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The Sh!tbox Derby: Trasborg's Fire Truck 1991 Jeep Comanche

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2010
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I owe ownership of this new-to-me Comanche to having broken my leg in early 2010. While laid up with my leg in a cast and snorting painkillers, I did what any self-respecting Jeep owner would do-I searched online for that next perfect Jeep.

Ever since my first Comanche, a red '88 shortbed that the fans dubbed "The Red Truck" and Cappa calls all kinds of derogatory things (primarily centered around the engine fire which took it out of service), I've been on the hunt for a '92. I have maintained a fleet of Jeeps for over 15 years now, and I am a huge fan of interchangeability of parts. The more sensors, gears, and U-joints that I can swap from one to another, the more likely I am to have the part on the shelf-which saves money in the long run.

After the first $500 MJ burned up, I found another one that I put a six-speed and NVG241OR in and then had to sell to cull the herd. The red one is still around, but in the midst of a conversion to become a '97 Comanche, and I needed a truck that ran.

I found this '91 listed for $2,800 on Craigslist within a week of breaking my leg. Problem is, the combination of a broken leg and the AX-15 transmission meant I couldn't drive it. So I decided to go ahead and test my skills at both negotiation and digging the dirt on vehicles, and pretty soon I had found the original build sheet, a Carfax report, spoken with the DMV to find out what fees were owed on it, and so on.

It wasn't my long-dreamed-of '92, but it was close enough. I knew I wouldn't be driving it for months, so I had nothing to lose or gain by helping the guy out and talking to him openly about price. At one point I ran the blue book value and found it was worth about $1,500. That is, if the swapped-in power windows and locks worked (they didn't). So I told him that I didn't want to low ball him, but that I'd give him $1,000 for the truck. With $400 owed to DMV and having failed the last smog test (three years prior), I felt that was a good price. Not surprisingly, I didn't hear back for a while.

While in Moab, Utah, for Easter Jeep Safari, I got an email, "Okay, Pete, I'll accept your $1,000 dollar offer." By this point I'd bought some parts for other projects and only had $500 floating around, so I regrettably responded with, "Sorry, man. I only have $500 floating around now for another Jeep purchase I don't really need." Mind you, I was still in a cast, couldn't drive the truck, and was two states away, but no need to burden the seller with that info. Again, not surprisingly, I didn't hear back for a while. Nor did I expect to, given the original asking price.

When I finally got another email accepting my offer, it was based on the two MJs I had previously owned, all the work I had put into them, and how much I wanted another one. In his words, "I want the truck to go to a good home."

We swapped a battery into the truck to take it for a test drive. Start-check, Steer- check, Stop-check. All systems were a go for purchase, so I called the tow truck and took it home. Once I got it home, I found a ton of stuff wrong and lots of non-functional components. Fortunately, my stash of interchangeable parts will make the fixes cheap and easy. While the truck is a six-cylinder, it is only a 2WD. Thanks to my nature, I have many of the parts on hand to lift the truck, fit 33s, convert to 4WD, and really give those carb'd and leaf-sprung guys a run for the money.

Sure, the other guys think it's cheating-but if the used parts are there on the shelf because I never threw them out or I can trade parts that I have for parts that I need, is it really cheating?

But I digress; first I need to get it driving and reliable. I need a reliable parts-grabber before I need a real contender for whatever Hazel has cooked up. And really, if it doesn't run well, what is the point of modifying it for some half-baked contest? So just how "built" this thing ends up will be a battle against time: I have other stories due and other Jeeps to wrench on. But a huge pile of parts means that the deck is stacked in my favor. Tune in next time to see just how competitive I can make this thing, assuming I can get it running as well as it should.

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