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1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've held off on making a build thread for a long time, but I think this project has finally reached a point where I have enough progress to share, and I want to journal my progress before I start losing photos or forgetting what I did. This spans 7 years and 7 moves, but I’ll try to make it as smooth as I can.

As a quick disclaimer: I'm not trying to say that anything done here is the right way to do it, just the way I've done it. I'm always open to hearing ideas and feedback, but make sure it's constructive.:)
I'm going to space out posts over the next week or two so I'm not spamming the forum.

Pt.1 - Starting Point
I bought this 1989 YJ right after graduating high school in 2014. It was a 4.2l Auto with Weber carb, 4.10 gears, and 33x12.50 tires. I blew the head gasket in 2015, and swapped on a 4.0 head and exhaust. Swapped the trashed 32/36 Weber for a good 34/34 and installed an MSD, and drove it all through college like that. I traded my parents a website for their business for a new set of tires (basically a gift from them so I didn’t die driving this through another Canadian winter). I bought a welder and taught myself to use it fixing up rust holes in the frame. In 2016 I added a Ford Ranger 8.8 (4.10 posi), and added Mustang disc brakes. Moved out after college and kept driving it daily.
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By 2017 the body rust was getting to be unmanageable. The floors were in decent shape but the quarters and fenders were falling apart. I scabbed the rear quarter together with some scrap ductwork and pop-rivets, and found a set of fiberglass CJ-5 fenders used for $60. Moved again in late 2017 for a new job.
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Pulled the motor because the flexplate broke, and decided to swap in a 4.0 I bought from my buddy for $100 (big mistake!). That motor developed a nasty rust hole in the oil pan, and subsequently a rod knock from being low on oil all the time. I drove it like that for about a year (and moved again) then sold it as a core for $60 and put the original 4.2 back in, this time with a 500cfm Holley 2bbl.

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It was at this point, mid-2018, that I got semi-serious and rented a storage unit to work in and (begrudgingly) bought another car as a daily driver.

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Pt.2 – Misadventures in fiberglass

If you’re a fan of precisely planned and well executed bodywork, you may want to skip this section (or honestly, this whole build). I got set up in my little 10x30 shop, which was shared with my partner’s 1988 Daytona project.

Wood Building Floor Flooring Machine

I’d wanted a fiberglass tub for a while, but I’d had no luck finding one that I could afford. I did happen to find a fiberglass skin for a CJ5 for $200, and convinced my buddy to strap it to the roof of his TJ to make the 1.5hr drive back to my shop.

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I set about sectioning the CJ-5 skin and removing all the exterior sheetmetal from my YJ tub, except the cowl.

Property Sky Shade Wood Rectangle

These rear corners were almost 100% bondo from the previous owner :rolleyes:

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The initial plan was to proportion it similar to a CJ-6, to keep the doorframes shaped correctly. However, after mockup, I determined that I could not comfortably squeeze my 6’5 self between the steering wheel and the doorframe. I elected instead to cut and stretch the doorsill so the side panel matched the YJ floorpan.

Green Wood Flooring Floor Bumper
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This meant that I couldn’t run doors, so I mostly just kept it tarped and drove it on nice days. I moved again, and just drove the Jeep like that for about 8 months.

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By the start of 2020, the shoddy fiberglass work I had done was starting to come apart, and the lack of door and hard top options was becoming annoying. I moved again, to somewhere I could work on-site, right as COVID hit. I took the Jeep off the road, and commenced tearing it apart again.

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Pt.3 – Fiberglass Redemption

Not having to commute Barrie - Toronto every day (WFH due to ‘rona) freed up some funds and time to really commit myself to this build. Subsequently, this parts rig followed me home in March 2020. It is/was a 1979 CJ-7 with all sheetmetal replaced with fiberglass. The frame was toast but it had D44’s F&R, LM7 5.3L, TH400, and NP203. I picked it up from Sault Ste. Marie for $1200, and with trailer rental and gas I was into it for $1500 altogether.

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I just needed the body, so I sold the front clip for $200, transmission and t-case for $500, engine for $500, axles & tires for $500, and the cage + misc parts for $250. This netted me a nice little profit and a free fiberglass tub :D

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I try my best to keep my workspace clean-ish, but my upstairs neighbors definitely weren’t happy :ROFLMAO:

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I stripped the fiberglass skins off the old body, and cut up the metal until it was a manageable size to remove.

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My dash panel wasn’t salvageable so I set the gauges up on some 11-gauge aluminum and drilled & tapped all the screw holes for #8 machine screws. I’m not super happy with how this turned out, so I’ll end up getting a rust-free steel dash panel online and redoing it at some point.

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I didn’t take many pictures during the body install but I lifted it with the engine hoist, then rolled it down the driveway to the awaiting frame.

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The original body was hard mounted with washers and lift blocks (thanks PO :rolleyes:), so I just made the body mounts with some polyurethane leaf spring bushings I had handy. I really considered leaving the body yellow at this point but I missed my black and chrome Jeep, so it was time to strip and paint the body, plus get the interior sorted out.

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Pt.4 – Creature Comforts

The yellow paint on the tub was very thick, and made a serious mess when I tried to sand it. I found a product called SmartStrip at Rona, which I had read was safe for fiberglass gel coat. I used about 1.5 small tubs of it to strip the exterior, and left the interior yellow for the time being.

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The SmartStrip took the body mostly down to the white gel coat, with a little bit of grey primer that was removed with sanding. We sanded to 480 grit, then primed and painted with glossy black Tremclad, same as the old body.

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While I was doing the bodywork, I sent the steering column out to be rebuilt by a guy down in Simcoe Township that I found on Kijiji. I had a set of power adjustable front seats from a Ford Explorer that I put in. These are great because they just need 12v+ and ground to operate, and they’re almost exactly the same colour as the OEM grey vinyl.

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During the body swap I also installed the fuel pump and sender from an EFI YJ, to eliminate the need for a mechanical pump. I’ve had a lot of issues getting a mechanical pump to prime during the winter, but the electric has worked flawlessly. The gauge impedance was the same, and I used the stock pressure regulator and fuel lines with fresh rubber hoses.

Cloud Tire Sky Wheel Plant

I got the CJ windshield frame to play nice with the YJ intermittent wipers by using a YJ motor with a CJ crank and linkages, and epoxied some stud-mount wiper adapters to the arms to allow me to use standard windshield wipers. This setup works okay but the frame is pretty flimsy, so I plan to go to a new steel YJ windshield frame in the future.

Two major shortcomings of this Jeep have always been its lack of overdrive, and its lack of power. I had the 5.3L from the CJ, but when looking for an OD transmission for it I stumbled upon a LQ4/4L80e for $700 that I couldn’t pass up.

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There were a few different reasons I went with the LQ4 (right) over the LM7 (left). Firstly, it was drive-by-wire, which I really wanted to allow for simple cruise control integration. It also has the 145A alternator, and is allegedly a 2004 which has better rods. I say allegedly because the PCM scanned as a 2003, but the included wiring harness was from a 2wd when the 4L80e that came with the engine was definitely a 4wd, so who really knows. But it turns over nicely and was reasonably clean in the oil pan and under the valve covers, so I’m going to run it. It had 10/12 exhaust bolts snapped off in the heads, so I welded nuts to all of them and they came right out. I had a set of C6 Corvette exhaust manifolds I was planning to run, so I mocked those up.

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I also picked up an HP Tuners MPVI2 so I could handle my own VATS delete and tune for my planned mods in the future.

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I rigged up the MPVI2 with a power supply from an Xbox360, and used a spare PCM connector I had from the CJ to do the VATS delete.

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At this point I was getting ready to move again and start a new job, so I kept the Jeep driveable on the 4.2L and started scheming on what to do about my rusty frame and crappy suspension…

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Pt.5 – SEMA Builders, Toasty Frames, and a New Shop
I’d had my eye on a late-model frame ever since watching Fred William’s DED Extra on JK frames. YJ frames are extremely hard to come by in good condition in Ontario, and a TDK frame was well out of my budget. Plus, I’m honestly over leaf springs for a daily driver – I did it for a number of years and my back is ready for something a little more comfortable. JK frames are readily available in my area, and go for $750-$1500, but the real hurdle with that route is finding affordable bolt-in axles. I found a guy from Mississauga selling a set of Gladiator axles for what seemed like a good price, and I read online that the front axle would bolt right up. You may have seen his rig in SEMA coverage from this year, it stirred up quite a bit of controversy.

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I (mistakenly) assumed that the rear axle would likewise bolt in, and bought them for $1500. Upon picking up the axles, the brakes were missing, as was the passenger side knuckle and axle shaft. To top it off, when I got it home I determined the front axle to be an M186, not the M210 that was supposed to be in a Gladiator. I felt pretty ripped off, but I still agreed to buy them after seeing them, so ultimately that’s on me. I spent another $1000 getting the missing parts replaced, and I downgraded the rear brakes to JL units for cost savings. While I was in Mississauga, I picked up a set of stock wheels and tires from a different Gladiator for $500, and loaded the whole mess into a little U-Haul trailer and headed back to London. Yes, my ‘tow rig’ is a purple Chevy Spark :ROFLMAO:

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I had also just started renting a new workspace, a nice 16’x32’ unit on the outskirts of town.

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My partner’s Daytona stayed in our apartment’s garage, so I had this space all to myself for the time being.

I now had the driveline, axles, and body, so it was time to find a frame to bring it all together. I found this crispy JK Rubicon frame locally for $750, and managed to sell the axles out of it for $500.

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I got the front axle in with no real issues, but quickly determined that the rear was not going to work without modification.

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I got some TMR control arm mounts and tacked them in, but I just wasn’t thrilled with how the pinion was moving around as the suspension cycled with the stock Gladiator control arms.

I really like the stock Gladiator wheels and tires. The tires are just about the same height as my old 33x12.50s, and the track width is the same as that setup as well. I didn’t have the original lugnuts so I just got the cheapest set off Amazon I could find – these will get changed out for OEM ones before this Jeep sees the street.

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I got this nifty little adapter flange from PTI (through Driveshaft Pro) to adapt the M220 flange to a 1310 U-joint (PN: 3102-409) to avoid having to swap the yoke right away. I’m planning to do a re-gear and Eaton locker after the Jeep has been on the road a while, so I’ll probably swap to a proper 1350 yoke then. Until then, the plan is to run a conversion joint on the axle end of a shortened Super Duty 1350 CV driveshaft.

Tool Gas Machine Metal Helmet

I threw together a fun little edit of roughly what this Jeep should look like when completed.

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1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Pt.6 – LQ-More

I’m getting a little creative with the chronology here to avoid bouncing around too much.

The engine and transmission are in pretty good shape, but a lot of the little stuff surrounding them was missing or needed to be replaced. In no particular order, I was missing:
  • DBW pedal and TAC module
  • MAF
  • MAP
  • Oil dipstick tube
  • Spark plug wires
  • Input & output speed sensors
  • Coolant temp sensor
Additionally, I replaced:
  • Knock sensors & wiring
  • Oil pan gasket
  • Valley & valve cover gaskets
  • Intake and Exhaust gaskets
  • Spark plugs
  • Fuel injector O-rings
  • Belt tensioner
  • Steam vent lines
  • Neutral safety switch
While I had it partially disassembled, I gave it a bit of a clean up with some brake clean and a wire brush. You can see how much dirt was caked under the intake. The oil cooler lines weren’t salvageable so I installed an ICT billet block-off plate that has a 1/8NPT hole for the stock YJ oil pressure sender.

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The C6 manifolds didn’t work at all, and the truck manifolds had less than optimal routing.

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I found a set of Speed Engineering v-band headers locally for $200 that seem to fit nicely. I had to trim the ear off the driver’s side of the bellhousing and inspection cover to get them to fit. Apparently this is fairly common for 4L80e equipped vehicles, I roughed the cut with a sawzall and cleaned it up with a file.

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I’m using a set of TMR Customs universal LS mounts with lengths of 2x3x0.188 box tubing for the motor mounts. The plan is to add some lateral reinforcement once the placement is finalized, but even without that they are very sturdy. I settled on 1.5” offset to the passenger side, and the oil pan height relative to the axle is roughly the same as a YJ at full bump.

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The headers interfere with the stock spark plug wires so for the time being I threw on a cheap set of Trailblazer angled wires and fiberglass isolators, but the plan is to upgrade to the correct angled wires from Speed Engineering down the line.

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Here it is at full bump, the only clearance issue I’m worried about is between the power steering pulley and steering box, where there’s only about 1/8”. If this presents an issue, I’ll swap to a smaller diameter pulley. Also I found out that JL and JK front control arms aren’t the same lengths, which was causing problems with the front. I had some JK uppers on the shelf and those helped a bit, but I’ll need to find some JK lowers so the drag link and tierod don’t collide at full bump.

I moved again (not the shop this time), which means the Daytona and a ton of home junk are now in my way. It’s a little crowded 😆
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I promised my partner we could drive the Jeep home for Christmas, so I mocked up the Acme full doors that came with the CJ-7. I think they look pretty awesome, but I’ll have to paint them and find latches before I can run them. I’m also a little worried they won’t fit with my YJ hard top, and I got rid of the one from the CJ. We shall see I guess – If they’re close I can probably make it work.

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1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Pt.7 M220 complications

I set up the rear axle with the factory control arms, in roughly the factory position. I really didn’t like how the pinion angle changed through the suspension travel, and it seemed really limited by the short upper link.

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I had a pair of Rough Country radius arms on a shelf from a 2nd gen Dodge truck, so I decided to throw those in and see how it looked. The arms would mount to the inside of the frame rail inline with the transfer case split.

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The Gladiator uppers are about an inch too short, but overall the packaging of this solution seems like it will work really well for me. I don’t know how the geometry of this solution will perform, but I’m very interested in trying it just to know for sure. I'm hoping it will plant the tire well, but that the arms will be long enough to avoid extreme antisquat. If it sucks, I’ll probably go to the Mopar crate axle mounting kit and either use the stock JK components, or a long arm kit for this chassis. I’m planning to use the Gladiator sway bar so I think the articulation of this setup will be adequate for what I need. I’m a lot more interested in street manners and straight-line performance for this build than extreme offroad, but I’m not going to compromise it to the point where it’s worse than stock because it will still see trails from time to time.

In other news, I found a JL front bumper and a JK rear bumper for a combined $30!

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I’m going to run these until I can get the burnt Rubicon bumpers that came with the frame sandblasted and powder coated, then replace all the melted plastic bits.

This thread is now up to date!

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·

I spent some time in the shop last night screwing around with my NNBS intake manifold. It’s complete with injectors, rails, and evap solenoid, but the MAP sensor is wrong and there is an open port on the top of the intake. I attempted to RTV my old MAP sensor into the hole and make a hold-down bracket for it, but I don’t like that solution. I’m thinking now that I’ll JB Weld some 90° vacuum fittings into the holes and remote mount the MAP sensor.

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I used an adapter plate from ICT Billet for the throttle body. I’m not very happy with the gasket that came with it, so I’m going to pick up some gasket material and make my own. The adapter itself was very nice though.

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The injectors that came with the intake are #12613411, which from my research should be a 36# injector @ 58PSI. I also ordered a C5 filter/regulator and EV6 injector pigtails. I would have used adapter harnesses, but half of the fuel injector connectors on my harness were broken by the previous owner.

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1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
This weekend was all about wiring. This harness was a bit of a mess when I got it, so step one was to remove all the factory loom and tape, and lay it out in roughly the original position.

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I soldered on the EV6 pigtails for the 36lb injectors, and sealed with adhesive lined shrink tube. I kept as much length as I could to give me some flexibility in the wire routing. I really want to avoid wires running across the top of the intake.
I got the bank 2 injector wiring routed behind the intake and under the fuel rail, and added the throttle and MAF wiring.

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The only other wire I had to extend was the shared ground for the coil packs. I routed it with the cam sensor and oil pressure wiring to the back of the intake. The NNBS intake has a handy stud for wire management.

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I’ll likely also route my starter wire and crank sensor through this area, then behind the head down to the passenger side of the block.

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I added the bank 2 coil pack wires to this side of the harness as well. I’ll likely either order new coil sub-harnesses or rewrap the existing ones later.

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This is where I left it. The only wire that crosses over the intake is the MAP connector, and I think if I remote mount the sensor I can reroute that too. I still need to route the crank sensor and starter wires, replace the coolant sensor connector, and route the transmission and transfer case wiring.

The tune was then modified to accommodate the returnless fuel rails and upgraded injectors. I found a spreadsheet of injector data online, and verified it against the original tune.
I’ll try to attach the injector spreadsheet, but I don’t know how Pirate handles Excel files.
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1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Junk Yard Day
I got an email recently that my local you-pull yard had a YJ in stock, so I went in on Friday to grab some misc odds and ends. It was listed as an 88, but it’s definitely a 92 or later.
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I came out with a heater control + cables, a headlight switch, dimmer switch, and the switch bezels for both sides of the steering column, plus a MAP sensor to replace the one I broke on the LS.
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This YJ also has a nearly rust-free dash panel and a recently replaced windshield frame, so I ‘m going to go back in a week or two for those parts. I’m also considering converting the interior over to Spice while I’m at it, since I really like the look of this dash.

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I’m a sucker for tiny cars so I was admiring this yellow bed-lined Smart car on my way out. This is definitely a silly bucket-list car for me, alongside a Plymouth Horizon and a Subaru Brat.

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I did some work preparing for the first test crank. I didn’t intend to actually start it, I just wanted to get some oil moving around. First thing was to plug the oil port on the ICT Billet block-off plate. I added a 90° fitting for the YJ oil pressure sensor to use later, but for now it’s just a brass plug.

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I also looped the transmission cooler lines back to each other with a premade hydraulic line from Princess Auto. I’ll probably use these hoses when I plumb in the cooler too, they are very inexpensive and super solid. I’m also not sold on the banjo fittings for the cooler, I may change those for straight fittings if the tunnel clearance allows.

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With all that done, I was able to turn it over for the first time! The starter was a little sticky from sitting but I was able to free it up. I used the battery from the YJ that had been sitting for a few months, so I wasn’t able to do much but verify that it spins.

1989 Jeep YJ
33 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Junkyard and interior work

I went back to the yard on Saturday to pick up that dashboard and windshield frame. Not too bad for $120! I also got the speedo cluster and plastics.
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I couldn’t believe how easily the bolts came out, I came prepared to strip out every single Torx but I didn’t have a single one fail.
The windshield frame had a couple dings but absolutely no rust, so I hammered them out as best I could.
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I laid it out on the bench and removed the wiper motor and rear view mirror. A few years ago I made the mistake of not removing the mirror on my first windshield frame, and it cracked the windshield as soon as I laid it down. So now that’s step #1 when I have these on the workbench.
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I masked off the glass on both sides, then wire wheeled it and shot the interior side in red oxide primer. It looks super orange here for some reason, it’s a lot duller in person.
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The plan is to spray it glossy black like the body, then do bedliner on the contact areas to hopefully prevent it from rusting out where these frames usually do.
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