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Free Jeep, Part 1

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2001 Comment (0)
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Free Jeep, Part 1
Photographers: Verne Simons

We hate hearing about great deals. You know, the kind you can’t afford, but can’t afford to pass up either. We received a call from a buddy that had recently purchased a ’93 Wrangler with 88,000 miles on it. The two previous owners towed the Jeep behind motorhomes for most its life. So it had almost no real miles and if the truth were known it had never even been shifted into four-wheel-drive. The call went something like this.
Buddy: Hey, you wanna buy my Jeep?
Us: Oh geez, how much?
Buddy: $4,000
Us: $4,000? You just paid $5,000 for it last month!
Buddy: Yeah, I know. I just need to get it out of my shop. I need the space.
Us: I don’t have the cash now!
Buddy: Don’t worry about it. Just get it out of here. I need the space more than I need the money.

Needless to say we were on our way to pick up our no-money-down, no-interest, no payments YJ. Unfortunately, it had been picked over by a Jeep vulture since the last time we had seen it. The scavenger had convinced Buddy to trade the factory Jeep top and lower hard doors for some tires and wheels. The YJ has a 2-inch body lift and 31-inch BFG All-Terrain tires on the stock wheels. It also came with a CD player. We can’t listen to it though since the speakers were in the doors that had been pillaged from our Jeep. It has a 2.5L four-cylinder engine, no A/C, and a bikini top that we can’t put on because the vulture took all the top hardware too. It came with a rear tube bumper but Buddy had removed it and the spare tire mount. Buddy had installed a stiff-riding 4-inch lift and installed long-travel Bilstein shocks and cool tubular shock hoops. The original-length Bilsteins were left in the rear and shorter mounts were welded to the axle. Everything else was stock. But hey, it was still a good deal for $4,000 and we couldn’t pass on the great pay-when-we-feel-like-it finance plan. So we loaded up our red YJ with its weenie 2.5L. We also took all of the original suspension and hardware that Buddy had removed.

Getting it Ready

We’ve been over the Rubicon a few times in a really built Jeep, but we’ve watched mildly-built fullsizes bump and grind across the ’Con, and we know DaimlerChrysler tests every new Jeep product by driving it over the Rubicon in practically stock form. So how built does your Jeep have to be to make it over this infamous trail? We figured we would try and get by with some minimal but important modifications. So here’s what we built.

Once we got our YJ home we removed the suspension lift and sold it (owning this Jeep is already earning us money). We put the stock leaf springs and shackles back on. The front and rear track bars were thrown in the trash. We found that the custom 14-inch-travel front shocks and hoops would still work but we certainly wouldn’t be using all that travel. In back we had some trouble. With the Buddy-modified shock mounts and the Jeep’s suspension lowered down to stock height the rear shocks only offered about 2 inches of up-travel. But we liked the extra clearance under the axle (no low hanging shock mounts). Rather than move the mounts back to stock we called Mountain Off Road Enterprises and ordered a set of long-travel rear shock brackets. These move the upper shock mounts 2 inches higher than stock and only require two holes to be drilled. Perfect.

Realistically we could have called it quits and headed for the Rubicon. But there were a few more things we wanted to have as extra insurance and—go ahead, call us babies—comfort. The first issue was to get a top back on our Wrangler. We figured driving our naked YJ some 800 miles to and from the Rubicon wouldn’t be too pleasant, and we certainly weren’t going to tow it there. Besides, the Rubicon is notorious for inclement and ever-changing weather. Ever heard of the Donner Party? Yeah, they froze to death not too far from the Rubicon. So we opted for a Bestop Super Top complete with all the hardware and soft lower and upper doors. We only had to drill a few holes and one person was able to install it in a couple hours.

The next mod was to install some rocker guards. Yeah, we know, again you don’t really need them but we didn’t want to risk bashing our nice red paint just yet. We ordered and slapped on a pair of Sun Performance rocker guards. We dig the Sun rockers because they have a rounded edge that will keep the body away from the nasties better than common-angle iron rockers.

Lastly, we decided to bolt on a winch—just in case. Again, we know you don’t really need a winch to cross the Rubicon but it could be helpful if we end up in a bad situation or if we need to pull out one of our buddies. We decided on a Ramsey 9500. It has a fast line speed that will work well with our lack of low gearing. It’s probably way overkill for our Jeep but we will never have to upgrade it. If our Jeep eventually sees extreme trail duty the Ramsey won’t have a problem keeping up. We also ordered a Ramsey accessory kit with gloves, a clevis, a snatch block, and a tree strap all tucked into a carry bag. All these accessories make the winch more useful and they help make the cable last longer when used properly.

On The Road

Our YJ is certainly underpowered, but we would never swap out the 2.5L. Just passing a vehicle on the highway requires Intimidator-like driving skill, planning ahead, drafting the vehicle in front of you, and winding the four-cylinder up to four grand, and we love every minute of it. Maybe it’s just us but there is something about driving vehicles you don’t own. They never reach redline and they jump way better than anything you have to make payments on. Perhaps what we like best is the doors and a heater that works. Without fail, anytime we drive our early heaterless and topless Jeep it practically snows. This has happened so often that none of our friends will even ride in it anymore because they associate our CJ-2A with frostbite. With the YJ we can pop on the upper doors and crank the heater. It gets about 17 miles per gallon which isn’t great but we suspect it would improve with some 4.56 or 4.88 gears to make up for the 31s. The gears would also help in the power department but we’re not ready for that yet.

So with the YJ all set-up we headed out to our stomping grounds in the desert for a quick test run. We aired our 31-inch radials down until they had a good bulge for better traction. It turned out to be about 15 psi. Four-wheel-drive high-range is just about useless. There really wasn’t enough power to pull it like we wanted it to. No big deal, we just drove around in low-range.

We quickly found out that the sway bar was a big bummer off-road. It severely limited the travel of the front suspension, so we yanked it out. With the sway bar gone the ride of the Jeep improved and we were able to traverse rougher terrain without lifting a tire. When a tire did lift we found we could usually tap the brake pedal to make the Jeep think it had a limited slip while powering our way through.

Ordinary unmaintained roads became entertaining obstacles for our Wrangler. We hit more advanced stuff, too. Only we had to hit it with a little more throttle than those with a lockers and bigger tires. However, our YJ was a handful in the high-speed washes without the sway bar. We had figured that the aftermarket shocks would keep this problem under control, but the factory springs are soft and allow a lot of body roll. Street driving without the sway bar is also a little frightening at times, but we’ll leave it off the Jeep for now.

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