Id fiddle with the 97 a bit more and see what you come up with. If you can at least listen to it run to make sure it doesnt sound like a bunch of hammer wielding chimps are inside the block then you stand a chance at just doing a head/gasket swap. If it was drove a long time with a cracked head/leaky gasket then that could be a problem if theres coolant in the oil. Id start by draining the fluids and checking it all out real good too if you do get it to fire up and things seem ok.
For longevity sake, however, go with what you know. You know (im assuming) the engine in the 96 is good, but it needs cosmetic work and new LCA mounts. You also know the 97 is cosmetically good with no bent up suspension components, but an iffy engine. Assuming the 97 doesnt have wild amounts of rust in bad places, I think swapping the 96 motor in it and parting out then scrapping the 96 body would be the best option. I would still try to get the 97 going first though, it might need less work than you think. Sometimes previous owners arent all that knowledgable and let something that needs next to nothing go for a cheap price for no reason other than to free up a parking spot. This could be that situation for you.
- '88 MJ Pioneer -
Build In Progress
- '04 Sierra Z71 Crew Cab -