First of all, some caveats. This is long. It’s boring. It’s probably profane. I should be embarrassed by much of it. But it all happened, and maybe writing it down will help me remember it. And it feels right to start 2014 with a “State of the Wrangler” manifesto, so here goes. You probably shouldn’t read this.
I bought my TJ a couple years ago outside of Philly. It wasn’t the nicest Jeep I’d ever seen, but it was in my price range and available, and those two concerns trumped perfection. Besides, isn’t part of owning a Wrangler all about the *pursuit* of perfection rather than about buying it pre-made? Implicit in the purchase of the TJ in Philly was that I was to drive it across the country (having helped my mom clear out much of her large, old, about-to-sell house) to my home in Los Angeles almost immediately after the purchase. For reasons that I can’t explain here (and wouldn’t make sense to anyone if I could), part of my cargo was to be my mom’s 2006 Honda Rebel 250 riding in a cross-mounted dirt bike mount slotted into the tow hitch.
I could go on for days about why every part of this trip was a bad idea. I had a brand new (to me) car with unknown provenance and foibles. I had a swiss-cheese exhaust system that (much later) turned out to be the problem with the engine randomly cutting out and leaving me coasting down the road. I was riding on a suspension never designed for hanging a motorcycle off the tail like some obscene parachute (made no better by the bullshit wedges slapped on under there to give the thing some lift). I had aged, balding 31” tires and a non-matching factory spare (28”?) with nothing that might lift the thing high enough to get the tire off should something have happened. I had a back section full of heirloom photos and books and only a 2.5-liter motor to pull this whole contraption along. I was alone.
Long story short, I made it with no major problems. Stopped for a minute at the Grand Canyon, even. The engine cutting out was mysterious and scary, and truck drivers all hated my guts because the front end was pointing my headlights up into their rearview mirrors. It’s a wonder they didn’t run me off the road. I spend all day in Texas and Oklahoma fighting a headwind that had me in 3rd and 4th gear all day, giving me truly awful gas mileage. I ran out of gas twice because I couldn’t fathom a vehicle that gets under 200 miles per tank (I thought it was a law that all vehicles had to get 300 per tank and more on the highway). The first time I coasted off the exit and near enough to a gas pump that i could push it to safety. The second time, I put gas from the 2-gallon can i bought the first time in the tank and prayed that the next exit was less than 20 miles away. I wore earplugs the whole way and went numb from vibrations after a few hours each day. It was the most difficult marathon drive I’ve ever done, but I made it.
That wasn’t very short, and I apologize.
I’ve done a few things since I’ve been home, interrupted significantly by the fact that a gig had me out of town for all of 2013, and I’m planning some things in the near future that I’m sure to have questions about. Overall, I’m a little disappointed for not being able to do more of the work myself, but the prodigious amount of rust involved in every aspect of this project and the fact that there’s frequently welding involved takes me out of the equation. Maybe I should buy some equipment and learn to weld.
Things I’ve done:
• replaced the exhaust system from the header back.
I bought everything at Jeep Depot (an amazing place) from a 2001 TJ and had my local guy install it. This fixed the cutting-out problem that was something about oxygen sensors having rusted completely out of their housings. It also made the Jeep pass CA smog and sound normal again, both of which were a bonus.
• I Rhino Lined the interior.
This stopped the rust, reinforced the tub a bit and kept the temperature radiating through the floor to a more manageable level. It also looks cool.
• Fog Lights
I swapped the fog lights for ones that worked and replaced the shit switch that someone before me put in with a ham-fistedness that was startling to behold. A switch plate out of a 2000 Cherokee fit perfectly and replaced the blanks in my dash with switches. Someday, maybe I’ll wire the other two up to something. Maybe a rocket launcher or something.
• Pulled the back seats
I got rid of all the seat belt and mounting detritus, too. Wranglers can either carry 4 people badly or 2 people and some gear well. If my friends want to come, they can bring their own Jeeps. My brother brings his KL out a lot and we trade off on the trails.
Things I intend to do by the end of January 2014:
• Tires and Wheels
The tires are shot. I never should have driven cross-country on them. You can see the wear bars in multiple places. I have no spare to speak of and no way at all to jack the thing up. I’m looking at 32” Kumho tires and new wheels because I can get new, lighter wheels probably cheaper than reconditioning the old ones. I’ll probably stay at 15” wheels. I’m getting five of each.
• New suspension and lift.
I’m thinking of going to a “real” 4” lift kit rather than whatever crap spacers are in there now. Probably short arms for the money aspect of the whole thing, but hopefully I’ll make a good decision on the kit and the ride will improve. I’d love to do this myself, but I’m pretty sure it’s beyond my technical capability. I’ll also buy a high-lift jack that I’ll probably mount to the hood until I can afford to get new bumpers and a swing-away tire/jack/cas can carrier.
• New Top
The current one leaks. It’s tan. We’re going into a red-and-black world, and a tan top doesn’t do that scheme justice.
There are plenty of things on the Wish List, such as a full engine/tranny swap for a Chevy small-block V8, surface-to-air missile launchers and a new audio system that can be heard over road and trail noise. I’d like to improve my lifetime average fuel economy from its current standing at 14.9mpg. I probably should replace the cracked windshield.
That’ll have to do for now, I’d say. If you’ve read this far, I apologize and suggest you get yourself checked out by a competent mental-health professional.