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1990 Jeep Wrangler YJ - Rekindled

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Harry Wagner | Writer
Posted March 1, 2008

The Road To A V-8 YJ

Bill Barnett is a longtime Jeep fanatic. He bought a brand new CJ-5 Golden Eagle in Reno, Nevada, back in 1979. As his family grew, there wasn't enough space in the '5. Diapers and little league took priority over lockers and mud terrains. Fast forward to 1998 when Bill was attending an RV show in Colorado. He saw a booth for the Colorado Association of 4Wheel Drive Clubs, and that was all that it took to rekindle his love for Jeeps. He has since joined the Colorado Go-4s and owned a CJ-7, a stretched TJ, and the monster YJ shown here.

The stock frames on YJs are fully boxed and far more robust than the frames found on Barnett's previous CJs. Still, the rear section of the frame behind the seats was replaced with round tube by Bob Appleby to provide more uptravel for the rear suspension. The leaf springs were tossed to make room for a triangulated four-link used in conjunction with 16-inch travel 2.5-inch diameter Sway-A-Way coilovers and 250- over 300-pound coil springs with tender springs on top. A Currie Anti-Rock sway bar assists the coilovers and provides stability on the street and the trail. The upper links are 1.5-inch 0.250-wall DOM tubing, while the lowers are constructed from 1.75-inch 0.375-wall DOM since they see more abuse in the rocks. All of the links are fitted with 5/8x3/4-inch FK rod ends. Similar components are used up front, although the suspension utilizes links which are parallel to the frame and a panhard bar to control lateral movement. The original panhard bar ripped a hole in the frame, so Damian Layer at Ground Control 4x4 plated the frame and constructed a bombproof mount to stand up to the stresses of rockcrawling.


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Rocks aren't the only cause of stress to the suspension, as it is tasked with controlling huge 42-inch bias-ply Super Swamper IROKs wrapped around polished 17x8.5 Walker Evans beadlock wheels. The bias-ply Swampers are actually surprisingly light for their size, and stick well to the rocks found in Colorado and Utah. Their 14-inch width also keeps the beautiful Walker wheels away from the rocks, although that is more of a cosmetic benefit than anything else.

Barnett originally swapped out the 4.2L engine for a small-block equipped with aftermarket fuel injection. After trying a variety of different systems and spending a small fortune on tuning, he bought a 350 Ram Jet crate engine from Burt Chevrolet and never looked back. A Novak radiator keeps the V-8 cool, even when idling all day on the trail. Power is routed through a fully-built Art Carr TH350 fitted with a reverse manual valvebody and Art Carr gated shifter. From there the torque is split by an Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case with 32-spline outputs and a 3.8:1 low range.

The beef continues downstream in the form of Dana 60 axles with a 5-on-5 1/2 bolt pattern. The full-width front axle was sourced from a Dodge pickup and is filled with Yukon 35-spline chromoly axle shafts, CTM U-joints, an ARB Air Locker, 4.88 Yukon gears, and a Dynatrac diff cover. The five lug outers are used in conjunction with 3/4-ton Chevy brakes and Dynatrac hubs. The brakes are controlled by a Navajo master cylinder and a dual-diaphragm brake booster from Off Again Off Road, but Barnett has plans to add a Vanco hydroboost system in the near future. Poison Spyder Customs steering arms mount on top of the knuckles and put the tie rod up high out of harm's way.

The PSC single-ended hydraulic ram is even better protected, as it is up high and entirely behind the axle center line. The ram works in conjunction with a PSC steering box and pump. The rear axle is a custom high-pinion Dynatrac Pro Rock Dana 60. It sports 35-spline semi-floating chromoly axle shafts, a Detroit Locker, 4.88 gears, and Explorer disc brakes. No need to carry spare parts in the Jeep with this potent drivetrain combination, and that's good because there isn't a surplus of storage space.

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