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Saved From Restoration: Part 1

Front Passenger Side0
John Cappa | Writer
Posted January 1, 2003

Turning our Basket-Case CJ into a Cross-Country Runner

Step By Step

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  • Driveshafts: Grab ahold of them and check for slop in the slip-joints and U-joints. If you’re not traveling too far, a little slop isn’t a problem. For longer trips, you may want to replace anything that’s worn and grease the moving parts.
    Steering: Check the tie-rod ends, ball joints, and steering shaft for looseness. Anything that looks scary probably is, so don’t trust duct tap to hold the drag link in place. Make sure all hardware is tight. You can check for slop by having a buddy slightly turn the steering wheel from side to side while you inspect the links.
    Brakes: Simple: Do they work or not? Hopefully, you’ll check this before heading down the road at full speed. Check for leaks and bleed them with fresh fluid until you get a firm pedal. Worn pads can be easily swapped out for longer drives home. Make sure all the hardware is in place so your brakes don’t become a spring-loaded trap that sends you careening off a cliff into someone’s living room. Adjusting drum brakes goes a long way when trying to stop in a short distance.

  • Engine: Check the oil; if it’s at all milky-looking, then you have a Jeep that either was driven like a submarine at the local pond or has a blown head gasket. Just make sure that the engine is complete for the most part. Obviously, a missing carburetor means you ain’t driving it home. Older Jeep engines are bound to leak at least a little oil, and they will more than likely be gushing when the rpms come up. Make sure the motor mounts are intact. Any 258 inline-six is bound to have some vacuum leaks causing it to run rough if it runs at all.

  • Cooling: Remove the radiator cap and look inside before warming up the engine. Rusty water isn’t all bad, but look for potential leaks. Oil in the radiator indicates a blown head gasket. Check hoses and belts, too. If you can, drain a small amount of the water/rust out so you can see if the top of the core is clogged. Even with all the rusty muddy water we found in our radiator, the core wasn’t clogged, so we were good to go with a little flushing and some fresh water.

  • Tranny/Transfer Case: Look for leaks and check the oil level. If you live anywhere near a wet state, expect the tranny and transfer case to be contaminated with water. Drain and refill with the correct oil. After refilling our Dana 300, we found a major leak coming from the front output. The seal was shot, and the yoke had a deep grove cut into it. We replaced the seal and popped in a good used yoke. During the test-drive, listen for any grinding or unusual transmission noises. Our T-170 sounded tired, but some noise is to be expected of an older Jeep. Many noisy manual trannies will go for years before completely failing, and they may never fail at all. Also check the tranny mount—here’s a photo of ours doing the splits.

  • Axles: Inspect front axle U-joints and check the oil level in both axles. In wet states, expect to find mud and water where the gear oil should be, so flush it out and refill. Check the wheel bearings by jacking up the vehicle, then grabbing the tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock ends to feel for slop. Leaky pinion seals should be inspected. If you can move the yoke in and out of the housing, the pinion bearings probably won’t make it too far. AMC 20 axles with two-piece shafts should be looked at closely. If the axle nuts are loose, there could be problems shortly down the road. The two-piece axles are notorious for receiving butch repairs like what we found on our CJ, so keep an eye out for cover-ups.

  • Interior: No seats or seat belts can be scary. Make sure they are actually bolted to the floor and not just resting on that piece of cardboard covering the rust hole large enough to throw a cat through.

  • Suspension and Chassis: Look for bent or broken springs and missing or worn out suspension components. Broken shock mounts and spring plates are fairly common on older CJs, as well as cracks in the frame around the steering box. Overly corroded frames and bodies should be left behind unless that’s the kind of project you’re into.

Our fleet of Jeeps wasn’t complete. We really needed another one. Although we weren’t sure what we were looking for, we were looking anyway. After weeks of searching the local paper and not finding anything that we couldn’t live without, we turned to our computer and clicked on the Collins Bros. Web site ( 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. Mike’s original plan was to refurbish the Scrambler and put it up on the Collins Bros. Web site. He didn’t 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 we’d tell everyone that he likes lowered Jeep Liberties on 20-inch wheels if he didn’t let the CJ go. We then promptly stole the most reliable Jeep we could get our hands on (4-Wheel & Off-Road’s ’01 Grand Cherokee) and headed out to Wylie, Texas, to save the CJ-8 from restoration.

We’ll 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, here’s what to look for and fix before you hit the road in any road-weary Jeep. Stay tuned for the next issue where we’ll explain why our Jeep used 5 gallons of oil to get home.

Our Jeep

’85 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler
258 carbureted inline-six
Transfer Case:
Dana 300
Dana 30 (front), AMC 20 with Trac-Lok (rear)
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.

What’s Wrong

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 wouldn’t 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. Here’s 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 cord—way butch.

* Wiper internal arms: They were just broken; we can’t 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 didn’t have any, we found some rusty ones out back and slapped them on.

* Replaced air filter assembly: It didn’t 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 can’t 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.


Collins Bros.
Wylie, TX 75098