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Comanche Trailhawk: DD and Mild Wheeler

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I've been lurking here for quite some time and have read through many of the great builds here.  I finally picked up a mj of my own back in January and have been working on it pretty hard since the snow stopped.  Most of the mj's around here in central PAare super rusty and require more work than I'm willing to deal with so I ended up buying a super clean one from Beasley in NC.  He even made the 8 hour trip up here to deliver it!  I'll be paraphrasing my build thread from over at jeepowner to get caught up here.


January 17:

I have wanted to get rid of my blazer for several years now and was planning on picking up a 99ish xj to replace it with.  I've always had a plan of making the xj into a mild wheeler with a small lift and 31's.  Every once in a while I'd stumble onto a comanche build and it would stir some plans up to get an mj instead.  Mj's around here are pretty hard to find and near impossible to find rust free.  After toying with the idea of combining an xj and an mj into the best of both, I decided to pull the trigger.



I had the truck in my possession before I even had a game plan but the rust free blank slate was too good for me to pass up.  The truck is an 88 sportruck, 2wd, 4cyl, 4spd.  Since it was 2wd, it invoked the snow gods and I haven't been able to drive it or even work on it much yet since it got stuck in it's storage spot and then plowed in.



March '17:

After the snow melted the first order of business was to evaluate the areas of the mj that needed some work and decide which direction I would like to go with the parts from the xj.  This involved a good cleaning to the interior, a refresh of the grill, and a removal of all the badges and stickers.







Since the snow has finally melted, I've been using the truck as my dd for a little bit now.  I've been using the seat time to get an idea of some mandatory changes that I want to make.  Most of these changes will be made after I acquire an xj donor.  Things like actual gauges and not idiot lights, automatic, bucket seats, power steering.  All of those will come with the xj swap.  I'm still undecided if the front clip will stay old school or update to the newer xj clip.  I'm also still up in the air as far as paint color goes and if the stickers or some form of stickers will come back.

As far as plans for the truck's running gear I'm aiming to swap the entire drivetrain from a 98 or 99xj.  4.0, aw4, 231, d30, 8.25.  Along with the drivetrain I'm going to do the whole interior and dash swap.

Underneath I'm still deciding on suspension.  I have it narrowed down to a 3.5" lift all the way up to a 5.5" lift.  5.5 sounds pretty high for a DD and what not, but I blame some of the builds on comancheclub for steering me that way.  I love how the 5.5ish lift looks with 31's to 33's which is what I'm aiming to run in the AT variety.  I'm also planning on running some moab rims if I can find a set anywhere near here that is a reasonable price.

This might be a slow build at first as I continue to try and source a decent xj donor but it should pickup (hah) once I have the donor and solidify my suspension choice and parts start trickling in.  :)

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I really wanted to keep the stickers but they were just getting too rough for my taste.  If I was just going to use this as a wheeler then they would have stayed.  The camera really hides the marks once you get a few feet back.



Disassembly will more than likely start this week.  My first priority is going to be cleaning up the underside with a wire wheel and coating everything liberally with some rust preventative paint before crappy ole Pennsylvania ruins this.


April '17:

So this happened:



Had to put the donut on.  Not sure how long it's been since it has last seen the outside world but it only made it a few feet before it blew the bead and came off the rim :-\ 

Anywho, the reason I took the back tire off in the first place was because I swapped it with a flat tire on this:



It's a 2001 with 149k on it.  It's within like 200 miles of the comanche odometer.... what are the odds?  It's pretty rough and rusty but it's mainly rough on the pieces I don't need.  We had it running before purchase and it runs pretty solid.  No knocks or taps.  We'll see if that holds true once I change the oil on the chance that a PO put really thick stuff in it to hide noises.  The interior is really dirty but under all of the dirt it is pretty nice.  Nothing is torn, cracked or scraped.  It just needs a solid cleaning.  For what I ended up paying for it though I could basically just use the seats, fenders, and doors and come out ahead.

A week later and the teardown has officially started.



 A few hours later and the only thing holding the engine in are the 2 motor mount bolts and 2 crossmember bolts.  It's ready to be plucked once I put the hoist together and roll the truck near some pavement.




Got some motivation and took the interior almost the whole way apart.



I have 3 piles going.  Save, sell, and scrap.  Taking the cherokee apart will be a lot slower as I'll be labeling stuff and trying to keep all fasteners separate.

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Things really slowed down with the xj disassembly.  I'm taking my time and labeling all of the connections for everything and some of the wire connectors are hard to figure out how they come apart without breaking them.




The interior is coming apart pretty decent.  I managed to get most of the dash out with only breaking one clippy.  Lots of poop and nests though.  Nothing was chewed or broken, just filthy.


It's only clean from the side molding up it seems.  Lots of holes and the rockers are pretty gone




Got the seats out and the carpet ripped up.  Surprise, more holes!






Worked on this about 10 hours today.  Got a lot of stuff done but it almost looks the same as the earlier pics.

On the comanche I took the front fenders off to see which brackets i need to keep from the cherokee.  Wrestling with the flares and inner fenders took a while.

On the xj side of things I pretty much have the entire interior stripped of everything I want now.  I spent quite a while getting the dash brackets and seat mount rails free from their billion spot welds.  The entire wiring is also out of the xj up to and including the taillights and 3rd brake light.  I'm pretty much ready to reposition both of them on some pavement and snatch out the engines.

I'm still not sure what I want to do about the doors.  The one door is pretty trash from rust on the inside and outside all along the rocker.  To fix it I would need to pretty much cut along the bottom edge of the door trim and replace that section with the bottom of a good door.  The other door also has rust but it is mainly concentrated on the outside and not near as bad.  I was going to pull the xj and mj doors apart and see if I could just put the xj guts and window into the mj frame but the interwebs says thats a no as the inside is different.  It's slim pickings for any jeep parts locally but I might look into making a trip to a upullit yard or something.






Got a little carried away with the angle grinder while cutting mounting templates from the donor firewall.  Also took a few hunks of clean metal to use as patches in the mj for holes I will no longer be using.  




Mj cleaned up very nice with some degreaser and a brush.  The motor mount frame horns just zipped right out


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June '17:


Bed is off so I can get really good access to the frame underneath to paint and seal.  Will also make swapping the axles and running new brake lines a lot easier.






Managed to get all of my firewall patches cut and sized.  I have a few others that are not pictured. 



Got fiesty onemorning before work and welded in the firewall mounts



Got a little crazy with the seam sealer and sealed all of the patches I welded into the firewall.






Had a day off and no rain.  Got all of the hard to reach places prepped and put chassis saver on everything.  Looking over and seeing the xj rusting away is super solid motivation to get up in all the nooks and crannies and get everything coated.




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Late June '17:


Took advantage of the weather and wrenched all day.  Broke 90 degrees here today.  Setup my "shop" so I could have some shade




Today's goal was getting the 2wd front axle from the Mj under the xj and the xj axle torn down, cleaned up, and painted.  Spent some extra time securing the xj since the bottom side was so rusty.  I was worried about the jackstands pushing through or collapsing the body channels behind the control arm mounts.




It took me a few hours to get the d30 out.  It fought me every step of the way.  I'm really happy with my milwaukee  cordless impact.  If I could get a socket on something, it was busting that bolt out.  Once the xj axle was out and the 2 axles were side by side I spent some time shuffling some of the better looking parts around to the d30.  I managed to fight it back under the xj and get most of it reattached.




I then spent the rest of the evening tearing down the d30.  The calipers were pretty seized, the balljoints were seized, rotors were seized to the hubs, hubs were seized to the knuckles, and I rounded off 5 of the 6 hub bolts since they were so rusty.  I kept at it and eventually got most of it apart. I'm going to pick up the right ball joint adapters before popping these ones out. 



 After getting to this point I called it quits.  I had to spend some time wrangling an axle that rolled down the hill a little and into the woods so my back was telling me it had enough for the day.  I'll start cleaning up the keeper parts tomorrow and will be popping the cover off to see what the inside looks like.  The fluid that spilled out of the breather was pretty clean so I'm hopeful.


Turned the dirty30 into a purty30 this morning before I leave for work.  Also cleaned and painted the control arms but didn't have enough time to get anything else.  



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Front axle and drop brackets in.  Waiting on the parts I ordered to show up so I can put the rest of the axle together.




It sucked doing this by myself and on a slight grade but I got the engine in!






 I tried to make it a roller againsince my balljoint adapters came in last night.  UGGGGH stupid ball joints!  I drilled out the mounting holes for my mc trackbar and got the tb on within like 15 minutes then spent the next 2 hours wrestling to get ones set of ball joints out and the new ones on with the knuckle.    Today was not my morning for things going right and I ran out of time before I could even start on the other side.  I like seeing freshpaint and shiny new parts though.




Solid progress today and I'm real happy with where I'm at so far.  Spent far too much time this morning fighting with the ujoints and balljoints but that is behind me now  [thumbsup] Front axle is all finished minus shocks and steering gear.  Truck is sitting on its own weight all around and everything is lining up like it is supposed to.



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Finally had really nice weather both yesterday and today and I spent nearly the whole time working on this.  The cherokee is about stripped down of useable parts.  The only thing left that i'll be taking off is the front doors then I get to load it up with junk to haul it all off for scrap.

Started the day off moving the 2 naked jeeps close to each other and both fully on the pavement so I could scoot around under them.




The rust on this thing is unreal.  If the top half wasnt so clean I would have believed it if someone told me this thing spent some of its life in the ocean.  I was still wary of the jackstand points collapsing so once again I stacked wood and tires and stuff all along the floor to help brace everything.






I wanted the xj back on all 4 wheels asap.  I thought about cutting the perches off of the mj d35 and welding them back on over the axle but then I realized I could just put the axle in upside down and save some work since it's getting scrapped anyways.  How's the pinion angle look? lol




Stripped the perches and shock mounts off the rear axle and mocked it up in the rear soa style.  Was pretty close to 6 inches of lift which is too tall for my liking so I wanted to lose a little height somewhere and get it close to 5inches.  These perches sit pretty dang tall on the axle so I started grinding.  Ended up taking off a little over 3/4" and still had a little room for the center pin.

Rough cut before cleaning to show the amount cut out



Overall stance so far and the rear came out to 5 inches of lift



I think once I get more weight on both ends that the overall height will be exactly what I'm shooting for



July '17:


Rust free door score!  One needs a window and some trim pieces.  Luckily I happen to have extra windows and trim pieces from the rustakee.




Took the green doors apart so I could swap the one window in from the red door and so I could see the condition of the green door guts.  Glad I did, some has been in the green doors before and the wiring was all hacked and some other pieces were missing. Luckily the red door guts were mint so I swapped a lot of things around. Went to hang the driver's door and saw that the hinge was separating from the body so I melted it back together then did a pass over the other ones for good measure.

Wrestled with the doors by myself and eventually got them installed.  Got the window in and everything works when I jump it with my cordless drill battery pack.

The doors are on but they aren't aligned at all.  I need to wait for help for that I guess or I'll be there all day.  Also need to swap the strikers over from the xj and line them up but I'm still deciding how I want to go about that.






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Patched up all of the spot weld holes in the firewall and installed all of the xj brackets.  Still had time before the storms so I tossed the dash and column support in to see how it lined up.  Everything seems good so far. Next is to reattach some of the threaded posts for the firewall mat and fuse block junction things.  Once those are set then I'll start on the seat brackets and floor patching.





Trying to get as much done as I can while I'm able to.  Also have a line on a paint booth that I can use but the guy is moving in the next few weeks.  If it would run, steer, and stop it would be so much easier getting it to said paint booth :P

My other jeep is feeling super neglected.  It won't pass inspection until I replace the driver side torque box and fix a hole on the frame so it is just sitting down by my shed... with the hardtop still on in july!


All of the interior welding and fab is finished minus door strikers.  Ran out of daylight.  I have all of my firewall pegs welded in along with all of the pegs to support the interior harness.  The longest part of the day by far was getting the seats in and mounted just right.  The seat mounts and mount areas are a bit different from one another but I got them figured out.



Seam sealer is drying everywhere and waiting for paint in the morning




Finished painting the interior floor and this morning I started putting the hvac back in.  Also managed to get some of my ez cool insulation down and my firewall pad.




It was still nice outside and one thing led to another and this happened...



Wire wheeled and painted the rest of the frame in the back.


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Wired and installed my 96xj pump in the tank.  Required some modification to the slosh pan in the tank but this specific year supposedly sends the correct reading to the 97+ fuel gauge has the correct fuel pressure and fits into the old style tank.  We'll see.  I also took the stock plugs apart and set the wire prongs to the correct ports after some head scratching.  No splices here.





Changed out my water pump, thermostat, housing, and heater tube.  Thoroughly flushed the rad and block.  They were pretty gross.



Trans cooler! I like how this turned out.  Took longer than it should have but I took my time mounting and routing.  I still have the stock rad cooler tied in as well.  I read several posts saying that it's beneficial in the winter months.




Pretty grateful to have garage access for the weekend so I made it count.  Engine compartment finished.  Exhaust hooked up, evap stuff complete, and fuel tank and lines rigged for running



Front clip! 




Changed the oil and filter. Oil was old and super black but didn't look mixed with anything so that's good. Topped off power steering and trans fluid. Filled up the heater core with coolant and was filling the block when coolant started trickling onto my sandals. For like the third jeep thermostat swap in a row I managed to put the housing on crooked after the thermostat fell out of its groove.  :-\   You would think I'd catch on to that but it'll happen again.  I popped the housing off and completely killed the gasket.  Ran out of light and patience so that's where I stopped.

Might see about starting it this week.  In hindsight I should have ran the brakelines before putting everything else in the engine bay haha

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End of July'17:


I missed something somewhere.  I hooked up the battery and I'm not getting power to anything.  Started troubleshooting by checking the battery.  Moved onto rebuilding terminals and checking cables and grounds.  Cleaned terminals at the pdc.  Pulled the fuse panel under the glove box and found a plug that came unplugged.  Now have partial power to the fuse box.  Horn works if I jump the terminal in the fuse block but not from the steering wheel.  I suspect the problem being in the column or plugs underneath but I ran out of time for the day.




I missed a connection under the column like I suspected.  It was hiding behind the tcu when it should have been in front.  I then popped all of the fuel pump fuses by sneezing while checking continuity and accidentally grounded out the hot wire... all while I was upside down lol.

The fuel gauge seems to be working right and I have solid fuel pressure.

Still have a lot of issues to iron out. Should have just left the dash apart lol.  Heater only blows on high, vents won't move from defrost, brake light switch doesn't reach the pedal, driver door is way out of whack. The alternator was also frozen when I first cranked it and the belt wouldn't spin.  Broke that loose But I don't have much faith in it and it smoked the belt.  But all of that stuff is minor as I have solid oil pressure and it runs at like 205 degrees after running for 20 minutes or so.

I'd like to do the brakes next then clean and paint the underside of the bed so I can reinstall that and hang the tank and rest of the exhaust.



Starting to burn out a bit so took it easy this weekend.  Drum brakes are annoying but I think I have them all on and set up correctly.  This photobucket bs really hindered my ability to use past writeups from various forums.  Also installed new wheelstuds since 3 out of five on each axle didn't have nuts on them when the xj sat for years and the threads were all rusted away.  Also painted the underside of the bed so it's ready to go back on.






Put the bed back on this morning before work.  It sorta looks truckish again.  The tiny tires also make it a poster child for never skipping leg day!




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Early August '17:


Been a little since I updated but I've made some progress even though my pace has slowed considerably.  I'm on vacation all this week and my original plan was to finish up the bodywork and hit it with paint but that's not going to happen, I couldn't keep up that pace.  I did manage to get it moving around and stopping on its own though.


Over the weekend I ran all new brake lines everywhere.  I ordered some of the copper/nickel line stuff from amazon and also picked up double flare to bubble flare adapters for the master.  I love using that brake line.  It bends and flares nicely, it just took waaaaay longer than I had planned but I'm happy with the outcome.  I just need to tweak the routing a little here and there and perma fasten it down in a few places before hitting the road.  After the brake lines were in I then ran the gas line and remounted the tank.  Also found a nice new home for the evap can and ran the lines to it as well.





Next I combined the xj exhaust with the mj exhaust from the muffler back.  I cut and welded the flange from the xj muffler to the mj muffler.  It's working pretty good.  I need to pick up some fresh exhaust gaskets though.




My stock linkage was super rusty like everything else on the xj so I tossed it and ordered the boostwerks linkage.  Took me a little to get it setup but it works great once I dialed it in.  I probably could have made this myself from a hardware store but the few extra bucks was worth saving a headache.




This is how it is sitting right meow.  It's a little high in the rear and I'm not sure what I'll be doing to remedy that.  Doesn't really come across in the picture so much.



I tossed a pair of my old yj shocks on the front and then drove it up and down the driveway a few times in front wheel drive.  I still need to come up with a rear driveshaft.

It runs ok but slightly worse since I hooked up the muffler and tailpipe.  I have a pretty loud noise from the engine when it is cold but it's not really a knock, more of a low rpm rattle until it warms up.  It could also be crack in the exhaust manifold or downpipe somewhere.  I have a pretty bad stumble under partial throttle.  Probably an unhappy and dirty sensor of some sort.


Last night I told myself I wasn't going to work on the comanche anymore this week and take a break.  That lasted until late morning when I got bored so I went out and started attacking the interior.  I tidied the harness in the cab, painted my seat frames, mounted my airbag sensor and console, prepped some trim pieces for matching agate paint, lined the floor with insulation, and lastly loose fitted the carpet after it sat out all day in the sun.  I really like the color match.  I also tossed on the old front bumper and lights just because.








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I got burnt out and it sat like this for almost 4 weeks while I took a break and dealt with being sick.  


Yesterday I loaded it up on the trailer and moved it to a friend's garage where I started on the bodywork.  Hoping to get everything smoothed out and in primer by the end of next week. 




The paint is pretty rough up close


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7 hours ago, Trailhawkmj said:

This is how it is sitting right meow.  It's a little high in the rear and I'm not sure what I'll be doing to remedy that.  Doesn't really come across in the picture so much.


Great progress so far. 


Have you considered running XJ shackles?  Should be ~1.25" shorter than the stock MJ shackles.  Good for at least a half inch drop in the rear.   A steel bumper and a bed mounted spare will bring it down quite a bit too. 

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1 hour ago, DesertRat1991 said:


Great progress so far. 


Have you considered running XJ shackles?  Should be ~1.25" shorter than the stock MJ shackles.  Good for at least a half inch drop in the rear.   A steel bumper and a bed mounted spare will bring it down quite a bit too. 

Good idea!  I was going to wait and see what it looks like with everything installed like you said and then make adjustments from there.


In other news I did more sanding today and borrowed a set of wheels and tires from my friend and tossed them on to see how it looked.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out.


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Thanks guys.  Tires are 265/75/16's if I remember right.  They'll probably rub the front of the flare if I flex some but I'll be trimming all of that once I decide on a bumper.




I also put some massey ferguson gray tractor paint on the other fender to see if I liked it or not.  I don't love it, but I don't hate it.  I do need to decide on paint very soon though.


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9 hours ago, 87Warrior said:

Nice synopsis of your build progress! Makes me want to start back in on my build.


Have you found the 96 fuel pump and sender to be compatible with the 97+ gear?


Do you recall where you bought the Agate trim paint? How much did you need?


Thanks.  I should have started the post when I first got the mj back in January but I'm not very social :P


The fuel pump and sender seem to be compatible since 96 was an odd year for parts.  I read about it in another build on here that was semi recent and I can't remember who's it was but he painted it white.  The sender and gauge worked for about a day.  I'm not sure why it stopped but it always reads full now.  The arm either got hung up or one of my wires in the plug may have come undone.  I haven't really had time to troubleshoot it.  I also haven't verified the pressure at my rail either, I did it all on faith in that other build lol.


The agate paint I got from amazon https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00G6ILI24/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 .  This stuff nearly doubled in price since I got it.  I thought it was kinda pricey at 12 bucks a can and I used 2 cans for the big b pillar trim, under door trim, and a pillar trim.


In other news, I rolled the truck out into the sun to get a better look at the test fender





I think it's ok.  The problem is that I don't know if I want to settle on just ok.  It might look a lot better with the fender flare and a few other pieces on it for contrast.


 I want something more like this but I'm not sure if I have the skill to spray it and make it look good.  I would definitely have to setup a makeshift booth to spray it.


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Clear coat makes a big difference.  That looks like a pretty flat finish now, but with clear on it, it will shine up quite a bit.  If you want that metalic look though, you'll have to switch paint.  I can't imagine the metalic being much harder to spray, if at all.   Just practice a little with it on a scrap piece of cardboard or something and you should be good to go! 

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On 9/13/2017 at 6:37 AM, Dzimm said:

Clear coat makes a big difference.  That looks like a pretty flat finish now, but with clear on it, it will shine up quite a bit.  If you want that metalic look though, you'll have to switch paint.  I can't imagine the metalic being much harder to spray, if at all.   Just practice a little with it on a scrap piece of cardboard or something and you should be good to go! 


I manned up and ordered some bc/cc in this color :



I'm going at the bodywork pretty hard this week.




21 hours ago, jeep690 said:

Awesome work! I wish I had your motivation. I know your in PA but would you mind coming down to VA to help me with my swap?:brows:

Thanks, too bad you weren't closer!

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7 hours ago, Skorpyo said:


Nice color, what brand / color / source did you use? I'm considering a very similar color for my MJ repaint eventually. TIA

Gun metal grey metallic from The Coating Store.  http://shop.thecoatingstore.com/Gunmetal-Grey-Metallic-Basecoat-Clearcoat-Car-Paint-Kit-MGCGM108-BCCKIT.htm?categoryId=-1

Not really a name brand or anything but we'll see.  Hoping it's way better than the rattle cans I almost caved and used.


For today, the xj keeps on giving! Hoping this helps keep the rear-endings to a minimum.



Also sanded between the cab and the bed, popped some dents out, and stripped the doors





I plan on attacking the bed tomorrow and fixing more of the highs and lows.



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  • 2 weeks later...

About 90% with the bodywork.  Still have a few little spots to address and I need to hit the edges of everything.  Not looking for perfect but I think it will be pretty good










I took another week of vacation and of course it was the one week that the temp went over 90 for 5 days.  In garage temp broke 100 a few times. Lots of sweat and trying to not sweat on the clean metal.  I have the final sanding left to do all over and a little bit of work left on the edge then it's off to paint next week.


I'm still going back and forth on going with a body colored grill or black grill.  The plan right now is to get this grill and headlight trim painted with the rest of the truck and pick up another grill and trim and paint them black and see which set I like more.  Also narrowing down my choices in tires and wheels.  The discount tire direct sale should be happening shortly.

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