Mike LeBlanc bought his '82 CJ-8 off eBay back in 2006 and had it shipped from Missouri to his home in Valley Center, California.
It's common for virgin sheetmetal to go from west-to-east, but it's far less common for Californians to import vehicles from the rust belt. But Scramblers aren't all that common, and Mike's purchase looked okay online. But when it arrived, Mike discovered the beauty was only skin-deep. The TPI 350 engine turned out to be a 305. The TH700R4 transmission wound up needing to be rebuilt. The 35x12.50R15LT "Traction Radial" tires were mounted on some of the fugliest wheels ever conceived. The front fenders were from a YJ and were fitted with color-matched TJ flares. And the body filler in some places was almost 3/4-inch thick. But Mike didn't really care because he had a plan and money wasn't a foremost concern. What he wanted was a Scrambler that could comfortably drive up to 50 miles to the trailhead, easily mob through any terrain west of the Mississippi, and then safely drive back. To make it happen, he took the Jeep to Jay Miller at TAG Motorsports in Escondido, California, for what would ultimately become a year-long, frame-up transformation.
The most surprising thing you'll notice when you stick your head under the Jeep is the stock frame still in one piece from front to back. Scrambler frames are fully boxed from the factory, so it made sense to retain it. Especially since the old-school Advance Adapters Chevy V-8 mounts were already installed. Otherwise, everything under the frame got the heave-ho.
Miller ditched the 2.73-geared factory Dana 30 and Model 20 axles, leaf springs, and spring mounts and ordered a pair of iron RockJock axles from Currie Enterprises. While the axles were being built, the frame was smoothed and prepped to accept a custom link-type, coilover suspension front and rear. Miller used a GenRight Off Road three-link front and four-link rear builder kit that included frame and axle mounts, 2-inch-diameter, 0.250-wall DOM tubing, weld-in bungs, and Johnny Joints, as well as top-quality 7/8-inch FK chromoly rod ends for the track bar. Once the axles arrived the suspension build commenced. Out back, the GenRight frame brackets worked with no problem, but up front Miller had to modify the brackets supplied with the three-link kit for clearance around the already-installed small-block Chevy engine. With the axles located, a quartet of 14-inch-travel, 2-inch-diameter King remote-reservoir coilovers were hung off the frame with some custom coil buckets. Miller liked the Currie Enterprise coil buckets, but they were about 4 inches too short for the build. He mooched some shop time from a buddy with a laser cutter and press brake and built his own copies out of 3/16-inch steel. A set of 175- over 350-lb coils up front and 200- over 300-lb coils out back dialed in the ride height for the planned 40-inch tires.