1989 YJ Islander restoration - Jeep Wrangler Forum

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Old 08-22-2014, 10:14 PM   #1
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Location: Richmond, VA
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1989 YJ Islander restoration

Well, even though this build has already been in progress for a while, I figured I might as well put up a quick build thread. This project started as a simple 4.0 swap, but has now turned in to an entire rebuild/restoration.

I had always wanted a Wrangler, but never thought them to be too practical as a primary means of transportation. I also decided I liked fast cars more so than a rugged SUV, so I went that route when I started driving 10 years ago. However, my love for Wranglers was always in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to last March...I met up with a long-time friend who happened to be the second owner of a 1989 YJ. The short version of the story is that I ended up being in a position to buy it from him for $250. That's right: a running, driving, mostly rust free, modified Wrangler for $250.

Of course it did have a few issues, but nothing I was too worried about. At one point the previous owner (my friend) had swapped in a AX-5 to replace the BA-10. I remember him telling me years ago when he was searching for a transmission that he couldn't seem to get his hands on a AX-15. So, not only did it have an inferior (when mated to the 4.2 anyway) transmission, but it was also in pretty sorry shape: it grinded like crazy, third gear would sometimes work and sometimes not, and the neutral return was broken. But, it was still driveable as long as you took it easy. The internal slave cylinder also leaked like crazy, so I had to always carry some brake fluid with me and made sure the reservoir was topped off every time I started it. The 4.2 ran great once you got it started, and even though I know all it probably needed was a good carburetor cleaning/rebuild, I never got around to it. And the only other somewhat negative thing was that it came only with a bikini top. The last thing that I didn't particularly like is that when my friend bedlined the interior, he used left over bedliner to do the outside of the tailgate and the front grill and fenders...and didn't do a very good job of it at that...

The positives, however, far outweighed the negatives. First off, it was so ungodly cheap that I would have been stupid not to pick it up. Also, I knew most of the history of it since the guy I bought it from had it for a decade and I had worked on it with him in high school and college. And, to top it all off, it was already lifted on a 3" body lift and 2" suspension lift and was riding on some decent 35" tires.

Here it is the day I picked it up:


Even better than all that I've listed so far, included in the sale were a bunch of spare parts, most notably a pair of bucket seats, that I was able to sell for $100...bringing the total price of the Jeep down to $150.

So, I drove it around as it was for a while, and the plan was to keep it as a second/fun vehicle and stay as cheap as humanly possible with it. However, I had to tackle some issues that it started to develop. The front ball joints were shot, so I knocked those out along with a new serpentine belt just for good maintenance. Then the driver side front caliper decided to seize up on me, so I went cheap and got some Napa calipers and pads for now and got the rotors resurfaced for free from a friend. I also replaced a leaking axle seal while I was down there, flushed the front diff, and slapped some new u-joints on.

As it got colder, the bikini top had to go. Luckily I had all of the soft top hardware, so all I had to order was the fabric. That along with a much needed scrubbing made the Jeep start looking pretty damn nice:



While I was enjoying it over the fall, it started making a horrendous squealing noise every time I pushed the clutch pedal in. However, I chose to ignore it since I was enjoying how much fun I was having in such a cheap vehicle.

Shortly after I got the brakes done one of the side motor mounts decided to explode on me. So I got that replaced, but the clutch pedal started feeling different along with all the squealing it was making. Then, right as winter started getting nasty, the heat decided to stop working. And while the Jeep was great in the snow, it was now noisy AND cold haha. Luckily the heat was just a broken piece of linkage in the control system, so that was a cheap and quick fix as I was able to rig it to basically be heat only. It was a blast to drive in the snow though:



Now on to the fun stuff...finally the clutch completely gave out on me and the Jeep would no longer move under its own power. Additionally, it was becoming increasingly harder to start. Luckily I saw all of this coming, so early this year (I think around February) I purchased a 1996 XJ 5-speed to yank the drivetrain out of to swap into the YJ. Of course I had to have some fun with the XJ first and used it to pull some trees down:



And both Jeeps were there when I purchased my first house (and more importantly first garage). This was when the YJ was still running.



After the YJ stopped running, I figured it was time to get cracking on the 4.0 swap. So, first it had to come out of the XJ:



And then the tired old 4.2 had to make its way out of the YJ...didn't have a second set of hands to help me with this one, luckily it came out pretty easily:



Then I turned my attention to the interior:



At this point, I realized that I no longer wanted to do just a simple drivetrain swap. The previous owner had taken so many shortcuts and half-assed so many things, that I feel like it deserves a full restoration. When he bedlined the interior, he painted over EVERYTHING. The last week has been full of misery of trying to remove the painted over torx bolts on the roll bar. We all know torx are bad enough as is...painted over torx bolts is just fucking torture.

So, the plan has changed, but I am happy that this has actually turned into a true "build" (hence this incredibly long thread). As of now the goal is to fix all the crap that should never have been done to it (like the bedlined tailgate) and remedy all the time-induced injury the Jeep has taken (like rusted out and snapped bolts). Everything has been completely stripped off of it and once I can get a few friends over the tub will be lifted off the frame. There isn't any significant rust, but I'll clean up what's there and repaint the frame. I figure I'll also replace all the brake lines since they are pretty rusted, along with some new shocks to replace the very obviously blown ones currently installed.

Jeep parts are so incredibly cheap compared to the other toys I have that I will basically be replacing everything regarding the brake master cylinder, clutch master and hardline, slave cylinder, and giving the 4.0 a complete tune up with all new gaskets along with a new clutch. The tub will be sent off to be soda blasted and when funds allow it will be repainted in the original Islander yellow and a new decal set will go along with it to fix what the previous owner ruined by painting the tailgate and front fenders.

I'm excited to get started on it, and though I haven't taken many pictures of what I've done so far (it was just a simple 4.0 swap originally after all), I plan on doing better on keeping things updated from here on out. Sorry for the long post, and I know there are a million much bigger-budgeted builds out there, but I hope you guys enjoy. This is my first adventure with Jeeps, and so far I am loving every minute of it. (Well, except for the torx bolts...seriously, fuck those things).

Oh, and my dog apparently wants the Jeep finished too...


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Old 08-22-2014, 10:33 PM   #2
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sweet build. subscribed

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Old 08-22-2014, 10:54 PM   #3
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looks like you are off to a good start, yes torx bolts suck!!!
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