You’ll know it when you see it. This line is applicable to a lot of things in life. An example would be when you see that perfect project build or even someone else’s cast-off. Such as a 1990 Jeep Wrangler YJ. You take one look and you just know you can make it something amazing.
For Brandon and Sally Chapman they knew what they had to do the moment they laid eyes on their 1990 Jeep Wrangler YJ at a local auction house. Greg Slade originally completed the big Jeep. At the time he was a manager at a 4Wheel Parts store and had wanted to create something cool. The rig you see here is the result of that ambition. The off-road-ready YJ was eventually sold by Greg and found its way to the auction house where Brandon and Sally came across it.
Brandon explained, “For about the past five years I have become what you may call a bit of an auction junkie. Back in the summer of 2017, I was at an auction looking at a little gas sipper car. In the corner of the building was perhaps the coolest Jeep I had ever seen. I asked one of the staff members if it was for auction. She told me that it would be at some point. They were waiting on the owner to bring the title and finish filling out the paperwork. I immediately sent pictures to my wife Sally and told her that we had to have the jeep. She said, “If that’s what you want.” Don’t we all love to hear those words?
From there began an eight-week process of stalking the Jeep. Brandon would stop by the auction house on a weekly basis just to visit the big YJ and check on the status. Finally, the Jeep went up for bidding. When Sally first laid eyes on the Jeep she told Brandon, “why didn’t you tell me it was this badass? I never realized how cool it is. We have to take this home.”
When the bidding was over the couple had made an offer about a thousand dollars over what they had wanted to spend. Brandon explained, “At the same time I knew she needed a good home. I knew I made the right decision to go over budget. My bid was still under what the seller wanted for it. They had to call him and he agreed to sell it for what I had offered.
Since the purchase, Brandon and Sally have had to do some minor maintenance. Brake pads, calipers, an axle seal and a repair to the CB have been completed. Brandon admits, “The only thing that truly confuses me is the rear axle vent blows differential fluid out of it.” To combat the issue Brandon added a coolant reservoir to the end of the rear axle vent. He did this to prevent oil from blowing down onto the rear passenger brake rotor. This had caused the brake to smoke during operation in the past. Brandon said, “It works great but still I am at a loss as to why that happens.”
The drive train of the YJ includes components chosen for strength and reliability. A West Racing tuned L98, 383-ci motor is the heart of it all. It is backed by a Dodge version of the NV 4500 manual transmission. A Centerforce clutch makes sure the power makes it to the Atlas 2 transfer case.
The axles continue the beefy theme through the use of a Dynatrack front Prorock Dana 60. A Solid 60 high pinion axle got the nod in the rear. Both are fitted with 5:13:1 gears and are also fitted with ARB air lockers. One-ton disk brakes, chromoly axle shafts, and CTM Racing drive flanges round out the running gear.
The suspension for the big Jeep is also fitted with trusted components. This approach serves to make sure Brandon and Sally make it over, around, or through whatever gets in their way. Fourteen inch King coil-overs exist on all four corners. The front features a three-link setup while the rear is a double triangulated four links. Limiting straps help prevent overextension of the YJ. Rock Ram hydraulic steering components make turning the big rig a breeze.
The body of the YJ is all business and refuses to compromise function over form. A two-inch body lift prevents rubbing. We found the custom bobbed rear tub that integrates a factory rear tailgate to be a pretty unique feature. Also, the one and three quarter inch DOM custom cage is designed to easily accommodate a large rear tire placed behind the cab. A pretty neat feature is that the rear cage also incorporates a spare driveshaft. It is mounted on the roll cage and will fit either front or rear for redundancy. An aluminum fuel cell delivers the go juice. The cab also features a custom soft-top.
Seat Heaters Are Standard
Under the hood a keen eye will spot dual Optima batteries. They provide plenty of power for all the accessories as well as the heated seats. That’s right folks heated seats are included. An additional throttle lever is mounted on the transmission gear shifter for those instances when your feet are extra busy. After taking this ride for a short rip I can tell you that it definitely comes in handy.
The big Jeep features a custom tubed rear frame as well as custom front and rear bumpers. Speaking of bumpers the front mounts a Warn HS9500I winch while the rear has a Warn X8000I stuffed in to make sure the couple will always get out of what they get into.
Lots Of Lights
Everyone that has ever been on a night run knows that good lights can make or break and adventure. Trucklite headlamps with HID bulbs set the stage for a successful trip no matter what. The main bulbs are backed up by a Rigid Industries fifty-inch E2 combo light bar atop the roof. Additionally, two Rigid ten-inch SR2 bars light the night.
In case that’s not enough an additional two Rigid D2 XL spots and two Rigid D2 XL wides round out the illumination tools. A Rigidrigidindustries.com light kit keeps things bright underneath and with all of that in place it is easy to say that this rig owns the night.
The entire sum of these parts works pretty awesomely. However, there are always little tweaks that need to be done. Brandon explained with a smile, “When you hit the turn signals the windshield wipers turn on. There is also a minor short in one of the headlights. It will make the headlights intermittently flicker. Currently, the engine has a miss. I have been trying to figure out why. I’m going to have to take it in because it is beyond me at this point. Driving her in a rainstorm at Windrock Offroad Park was probably not the best idea. Some of the electrical components wet and angry. We just consider it all part of owning off-road vehicles.”
Future planned improvements include the addition of a basket for the spare tire. Any additional upgrades made would only be completed to increase comfort.
As an example, the YJ doesn’t have heat but does have heated seats. Brandon admitted, “I could put a hardtop on it and hard doors it would make for warmer winter driving. To be honest it is built way beyond our capabilities. It is so overbuilt I don’t think I could hurt it. I tracked down the fella that built it back in the 90s, he told me he had roughly 70k invested in parts alone. It is very reassuring to know that it is built beyond your capabilities.”
The Last Word
Brandon and Sally are lucky enough to live just a short drive from hundreds of acres available for off-road recreation. That means the couple has lots of opportunities for adventure.
Sally explained her first experience in the Jeep on one of those adventures. She said, “I grew up in the mud and on 4 wheelers. I had never been in something as high as sitting on forty-two-inch tires. So with some of the narrow trails at Windrock Off Road Park and sitting that high I felt very tippy. My back locked up the first time out from being so tensed up. We asked the security lady about what trails we should do. She said that we could take that rig on any of the trails. I said it’s not the Jeep we’re worried about it’s the operators! It’s gotten better now for me knowing what it is capable of. It’s a lot of fun. Horsepower and mud, what gets better than that?” Well said, Sally, well said.