1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ: Clean But Mean
YJ used harder than appears
Most of us buy a Jeep and focus first on the drivetrain, leaving the body as an afterthought. Sure, you might throw some rocker protection or corner protection on the tub, but unless you are wheeling with buggies that is usually the extent of the “body work” done on most Jeeps. Well, Erik Bryant does wheel with buggies, and he didn’t want his ’91 YJ to look like a beer can that had been crushed on some frat boy’s forehead anymore. This is not to say that he neglected the drivetrain, he was just very choosy about how he spent his money. In this day and age, can’t we all relate to that?
The factory YJ frame was cut behind the front seats and replaced with 1 ½-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing by Xtreme Engineering in Fort Collins, Colorado when they set up the suspension. The fuel tank was replaced with an RCI 15-gallon fuel cell at the same time, allowing the wheelbase to be stretched to 106 inches. The rear axle is located by a double-triangulated four-link suspension comprised of 1¾-inch DOM links capped with Currie Johnny Joints at the axle end and 3⁄4-inch FK rod ends at the frame end of the upper links. Fox 2.5-inch-diameter, 14-inch-travel air shocks are used out back to save money and weight, while Rock Equipment 2-inch-diameter, 14-inch-travel coilovers are used up front.
The front also uses a triangulated four-link using Branik 2-inch 7075 aluminum links and ¾-inch FK rod ends with a 7⁄8-inch shank. A triangulated front suspension can result in huge bumpsteer when used with a conventional steering box, so the front suspension geometry required a switch to full-hydraulic steering. That was accomplished with a Howe single-ended ram, pump, reservoir, and orbital valve along with a 13⁄4-inch-diameter 7075 aluminum tie rod from Xtreme Engineering. Ditching the box also allowed Erik to push the front axle forward for a better approach angle and increased wheelbase
Like Editor Hazel’s YJ, Erik’s Wrangler has a four cylinder that just won’t die. He has raced the Jeep in the past (and won!) and it even started to overheat during our photoshoot, but after it cooled off he just pulled the stuck thermostat and kept wheeling. Backing the squirrels is an SM420 four-speed manual transmission. “The transmission is definitely overkill for the four-cylinder and it isn’t the fastest shifting transmission, but the granny First comes in handy on the trail,” Erik reports. Power, such as it is, is then split by an Advance Adapters Atlas II with a 3.8:1 low range.
At the other end of the 1350-equipped driveshafts things get interesting. The rear axle is a large-bearing Ford 9-inch with a Strange nodular third member, 5.43 gears, and a spool connected to 35-spline Moser axleshafts and stopped with discs from Blackbird Customs. Erik converted the 9-inch to six-lug back when he had a Dana 44 front axle. In retrospect he should have converted it to eight-lug to match the Ford Dana 60 front axle he is now running, but hindsight is always 20/20. The Snow Fighter front axle uses 5.38 gears, a Detroit Locker, Alloy USA chromoly shafts with Spicer U-joints, and TeraFlex drive flanges. Since it is a Ford Dana 60, conversion hubs to match the rear axle are less common, and as a result more expensive. Erik has a belt-driven Kilby on-board air compressor and a plug kit, so he doesn’t carry a spare. He just bought inexpensive MB Predator aluminum wheels from Discount Tire with two different bolts patterns to match the axles and used Staun internal beadlocks to retain the tires. Is it ideal? Well, no, but it gets him out on the trail.
Body and Interior
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the body is where this Jeep takes a major departure from most. Why? Because body work takes a ton of time and patience, and most Jeep owners don’t want to spend the time to do it (or pay someone for their time). As Erik dented his Jeep, instead of just fixing the damage or hiding it with heavy armor, he addressed the issue. This has resulted in tubular front fenders that are sucked in to follow the hood line for better visibility. Behind the hood, the rocker panels have been cut 3 inches and boat-sided with 3⁄16-inch steel to keep them from getting hung up on rocks. Overall, the rear has been narrowed by 13 inches and replaced with ¼-inch solid-steel rod skinned with 16-gauge plate to minimize contact with rocks.
The downsized body is covered in Sherwin Williams Arancio New Batik Metallic paint that Erik applied himself in his garage. Erik even painted the air tank and fire extinguishers to match the tub. And since real Jeeps have round headlights, Erik swapped in a TJ grille after his YJ sheetmetal was mangled beyond repair. A Plazmaglow LED taillight assembly is a departure from the typical truck stop taillights, but looks at home frenched in under the swapped in CJ tailgate. The plastic dash was tossed and replaced with a CJ-esque flat aluminum dash that houses Auto Meter gauges. Budget touches include the junkyard seats from a Honda Prelude and an ammo can for a center console. Up top, a custom ’cage protects the occupants, and a cut-down 4Runner roof rack sits behind the seats for Oakley, the trail dog. The interior will be revamped in the near future, though to fit Erik’s growing family.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
The big-tire, big-axle, little-sheetmetal formula works well on the rocks that Erik likes to frequent in Rangley, Buena Vista, and Montrose, Colorado. The combination of the First gear in the SM420, Altas II, and 5.38 gears means that the four-banger spends a lot of time bouncing off the rev limiter. Erik already sourced a 5.3L Chevy engine for the YJ, but the 2.5L engine will still live on in his CJ-6 project. The engine swap isn’t the top priority though, since Erik and his wife, Shanna, recently had their first child. No, they don’t plan to give up wheeling for stamp collecting, but Erik does need to reconfigure the cage and fuel cell to fit a back seat into the Jeep for baby Kendyl before he considers adding a V-8.
Vehicle: 1991 Jeep Wrangler
Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder
Transmission: SM420 four-speed manual
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Suspension: Four-link (front and rear)
Axles: Dana 60 (front); Ford 9-inch (rear)
Wheels: 17x9 MB Predators
Tires: 39x13R17 BFG Krawler KX
Built For: Keeping up with buggies
Why I Wrote This Feature
The oddball nature of Erik’s Jeep appealed to me. Sure, it has sticky 39-inch competition tires and an Atlas II transfer case, but it also has budget wheels with mismatched bolt patterns and a stock four-cylinder engine that I like to call Li’l Wheezy. This isn’t some six-figure wallet job that he just wrote a check for; he built it himself. And even though he has a ton of time into the body, that doesn’t stop him from wheeling the hardest rockcrawling trails in Colorado with his friends from the Homegrown Crew, Xtreme Engineering, and Rouge Rock Racing. Erik realizes that Jeeps are for using, not for sitting around and looking at.