
-Overall height (soft top): 72 in. Compression ratio: 8.6:1 Compression ratio: 8.6:1
Curb weight (w/ 4.2L): 3,028 lbs. Horsepower: 117 hp @ 5,250 rpm Horsepower: 112 hp @3,000 rpm
Five-speed (standard)
Torque: 138 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm Torque: 210 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Transfer case:
Two-speed NP207
Induction: 1 bbl carburetor Induction: 2 bbl carburetor

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