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1988 Jeep YJ Wrangler Built by Family

Posted in Features on November 1, 2016
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A father/son project is the stuff of dreams. To be able to build something with your dad or your son (or daughter) just doesn’t get much better. Turning wrenches, installing an engine, doing bodywork, adding a lift kit and the like, are just a few things that can bring a relationship closer together. For Justin McDaris and his father Troy, one family member bought a Jeep, and then others jumped in on the act. Jeepin’ had become a family affair. “We kind of all built one so we could hang out together,” Justin said.

Justin and his dad started out with an ’88 YJ they picked up as a “roller.” A body and frame was about it. As Justin told us, “No engine, no interior, just axles underneath it to roll around on.” To many, that may sound like too much of a project, but for Justin, his dad, and his uncle, that was exactly what they wanted.

Nice Body
They wanted something they could build from the ground up, and the YJ Wrangler was the perfect starting point. The Jeep’s body was in good condition, which is why they chose it. “It was pretty straight and didn’t have any rust,” according to Justin. The fact that the body didn’t have any rust was the Jeep’s biggest draw. Between Justin, his dad, and uncle, they did it all. The trio started by cleaning up the body and applying primer during the build process. They didn’t want to scratch fresh paint, so they left the body in primer while building the Jeep.

Heavy Duty Chassis
The Jeep’s new suspension was based on 1 1/4-ton axles from a Chevrolet military truck called a CUCV, which stands for Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle. The CUCV was basically a military-modified Chevy pickup used in non-combat situations. Eventually, the CUCVs were replaced with Humvees, but the axles were built to withstand a lot of punishment, which is why they were chosen for the project. Most CUCV axles had 4.56 gears, and the Detroit Locker rear diff remained in place.

The Jeep’s increased altitude is from a Skyjacker 6-inch suspension lift that used components designed for a ’73-’87 Chevrolet truck, since that corresponds with the Jeep’s axles. Justin also employed a Rough Country 3-inch body lift, as well.

Driven By 350
All this lift meant a lot of thought had to be put into the driveshafts. One of the problems they ran into was getting the driveshafts to work because of the lift and the driveline angles. Eventually, after lowering the engine in the frame and sourcing custom driveshafts from Carolina Driveline, everything came together.

Speaking of the engine, one of Justin’s neighbors had an old motorhome they were selling. It had a good GM 350ci V-8 engine in it, so that was plucked for the Jeep. However, not before Justin and Troy added a Comp cam, World Products heads, and an Edelbrock intake. Flowtech headers work together with Flowmaster mufflers to let everyone know this Jeep’s engine is far from stock. Behind the small block is a Turbo 400 with a Hughes Performance torque converter. The transfer case is a NP205 with twin sticks.

Inside And Out
Because the Jeep didn’t have an interior when they bought it, that need had to be addressed. Justin chose XRC bucket seats for the Jeep, along with a Pioneer head unit for tunes. Justin is big on family fun, so he retrofitted a ’92 TJ Wrangler “family style” full rollcage onto the YJ.

With everything fit into place, Justin and the guys tore it all apart so that the Electric Lime paint could be applied. This is a factory Jeep color that was available in 2004 and possibly into 2005. After the new paint was dry and had cured for a few days, the guys put it all back together, with the finishing touches being XRC front and rear bumpers, Smittybilt side steps, Bushwacker flares, and Fuel Hostage 20x14-inch wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson 19.5x46x20 Baja Claw treads.

This seems like a lot of work, right? Well, it only took the guys six months to build the Jeep. They were in a hurry to finish the Jeep in time for Jeep Beach 2015, which they were able to do. Because they were in a hurry, they did have to go back over a couple things, but they got it done in time.

Good, Bad, And What It’s For
Justin primarily uses the Wrangler for Jeep events and shows, and it’s pretty much how he wants it. Really the only thing on his wish list is a Cummins 4BT swap. He told us, “I don’t know when I’ll be able to do the swap, but that’s something I’d like to do one day.”

Why I Wrote This Feature
Building this Jeep was very much a family affair, and the fact that this was a father/son build that Troy’s uncle jumped in on to help out makes it all the better. This isn’t a rock crawler, but it does see plenty of dirt and backcountry byways in the family’s pursuit of Jeepin’ fun.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: ’88 Jeep Wrangler
Engine: GM 350ci V-8, World Products heads, Comp cam, Edelbrock intake
Transmission: Turbo 400, Hughes Performance 2,200-2,500 rpm stall converter
Transfer Case: NP205 w/twin sticks
Axles: Dana 60 front and rear, 4.56 gears, Detroit Locker rear differential
Suspension: Skyjacker 6-inch lift kit
Wheels: 20x14-inch Fuel Hostage
Tires: 19.5/46-20LT Mickey Thompson Baja Claw

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