1988 Jeep YJ Wrangler With More Than Meets the EyePosted in Features on January 24, 2017
Ken Secord has owned this Jeep for many years. It was slowly built over time, and then rebuilt a few times after that. He purchased the ’88 YJ Wrangler in 1991, and it’s since followed him on moves all around the country until he finally settled in Arizona. Having been moved and registered by Secord in five different states over the last 25 years, you can imagine this Jeep holds some sentimental value for him and his family.
The buildups over many of those years involved the usually upgrades Jeep owners make, including a suspension lift, larger tires, and some engine mods. Then, in 1999, he opted to swap in custom Dynatrac axles with Detroit lockers to better accommodate larger tires. Then came a remanufactured 4.2L inline-six with a 4.0L head and a Mopar EFI system, reworked original automatic transmission, and an Atlas 2 transfer case.
The Jeep saw a lot of wheeling and trails ranging from Big Dogs in Virginia to points all the way to Oregon. Then, in the last year or so, Ken got the itch to upgrade again and, with the help of Lamb Fab in Gilbert, Arizona, turned his YJ into a new dream rig.
ChassisOf course this Wrangler came from the factory with leaf springs, and it was once lifted with new leaf packs. However, this time the build was targeted to step things up a few notches. Lamb Fab installed a GenRight three-link suspension in front and pushed the front axle forward a few inches in the process. This required cutting off all the old suspension mount points and welding in the new GenRight mounts. Once this was done, the Jeep was supported with new 14-inch-travel King 2.0 coilover shocks with remote reservoirs. GenRight polyurethane bumpstops were also incorporated into the frame to limit upward motion of the front axle.
The rear got a GenRight double-triangulated four-link setup that pushed the rear axle back about 5 inches, setting the overall wheelbase at 100 inches. All the links use Currie Johnny Joints. Like the front, the rear is supported with 14-inch-travel King 2.0 coilovers combined with GenRight poly bumpstops. Additionally, a GenRight anti-sway bar was added in the rear.
Driving a crossover steering setup with heavy-duty rods fabricated by Lamb Fab is the job of an AGR power steering box that sits on the frame. Chromoly rod ends are used at the knuckles. A GenRight pitman arm provides double-shear connection to a rod end on the draglink.
DrivetrainWith plans for a killer suspension and another increase in tire size, it seemed a logical step to retire the aging inline-six engine. Lamb Fab has built a reputation for GM V-8 swaps, so the new powerplant of choice was a GM 6.0L V-8. The exact designator for the engine is unknown as it was a GM prototype test engine with an aluminum block and cylinder heads. It was swapped into the YJ frame using polyurethane-bushed mounts fabricated at Lamb Fab.
Fitting a GM V-8 into the YJ Wrangler took a bit of jockeying and planning to get proper placement for all-around clearance and functionality. Lamb Fab ended up placing the new engine about an inch off-center toward the passenger side, allowing the engine to clear the steering shaft running to the steering box.
Exhaust routing can often be a challenge when dealing with a new suspension and an engine swap. Once all these components were in place, Lamb Fab was able to determine routing. Stock exhaust manifolds were used with the driver side collector running forward under the engine oil pan and then turning back to join the passenger side collector. These two pipes merge into a single 3-inch exhaust with Magnaflow muffler and a tailpipe that exits in front of the passenger side rear tire. A simple Spectre open-element filter was fit in front of the 6.0L throttle body.
A Be Cool aluminum radiator was sourced for cooling chores and includes a fitting to properly accommodate the steam line found on these engines. A single 16-inch Flex-A-Lite fan is used to assist the radiator in cooling. The factory GM alternator and starter were retained, and fuel is supplied to the engine using a frame-mounted inline Walbro 255 fuel pump.
For electronics, Lamb Fab used a factory GM harness it modified and reprogrammed a factory engine control module (ECM) in-house. The ECM was mounted on the fenderwell near the brake booster. A GM electronic throttle pedal assembly was used as the engine is drive-by-wire. The engine uses a stock GM alternator.
A 4L65E four-speed automatic bolted right up to the new V-8; then, an Advance Adapters Atlas 2 was dropped in place at the tail of the transmission. Low range has a 3.8:1 ratio. The vehicle speed sensor (VSS) signal for the computer was pulled from a sensor in the Advance Adapters T-case adapter used between the transmission and transfer case. This signal is also used to drive an Autometer speedometer. A Dakota Digital shift indicator on the stock steering column shows transmission state, while a suite of Autometer gauges now monitors engine vitals on the V-8.
The latest plan was to increase tire size again. Fortunately, Ken already had nicely built Dynatrac axles—specifically a Dana 44 up front and Dana 60 in the rear. Both turn 4.10 gear sets on Detroit lockers. With the new linked suspension and larger tires, it was decided to have a local shop widen the axles a bit to comfortably accommodate the 37-inch TrXus M/T tires mounted on 15-inch Alcoa forged aluminum wheels. For increased exploring range, a GenRight YJ Crawler Comp gas tank and skidplate were installed, upping the fuel capacity to a healthy 23 gallons.
Brakes are assisted using a hydroboost unit from a late-model GM 1-ton truck combined with a ’90s 3/4-ton pickup master cylinder. After the engine swap, there was little room left to fit a conventional vacuum booster at the firewall. Lamb Fab built a simple adapter to allow the hydroboost module to mount to the Jeep firewall.
Body and InteriorThis Jeep got a clean body makeover. Modifications include the addition of GenRight 4-inch-flare front tube fenders and 4-inch-flare rear tube fenders to help cover the bigger meats on the wider axles. Plus, tiny LED turn signals are tucked into the new front fenders.
Justin Miller at Lamb Fab laid down the single-stage desert tan paint on all the body panels, including the factory hardtop. BedLiner Veterans shot color-matched bedliner material on the Bullet Proof bumpers and Tompken sliders. A Warn HS9500i winch sits up front and gets power from one of two Deka Intimidator AGM batteries tied together with a Wrangler Power Products isolator setup.
Some of the interior surfaces were bedlined as well. Seating includes a Mastercraft Baja RS seat for the driver, while the passenger side uses a Corbeau suspension seat. A six-point rollcage from GenRight was put in place and welded. It’s built from 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM steel tube and fits close to the factory hardtop. Tuffy center console and storage boxes provide for interior security.
Good, Bad, and What It's ForThis YJ Wrangler has been reinvented with more power, better suspension, and improved looks. The entire powertrain swap is super clean and delivers plenty of smooth power. The overall paint scheme is a little understated, but that’s exactly what the owner wanted. It doesn’t jump out at you, but when you get up close and start to look at all the mods and details, this rig really stands out. Ken likes using his Jeep to do family trail runs, and it now serves as a daily driver as well.
Why I Wrote This FeatureThese days it seems like the JKs get most of the love with a little left over for the TJ and LJ gang. There are some really cool square-headlight Jeeps out there and we found one. While the traditional leaf-spring suspension is gone and the Jeep has seen a lot of mods, it’s still a ’80s Wrangler and a cool one to boot.
HARD FACTSVehicle: ’88 YJ Wrangler
Engine: Chevy 6.0L V-8
Transmission: GM 4L65E automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas 2 with 3.8:1 low range
Suspension: GenRight 3-link front and GenRight 4-link rear, King 2.0 coilovers
Axles: Front: Dynatrac Dana 44, 4.10 gears, Detroit locker; Rear: Dynatrac Dana 60, 4.10 gears, Detroit locker
Steering: AGR steering box with GenRight pitman
Wheels: 15x8 Mickey Thompson branded Alcoa forged aluminum
Tires: 37x12.5R15LT Interco TrXus M/Ts
Built For: Exploring backcountry desert trails