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PRELUDE (Why am I doing this?)
I have always wanted a trouble free car. I also wanted one that I could work on myself with limited tools and facilities. The Jeep fits these requirements extremely well. Built like a tank - with after-market ad-ons that make it stronger, and it's very easy to work on. My rule of modifications were simple:  All of the modifications made must add strength and/or redundancy. 

My jeep is mostly a tool for my outside interests.  I'm an amateur astronomer and I frequently find myself in remote areas in the middle of the night and I need to know that my Jeep will start and run no matter what.  I'm also lucky enough to have a house on the Deleware seashore where I spend 2 months each summer.  I've seen too many SUV's get stuck whilst driving the beach and I am committed to not being one of those.  Another feature of Jeeps I like is that I don't really have to worry about appearance and they handle weather extremely well.

After owning a 1991 YJ with 2.5L/5 speed/soft top for 7 years I wanted to move to a 4.2L/Auto/hard top.  The hard top would be just for Winter as I completley remove the soft top each summer anyway.  I like the added security of the hard doors and top in the winter, and the ability to roll down a window.  Driving the automatic, so to speak is the traffic around Atlanta which is impossible. The automatic makes this easier and suits my needs for boat hauling and I even prefer it off road - but there are many oppsing and valid debates on this. 

So, in the fall of 1998 I resolved to move to another jeep.  I actually toyed with a Auto/V8 swap into my 91YJ but at an estimate of over $12K I thought that was too steep and might breed more problems then it solved.  As things turned out - it may have been a wiser choice.

Build or buy? Yes, I could have bought a late model or new Jeep for less then I have spent on this project so far.  I frankly didn't intend to spend this much - maybe $10,000 over initial cost.  In hindsight, I would have taken the time to locate a 95 or so YJ with lower miles and base equipment I wanted. TJ's are great but, I don't like their cramped cockpit being I'm 6'3". While airbags are an excellent safety feature - they take up a lot of room. The floor mounted Auto shifter and rest of the console made me a bit nervous - I run in the summer with only a bikini top even when raining and my cup holdes have been known to over flow. I like the ability to leave my Jeep out in a hard rain storm and know it will function. I do concede thought that the TJ is a much better rig off the show-room floor then any YJ, including my YJ, even with my suspension upgrades.

As for off-roading - I love it. Have only really gone with a new club I belong to Southern Jeeps. The primary purpose of this build up isn't off-roading. It's reliability. Off roading activities give me a chance to test under some extreme conditions my Jeep.

The 1991 YJ Experience
What a learning experience! In 1994 I decided, after satisfying just every other car whim, I wanted a Jeep. Went looking for a used one. Since it was my first used car and I was a bit skeptical, I did the dealership route for some measure . Found a great condition 91YJ but with a 2.5L/5speed. At the time this was about all I could find and was satisfactory for the driving I did, about 8k mi/year.

This car worked like a Swiss watch - very little maintenance and ran well. Last fall I decided that it was time for a hard top and doors.

The 1987 YJ Phase Short but Costly
In the search for a hard top I came across a shop in Atlanta that had a used one for about 1/2 of new so I jumped on it. At the same time, I spied a YJ in their lot with an automatic shifter on the steering column. Ever since moving to Atlanta I instinctively kept my eye out for auto YJ's because of the worse traffic anywhere. That YJ was also happened to be a 4.2L with hard top and doors. Ended up being a 1987. It was just sitting there seemingly abandoned so I inquired about it. I was told that this shop took Jeeps that were in 'excellent mechanical condition' and hyper-detailed them during the slow winter months. By hyper-detail (my word) I mean - new paint, new body parts, anything to restore the appearance to as close to new as possible.

Well, mesmerized about getting a 4.2L for towing my new boat, automatic trans, and hard top, we started to talk a deal. Finally, we struck-up one where I would trade my 91YJ from above with 86K for this one with 96K but the equipment I wanted. Plus, I would pay an additional $3,899.00 for paint - my color choice, 5 new wrangler 225 GSA's on the new Grand Cherokee rims, some KC lights installed, and a hitch.

After about 100 stalls on the way home, I went straight to a garage near my home (Wayne's). The service writer opened the hood and saw one problem right away - the exhaust manifold and pipe were separated. There were numerous other problems too - the typical vacuum line and other leaks everywhere. I made an appointment for the next day. $900 later the Jeep was just running. Wayne's garage did splendid job with what they had to work with.

The Jeep ran OK once warmed up but still stalled out occasionally. Ordered all factory manuals from MOPAR and started to become very familiar with this engine.

Next issue was the suspension. The springs were flat, might as well not had any at all. Checked around a few of the shops in the area and got 2 bids - one for a Rancho 2.5" and one for a Tomken 2.5". Frankly, I was pretty undecided but went with the Rancho for 2  reasons: 1) I wanted to use the Rancho 9000 shocks and I figured it would all work together better, and, 2) I wanted to watch, only one shop would let me do this, the one that bid the Rancho system.

How did it turn out? Well from what was there prior - like night and day. But it does ride quite stiff. In hindsight I should have instead insisted on Old Man EMU or National springs which I will probably install at a later time. The shop promised that I could go over speed bumps and not spill a cup of coffee sitting on the dash and they were right. My first good experience so far. Very happy to spend that $1700 because I got what I paid for.

After more engine work and generally bad start up experiences in the morning and the occasional stall - I decided to pull the trigger and do something about this. I like the low end torque of the 4.2L and the match between it and the 999 transmission. Had several choices: 1) IF the 4.2 bottom was in good shape go with the MOPAR MPFI 2) a 4.0L swap 3) a V8 swap.

I tested the compression on the 4.2 and it rang 150 on #1 with a gradual work up to 180 on #6. Not bad for an engine with 100K on it. The specs say anywhere from 120 to 150 is nominal. With the carbon build-up these readings looked fine. The one thing I didn't do was LISTEN.

After further consultation with HESCO the engineers of the kit MOPAR sells, reading everything on the net (and I mean everything) concerning this kit, and making myself a bit of a pest on USENET I ordered the kit from Koller Dodge. Supposedly, these kits are hard to find, especially for an automatic. Not only did Koller have it but they had the lowest price - got out with $1632 including the necessary dampener and shipping - how often does this happen? Had it 4 days later.

Next job was to find someone to install it. In my reading, I found out that, unless you did some razzle dazzle, the stock tack would proabably no longer work. HESCO is coming out with a kit to do the necessary covnersions but it had not been available at that time.   The tach lead from the computer isn't compatible with the stock tachs below typically 1989. Most of the dealerships I spoke with really didn't do it or admitted to not doing any. What was funny was that the shops in my area that claimed to have done them - not a one knew anything about the tach issue.

Well, went back to trusty Wayne's, working most of the time side by side with one of their mechanics, Bill, we put this in. HESCO was always a phone call away and extremely helpful through out the entire process. At the same time I decided to, after consultation with HESCO of course, put on a header and replace the timing chain. HESCO quickly sent out a Borla Header and Cloys Timing Chain.

Also decided to swap the alternator as I had just put in a dual battery system (Optima Yellow Tops with Wrangler Power harness). We sent this out to NE Power for a rebuild and upgrade to 150a. Would have gone with new, but couldn't find one that would bolt up locally. Did have one problem, practically no output at idle. A change to a smaller pulley improved this condition.

At the same time I added a transmission cooler.

Back to the FI install. This system goes in just as advertised and, works like a dream. The engine now runs as smooth and as well as any other car I've had.

The Bad Noise (News)
After 3 weeks of bliss I began to notice it more because we had a warm spell and I had my windows open. It happens at 2K+ rpm after full warm up - a rubbing sound.

Took it around and had folks listen to it - one shop suggested that it was top end. So on Saturday morning after going by NAPA and collecting replacement rocker arms and push rods hoping to replace many of them, I cracked the valve cover and found the rocker arms and push rods to be in just about as good as shape as the ones I bought to prayerfully replace them all with.

Have made the decision to replace the long block. Choices at this point are: Jasper Engine $2000 with 75K warranty but I can't seem to get the fine print on the warranty + $750 labor, or, MOPAR Engine, same price + $1200 labor - but 12/12/ warranty, including labor at any MOPAR dealership. I figure is I do have a lemon engine it will show up in the first 12K miles.   Decided on the Jeep dealership for the full install which got me the warrenty.

New engine installed I thought my problems were over.  The engine ran fine but just hot.  Checked many things but I finally ran out of time as my trip to Delaware was too close and there was no way I could shake this down any further up there.  So I decided to punch out of the whole thing and trade in on a new jeep.

The New TJ Phase - A 'New' Beginning
eHaving finally decided to get the TJ I found myself with one Friday night and all of Saturday to get one.  I knew I was going to not get the best deal but at least I woudl get one with the options important to me - 4.0, Auto, D44 rear.  Well, I couldn't be happier - just wish I did this 6 months ago - would have saved many headaches not to mention a lot of cash.

Decided to go with the Ramsey REP 8000 - great price to get into a winch, $549 including roller fairlead and shipping. Could easily had gone with the 9000XDi from Warn but can't really justify the extra cost for the occasional use I expect it to see. Bolted up perfectly to the Tomken Winch Plate.

On the '87, went with the Quick Air II, tank, compressor and install kit. Toughest part of the install was where to locate everything.   The tamnk ended up under the frame opposite the muffler.  The compressor took my jack space unter the hood.  Frankly, I must say that I'm not overwhelmed.   The tank filles in about 3 mins to 105PSI but empties with a nozzle in about 10 seconds.  I guess I was dreaming too much to thing that I could use this to dust off the interior from time to time and so forth.  When I get a tire nozzle we'll see how well it works then.  I am also a bit concerned because, while not a low point in the jeep, there is some exposure with tank under there.  You don't have a lot of places to mount the tank so we'll see how things go.  As it turns out I just left the air tank in the 87 and grabbed the compressor.  Fits very nicely on the empt ABS tray of my TJ.

For the bumpers front and rear I went with Tomken. They look great and are quite functional. The rear has a 2" receiver hitch for pull point and boat hauling.  I also invested in d-ring holders that double as Hi-Lift jack mounts.  Now my Hi-Left goes across my rear bumper ver nicely.

For side protection, Kevin at Southern Offroad is custom making me some rocker guards similar to the Tomken's but wider and custom fit to my frame.

Wish I could duplicate the dual battery setup I had in my 87YJ, but, alas, there isn't enough room.   I did however, choose Optima Yellow Top as the undisputed best in any application.

The winch is connected via Wrangler Power products quick disconnects so I can easily hook up jumper cables on the same plug. makes for jumping other cars easy with out having to lift the hood.

More coming soon with PICS...