I'll go first.
I drove my 1997 Jeep Wrangler home from work this afternoon. The crisp steering and instant roar of power from the stroked inline six cylinder motor made me grin. The stereo playing vintage country tunes and the throaty sound of the exhaust widened my grin a little more. I hit a small pot hole, and no rattles or thunks were heard or felt as the custom suspension quietly and smoothly cycled beneath me. My grin actually broke into a smile. I thought back on all the work I have done on my Jeep over the course of the last year to achieve this result.
I have owned, and daily driven my Jeep for nearly fourteen years after buying her new in February 1997. It was nearly five years before I started to modify it. It started slow, but like all good obsessions it grew quickly out of control. In all the years that I have had my Jeep I had never thought of selling her until last year.
While my Jeep looked, and for the most part acted like the highly modified daily driver and weekend rockcrawler that it is, much of the driving fun had dwindled away. The exhaust was so ungodly loud that I could barely hear the radio over the exhaust even turned up all the way. The motor was not as responsive as I thought it used to be. The steering was very sloppy. The paint job of the hood horribly oxidized. It thunked every time I accelerated or hit a bump. I thought I had finally outgrown the Jeep. Just into my forties, I figured the Jeep was becoming a thing of the past just like all night benders and my dusty old Marine uniform still hanging in my closet.
One day a friend asked if I was going to get my exhaust leak fixed. Until that moment I had never considered that the problem was with the Jeep. I thought I had changed and the Jeep had stayed the same. The progression of my problems happened over a long enough period of time that I had not thought the problems were mechanical, just my old age taking over. I have never been one to be afraid of taking the Jeep apart, and putting it back together the way I like it, so I started to dig in.
Like all good Jeeps it had a very cracked header. It was a Banks header, installed with the stroker motor a few years before. I was a little upset about how much a header costs versus how long it lasts. I visited a couple of exhaust shops, and searched the internet until I found a more permanent solution to this problem, a flex pipe to take some of the strain off the header, and if the header was in good enough shape a bit of welding to repair the cracks.
If the header was coming off, I had a chance to rectify my one regret left from building my stroker motor. I should have put on the new style intake manifold when I had the chance, but it is a pain once the motor is in place. This was the perfect time for me to rectify this situation. A little more research turned up the fact that I would also have to replace the power steering pump to one that fits on the new manifold. While poking around under my hood I noticed that the water pump was leaking a little out the weep hole. It would have to be replaced as well. It was also the perfect opportunity to change the thermostat and radiator hoses. I also retired the original key that came with the Jeep for a new key that I bought from Jeep. I figured that if the old one lasted nearly thirteen years, what the heck.
I started to accumulate all the necessary parts. I found an intake manifold, but the exhaust shop that owned it wanted to do the exhaust job. The owner was willing to throw the manifold in for free if he did the whole install at a very reasonable price. It was a deal I couldn’t pass up. This was how the other half lived. Drop the car off one day, pick it up finished the next day. It was the first time I had not done work myself, or at least assisted a mechanic. I picked up my Jeep, and drove it for a couple of weeks enjoying the stereo over the sound of the fixed exhaust, the improved horse power of the intake manifold and the fixed exhaust, and the vastly superior steering response from the EGR steering pump.
The shop did a good job, and the price was a break even with sourcing an intake manifold from a junk yard. Having others work on my cars is not how I was destined to live my life. I was driving home two weeks after the repair thinking that my Jeep was once again fun to drive. It still needed some work, but this was a great start. Suddenly it started backfiring horribly, and it lost most of its power. I was able to baby it home, and started to troubleshoot. Thankfully it was a Friday, and I had the next couple of days to fix this problem. It took a full day to figure out what was wrong. The cam had gone smooth on the exhaust lobe of cylinder six, coincidentally the cylinder that had the worst cracks in the header. I spent a week gathering parts, and spent a couple of days with my neighbor putting the Jeep back together. We found it ironic that we took off every part that I had paid someone else to put on only weeks before. This also gave me the opportunity to really clean up under the hood, wrap the header, and paint the valve cover fire engine red. When everything was back together the Jeep drove very well. A month later, it was time to do something about the paint on the hood.
If I was going to paint the hood, or the whole Jeep for that matter, there were things that I had wanted to do for a long time that should be done prior to a paint job such as tube fenders and cutting vent holes in the hood. I started with the vent holes. I borrowed a set of Greenlee punches, measured three or four times, then cut once. I then backed the holes with gutter screening from my local hardware store. This was a very cheap, very easy improvement that not only cools my underhood temperatures, but looks great.
The front tube fenders came in from Sniperfab. A used set of Poison Spyder Customs rear tube flares were acquired used locally, and a plan was made to mate them to my corner armor. It took a few weekends of welding and grinding, but the fenders front and back came out great. They are currently painted with rattle can engine enamel.
In the middle of the fender job we noticed that my Bestop rear tire carrier was cracked, and it was a miracle that I never sent a 35” tire on a steel beadlock flying into some innocent tailgater’s windshield. My neighbor was and is in welding school, so he took my tire carrier in as a project. It came back repaired with improved bracing for the heavy tire.
The next step was to go rattle and thunk hunting. We started at the back, and worked our way to the front tightening every bolt underneath the Jeep, and inspecting every weld. We found many loose bolts, and several cracked welds. The worst of the welds was the bracket for the front trackbar. Repairing and bracing this cleaned up my steering incredibly. On principle we adjusted the steering box just to make sure everything was perfect.
One weekend over the summer, as Jeepers do, we went out to so some light wheelin’ and a little fishin’. We spent most of that Saturday pulling out some pinhead that was stuck half way off a cliff. That day I experienced the most unique and illogical of all my Jeep breakages to date. Both my Warn alloy front outer axle shafts were severed inside the manual hubs. I thought I had grenaded the ARB, so the shafts were a pleasant surprise especially since they were under lifetime warrantee. I still don’t understand why the shafts broke instead of the hubs. Of course I replaced the u-joints and brake pads while I was in there.
On the way back from wheelin’ I discovered a strange phenomenon. The Jeep noise was so much improved that I was able to detect that one of the odd sounds I was chasing was keeping time with Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. It turned out that one of the sound bar speakers was blown. I replaced them both. I also found out that the eight inch subwoofer in the Tuffy drawer was blown, so I replaced that as well. The stereo now sounds good again. One day I will update the 1998 deck, but until it breaks it will be hard to justify.
The only odd sound remaining was a thunk that only occurred on acceleration from a full stop. This turned out to be the control arm bushings. I replaced all of them, upper and lower over two weekends as they arrived at my house. I also found a rear swaybar that is heavy duty enough to stand up to my Dana60 rear. It is the first rear swaybar that the Jeep has had in many years. It helped the Jeep handle a little better on the street. I hope it makes it more stable offroad.
Ironically the hood is still oxidized. I have not decided weather to paint the Jeep or bedline it. I will decide in spring.
Header reweld January
Intake manifold January
EGR steering pump January
Water pump January
Radiator hoses January
Seat covers January
Header wrap February
Cam repair February
Head gasket February
Valve cover paint February
Tune up February
Passenger seat riser February
Aim lights February
Tire carrier reweld February
Hood vents February
Fire Extinguisher February
Door lock repair February
Rear axle armor February
Front tube fenders March
Rear tube fenders March
Cup holder March
Air tank April
Fix tail light April
Reweld steering brace July
Reweld pinhole in floor August
Front outer shaft replacement August
Front u-joint replacement August
Front brake pad replacement August
Soundbar speaker replacement August
Subwoofer replacement October
Suspension bushing replacement November
Rear antisway bar November
The Jeep at the end of the season last year
Replacing the cam in January
Rescue mission breaking axle shafts
Still needs paint