A Short History


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A Short History


A Short YJ History…

 
 

The first Wrangler…

The Jeep YJ Wrangler was actually designed by the American Motors Corporation prior to being purchased by the Chrysler Corporation in 1987. The YJ was the replacement for the long-running CJ series. The Wrangler was, in truth, an evolution of CJ. However, as with most new Jeep models, Jeep aficionados decried it as “not a Jeep”. Most of the furor came from the square headlights. Most previous Jeep products, and all CJs, had been produced with round DOT sealed beams. The switch to square headlights in Jeep’s iconic 4x4 resulted in surprising tectonic levels of furor amongst the faithful. Since it had just been introduced prior to the $1.5 billion buyout of AMC by Chrysler, the square headlights were unfairly blamed on Chrysler. Although the square headlight controversy was put to bed when the TJ was unveiled, the only square headlight Wrangler has aged well, and even loved by some for its uniqueness.

The YJ added some features not well received by some purists, but did widely expand sales of the short wheelbase 4x4. On-road handling, stability, and ride was significantly better than the CJ while some improved creature comforts improved daily life with Jeep. Available hard top as well as air conditioning and more comfortable high-back seats with a padded dash and improved instrumentation were welcomed by most. A new shift-on-the-fly chain driven transfer case and vacuum disconnect front axle eliminated getting out of the Jeep to “lock in the hubs” every time 4x4 was needed. 3 years into production, fuel injection became standard on the YJ. This dramatically improved drivability in all terrains and further improved reliability in the tried but true inline 6 and 4 cylinder motors. Some questionable transmissions were used early in the production run, but was generally rectified by 1990.

It’s important to remember that the YJ Wrangler is an old platform. Its debut was in 1987 with the “newest” YJs now being 23 years old! There is a lot to love about the YJ, though. It is the crossroads between the historic CJ and more modern Jeeps. The main reason for this is the retention of a leaf spring suspension and simple wiring harnesses with the addition of electronic fuel injection and some comfort points. Aftermarket support of the YJ isn’t what it once was, but they are still very rebuildable and easy to modify. Parts are still readily available in local stores, and the design itself remains reasonable to repair and maintain indefinitely. YJs, like most Jeeps, also lend themselves well to axle and drivetrain swaps as these kind of serious modifications are done on a seemingly daily basis for various reasons.

Ultimately, the reasons stated above are the reason most people still purchase and operate older Wranglers and CJs. The vehicle does have an open-ended lifespan for all practical purposes- particularly when maintained properly. The original vehicles are comparatively simple products with robust components and have very long lifespans. More powerful or modern powertrains can be swapped into the chassis if desired, suspensions can be easily replaced or upgraded while even frames and bodies can be replaced. You can’t do that with a contemporary unibody vehicle. Continue reading to see how “Big Blue”, the Flatwater Jeep YJ came to be. It’s had an interesting life.

 
 

Drivetrain


Drivetrain


The Drivetrain

 
 

Some well-founded accusations have been made that I own a large Lego set, not a Jeep…

Perhaps the most important part of a Jeep build is the drivetrain. Even the engine isn’t a top concern if the rest of the system is properly set up for the intended use. If you are unfamiliar with how Jeeps and other off pavement 4x4s are commonly modified, it’s important to remember that no modification happens in a vacuum. What that means is that one modification always leads to another to maintain balance. It’s true that some modified 4x4s are downright unsafe and prone to major failures. You can’t just bolt on a bunch of doodads and hope for the best. Another aspect of this is that if someone is putting together a purpose-built rig, it’s easier. A rock crawler isn’t expected to drive long distances at highway speed, and a mud truck isn’t expected to be able to do controlled crawling. However, unless your 4x4 is a trailer queen meant for one thing, maintaining a safe balance of performance and reliability is a difficult and expensive proposition. For long distance overland use, striking the right balance is definitely a challenge.

Building a YJ capable of unsupported, long-distance backcountry travel in all weather conditions has been the goal. Perhaps a YJ is not the ideal platform for such endeavors due to the lack of cargo capacity and “spartan” comfort levels. I’ll definitely own that. Overlanding with the YJ is a reason I now have a Jeep WK2 Grand Cherokee set up for overland travel. But, there really is nothing like exploring wild places in an open top short wheelbase Jeep. What is now popularly called “overlanding” is the reason I first bought a Jeep back in the late 1990s. I wanted a capable, fun, 4x4 that could take me far into the backcountry for camping and adventure activities. However, most of these adventures would require a day or more of driving just to get to some locations. I did go through a phase of “sport wheeling” in which the blue YJ was modified for use in local off-road parks, but I came back around to the long-distance do anything philosophy.

 
 

Suspension


Suspension


Suspension

 
 

It all started when…

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