|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||Short Cuts|
By: Jeff Layton - 5/2000
|The first Jeep|
|The second Jeep, "Jeep Therapy"|
It was the ultimate wife snowjob: she needed a new car .I offered to 'sacrifice' by selling my late-model Toyota 4x4 truck so she could get the new car. I'd buy an 'old Jeep' to drive around. Little did she know the plans I had for the project about to commence. I lost a nice truck in the process, and she ended up with a minivan, despite my attempts to talk her into anything but. (Yes, I tried everything from Suburban to Grand Cherokee)
The Toyota was my 4th 4x4, and the Jeep was a natural progression after that. I had been fantasizing about 4x4's and reading the magazines since 1977, but the trucks themselves started with a 1985 Chevy S10 Blazer that I tooled around construction sites in Maryland, and Connecticut and the beaches of Florida. Then it was a 1984 Toyota 4x4 Xtracab I used to hit the easier fire and logging roads in Washington state (I was in the Navy and moved a lot). Number 3 was a 1989 full-size 351 EFI Bronco I hit the California deserts and really started getting serious about 'wheeling. But it was a lemon and the California economy didn't allow me to keep pouring money into repairs, so I actually saved money by buying a new 1992 Toyota SR5 V6 Xtracab 4x4. It was a really nice truck, a little long in the wheelbase, but pretty nice to hit 85 with the A/C and CD player on the way back from a 'wheeling trip. All stock except for tires, it even took me up Lockwood creek and the Miller Jeep trail - an exciting ride in any vehicle, let alone a stock long wheelbase Toyota. It was that trip that convinced me a short wheelbase "ultimate ride" was in order.
I began to research the short-wheelbase machines and plot the scheme for my wife, who had kept the same vehicle throughout all my 4x4's above - good justification for it being 'her turn'. OK - CJ-5's were too small for my long trips, so it came down to FJ40's, Early Broncos, CJ-8's and CJ-7's. I built spreadsheets with everything from gas tank capacities to departure angles, available trannies to turning radius - I got pretty anal about it, ordering catalogs and books left and right. I probably spent $100 on literature in the never-ending hunt for specs. I even visited Spectre, and Downey off-road to research Land Cruisers while in California. So - why the CJ7?
You wouldn't believe it if I told you .so I'll tell you...
If you look at the factory beefy parts, the CJ was actually at the bottom of the list. Before you get upset, hear me out - after all, I do own one! OK - the Bronco had factory Ford 9-inch and Dana 44, as well as the 302 - nice combinations, good stout hardware (that folks with CJ's pay good money to swap in!) The FJ's have 1200 pounds more steel from the factory then the CJ, along with axles the diameter of a Dana 60 and the venerable Toyota reliability that had been good to me in my trucks. The CJ had the venerable Dana 300 transfer case, a fairly decent 258, average-reputation Dana 30 and breakage-prone AMC 20 and T-5. Hmmmm ..tough choice. All the numbers pointed away from the Jeep. Then again, ever heard of a Bronco Jamboree?? How about the Easter Land Cruiser Safari??? Neither had I. The decision wasn't a logical one, it was an emotional one. The Jeep was it. After all, "There's Only One Jeep" (Sorry, Chrysler ;-)
By this time I lived in Texas, but was trying to stop the moving-around thing. Sold the wife on the idea, and sold the Toyota. Found a well-maintained 1985 CJ-7 to be my daily driver while I planned to let it slowly evolve into the project I've been dreaming of for 17 years - it was now 1994.
I had played shadetree mechanic on my vehicles over the years, and had rebuilt a motorcycle engine (that subsequently ate a camshaft), but had never had a Project vehicle. Being the youngest by a bunch of years and not living with my father, I never learned much automotive from my Dad or brothers - most of it was self-taught or picked up from school auto shop or other motor-head-inclined buddies. I spent 11 years in the Navy, doing the Nuclear Submarine thing and learning more about hydraulics, pneumatics and such. I was always more inclined toward electronics and majored in Electrical Engineering. It was time for that to change though.
A local guy named Brett Bradford was building this Jeep into a project of his own, using all the right strategies: skip the paint and chrome, focus on gears, tires, lift, etc. I bought it with about 170,000 miles on it, and all the driveline except the stock 258 motor had been gone through (including the T5). Explorer 2 " lift, 3.54 gears, 31" BFG All-Terrains, LSD in the rear and lock-right up front - a popular and effective combination for him and other members of San Antonio Jeep Exclusive for the not-quite-the-Rubicon Texas terrain. Much of the choices he made weren't exactly what I would have picked, but they were good choices and would allow me to do a lot of 'wheeling until I got it built my way.
|The on board air installed|
|Cylinder #2 was shelled out|
|I wasn't panning for gold!|
It wasn't long before the bolt-ons started. I became a regular at the Jeep wrecking yards. I cut off the tube bumper and replaced it with a factory bumper until I could get around to making one. This allowed room to mount the Warn 8274 I financed by selling the hardtop. (Ever wonder what a factory hardtop is worth in Texas during an ice storm? The 8274 and complete supertop were an even exchange.) It was a good deal, and besides, I didn't have a place to store the top come spring.
I kept hitting the wrecking yards, and picked up
lots of good parts including a rear seat and a air conditioning
setup to be used for onboard air. My list of goodies now included
Dual Optimas to keep the Warn happy, RS9000's to keep my rear end
happy, and a pair of bucket seats out of an '88 Toyota, also to
keep my rear end happy (ever wonder where my priorities are?)
I was becoming more comfortable at fabrication while the project was proceeding at a nice, comfortable pace. I was keeping the Jeep on the road and having a good time. Plans were maturing, parts lists were growing, and I was getting my regular weekend doses of Jeep Therapy.
Life was good, then ...
Then one day, the Jeep decided she wasn't getting enough attention. My daily driver gave up the ghost on the way to work Dec 1st, 1995. With 187,000 miles on the odo, number 2 piston just got tired and dropped down into the oil pan for a nice, long rest.
My daily driver just ate a piston, my money is tied up in Jeep Parts, and the project is far from over.. And oh, by the way - I had been laid off and was trying to get back on my feet.
Life just got bad.