I’ve been looking to get a project car for a little while, my 944 was supposed to be that but its a bit too nice, parts are a little too expensive and its a bit too complex for my skills (I have replaced just about every part I have the capability to do myself). I wanted to get something junkier, cheaper and simpler. After thinking about this a Jeep seemed like the perfect fit, its about as simple as they come, has a huge after market, will be fun off road or around town with the top down.
The only kind of Jeep for me is a YJ, this is what my friends all had in high school and we had a ton of fun booting around in them. I wanted something a little rough around the edges but not a total rusted out POS. I also didn’t want one that was too nice that I would be scared to work on, damage or that I would try to make perfect. Ideally I wanted one with a soft top and a 4 cyl so I wouldn’t fall too in love with it and want to drive it all the time. I looked at quite a few priced between $3,000 and $8,000 the cheaper ones were usually quite rough and even some of the $8,000 + ones were, the more expensive ones were usually much nicer than I wanted or just over priced. I was starting to think I’d never find the right one and even started looking at TJ’s, but I couldn’t get past the mini-van dashboard on the TJ.
Finally I found a good candidate in the lower end of the price bracket. Initially it didn’t speak to me, its bones were good, no holes in the frame, rebuilt engine and trans with a new clutch and it drove well. But I didn’t like the bad respray/colour change, the rust on the body, small rust hole in the floor and the blacked out wheels. I almost walked away from it but after a few days and almost heading to Cranbrook to look at a 6 cyl Islander (my dream jeep) I realized the one in front of me was exactly what I was looking for; something decent that I could work on and improve. It also had a hard top but I could live with that as I would probably end up looking to buy one if I got a soft top.
After a few days of negotiating I finally got my Jeep. When I test drove it, there was a different set of wheels and tires on it to what it came with (I knew this and planed on upgrading the tires immediately), driving it home the thing shook and vibrated like crazy. Looking at the tires when I got home 3 of 4 were separated really badly which could explain the vibration that was not there on the test drive.
Once we got the Jeep home the first project was to paint those awful looking wheels. I wanted to get this done before the new tires were put on to avoid any overspray. $10 at the carwash blasting the grime off and $15 on a can of wheel paint made a world of difference to the look of it.
The next project was a tire upgrade. I decided on 31×10.5 inch tires as these should technically fit under a stock Jeep. Likely not one with 28 year old leaf springs but this YJ has a 3 inch body lift (that may get removed at some point). The tires were a bit more than the wheel paint but made a dramatic difference both visually and how it drove. The tech that mounted the tires said the old ones were full of water which may have caused the vibrations.
One last quick upgrade was the shifter, I’d ordered a new shift knob on ebay even before I bought the Jeep as all the ones I looked at were missing the factory knob and I really like the look and feel of the factory one.
I also got a soft top by accident, when coming home one night my neighbor flagged me down asking if I had a soft top. After telling him no but I had been looking at them on Kijiji and at aftermarket ones he said he owned a YJ back in the 90’s that had gotten written off but he still had the soft top and asked if I wanted to buy it. Over the last 10 years I have seen how well this family look after their stuff so I snapped it up. So now I have a factory Jeep soft top.
With these small changes the Jeep really started to speak to me and I quickly fell in love with it. It is so rough and has a ton of squeaks and rattles and a pile of wind noise but that is what I wanted and I love driving this thing. As I’ve gotten to know the Jeep I believe it was originally a soft top as there is no wiring for the rear wiper or defroster and I think the doors may be off a CJ. I will be taking on small to large project on this thing over the next few years and will track my progress here when I’m not building lights. The next project is putting in new LED headlights and rewiring them to work with the factory Daytime Running Light (DRL) module then getting the soft top on.