Turning our Basket-Case CJ into a Cross-Country Runner
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Our fleet of Jeeps wasnt complete. We really needed another one. Although we werent sure what we were looking for, we were looking anyway. After weeks of searching the local paper and not finding anything that we couldnt live without, we turned to our computer and clicked on the Collins Bros. Web site (www.collinsbrosjeep.com). The company sells restoration, hard-to-find, used, and resto-mod parts, but it also sells complete Jeeps. These can be had in several different levels from a cosmetically restored CJ to full-blown, better-than-new frame-off resto, and anything in between. Collins Bros. searches the country for rare and not-so-rare Jeeps, rebuilds them, and then sells em. Ever heard of a Playboy Anniversary CJ-5 or a Patriot Wrangler? Collins Bros. has had those and others, too. We wanted something a little less collectable and unrestored, a real project, so we asked Michael Sailsbury at Collins Bros. if he had any cool buildable Jeeps. He came back at us with an 85 Scrambler, apparently one of the most desirable years to get ahold of. The 86 models were really the last ones built, but they were made with 85 parts. Mikes original plan was to refurbish the Scrambler and put it up on the Collins Bros. Web site. He didnt want to give it up since a perfectly restored Scrambler can fetch up to $35,000. But we begged, pleaded, and told him to keep his resto hands off of it by convincing him wed tell everyone that he likes lowered Jeep Liberties on 20-inch wheels if he didnt let the CJ go. We then promptly stole the most reliable Jeep we could get our hands on (4-Wheel & Off-Roads 01 Grand Cherokee) and headed out to Wylie, Texas, to save the CJ-8 from restoration.
Well break the journey into two segments. This part is about what we needed to fix before we left and the problems you might run into when rescuing a basket-case Jeep, while the second will be about the problems and fun we had driving the CJ-8 home from Texas. Fortunately for us, Collins Bros. let us borrow a spot in the shop, gave us full run of the used-parts yard, and even let us use the shop tools to get our Scrambler into road-worthy shape. Anyway, heres what to look for and fix before you hit the road in any road-weary Jeep. Stay tuned for the next issue where well explain why our Jeep used 5 gallons of oil to get home.
Vehicle: 85 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
Engine: 258 carbureted inline-six
Transfer Case: Dana 300
Axles: Dana 30 (front), AMC 20 with Trac-Lok (rear)
Extras: It has A/C, but a hose had been damaged and the belt was gone; the compressor even appeared to be functional. We found all the original paperwork in the glovebox and discovered that our Scrambler was well optioned when purchased new. It came with a Warn 8274 winch, now missing.
Other Info: Less than 28,000 Scramblers were built from 1981 to 1986. In 1985, only 2,015 ran over the assembly line. The 128 86 models were built with leftover 85 parts.
Mike had sent us a few photos of the Jeep and told us it needed work. A quick look around the CJ revealed some problems we needed to fix before we drove it home. The guys in the shop thought we were nuts to even think about driving it to California. They wouldnt even have driven it to the local 7-Eleven. Starting the Jeep caused the engine to dance around the engine compartment like that Lord Of The Dance freak on a Vaseline floor. After pulling onto the hoist we pressure-washed several pounds of dirt, grease, and crawdads from the underside of the Scrambler. With everything cleaned, we made a short list of needed parts.
The front springs were bent, probably caused by someone ramming the Jeep into mud banks. The top and doors were missing, and the seats had been replaced with an unstable 5-gallon plastic bucket. The vibrating engine was caused by a busted and rotten tranny mount, and the rear shackles were just plain worn out so bad the bolt holes were oval. It looked like one of the two-piece AMC 20 rear shafts had broken and the Jeep had been dragged for several miles. To repair it, someone had stuffed in a replacement axle without brakes and just crimped the brake line. An even closer investigation revealed many more problems. Heres the list of stuff we fixed, replaced, and added to our Jeep before leaving for our 1,675-mile trip home:
* Complete rear axle: We started by just replacing the shaft and the brake on the damaged side. Before we had it all pinned together, we found the pinion bearings were shot so we yanked the whole housing and replaced it with a good used one from the parts yard.
* Front axle U-joint: There were no needle bearings or seals left in one of the 260 axle joints. We replaced it with a new one after soaking the rusty axle and U-joint in WD-40 overnight.
* Driveshaft U-joint: It was just a little loose and wobbly, so we replaced it with a new one.
* Tranny mount: The rotten and broken one was replaced with a new one.
* Front springs: They were replaced with good used ones.
* Fresh oil all around: Almost every component had water and mud in it.
* Rear shackles: Good used ones replaced the extremely worn originals.
* Brake bleed: It took a while, but we finally got a firm pedal and clean fluid coming from the bleeder screws.
* Repack front wheel bearings: They were way loose, but amazingly, only one bearing needed to be replaced.
* Brake pads: We replaced them with some good used ones. Hey, the rotors were already shot; we just wanted to get it home.
* Miscellaneous vacuum lines: The 258 is covered with them and they always seem to leak. Many were cracked and rotten.
* Front bumper: Someone had built a heavyweight out of 6-inch Schedule 40 pipe. We replaced it with a standard bumper with tow bar attachments, just in case.
* Rewire taillights: It was a mess, but just needed a little crimping and cutting. At least they worked when we left.
* Brake pedal return spring: Somehow this was replaced with a bungee cordway butch.
* Wiper internal arms: They were just broken; we cant explain it.
* Top and seats: Our CJ had been stripped bare inside, so we slapped in some good used aftermarket seats, a used bikini top, and a used windjammer in expectation of rain on the way home.
* Hard doors: Since it didnt have any, we found some rusty ones out back and slapped them on.
* Replaced air filter assembly: It didnt even have a filter in it, and many of the fittings were crushed, so we installed a good used one with a somewhat-clean, used air filter.
* Added spare tire: The mount was there so we found a spare in the yard and bolted it up.
* Fan clutch: It was shot, so we installed a good used one.
* Flush radiator: It looked like it had been filled with muddy water. We flushed it and filled it with freshie.
* Replace radiator overflow: Did you know that the Scrambler uses the same one as an early Wrangler?
* Adjust rear drums: The shoes were shot, but the Jeep stops pretty good now and even skids.
Bringing Home a Beater
Have you found that special Jeep you just cant live without? Besides the obvious stuff like a smokey exhaust and tires with at least some tread that actually hold air, check out the photos for some of the things to look for before you hit the road with your new beat-down purchase.