Project MJ: Assessing And Planning

Jeep Comanche as delivered

Thursday night our new project was delivered to our new house and new garage. Nothing like jumping in head first! We’re still very much in the middle of moving, but since a truck would help with that, I spent some time this weekend evaluating its current condition, taking an inventory of all the spare parts it came with, and coming up with a plan to put it on the road.

Checking It Out

I started by installing a fresh battery. It’s been sitting so long that even though the battery it came with is only a year old, it was dead. Now that I could start and drive it, I took it for a quick spin around the block to see what it needs. The engine sounds like it’s only firing on five out of six cylinders. I filled the tank with fresh gas partway through the loop, but that didn’t seem to help. It looks like spark plugs, wires, cap, and rotor are in this Jeep’s future.

The steering feels vague compared to the BRZ, but let’s face it, that’s not a fair comparison. This isn’t rack and pinion steering, and it steers perfectly fine for a truck. I know the previous owner replaced most of the front end parts, so everything’s working as it should be. The steering wheel isn’t straight, but it’s very easy to adjust without messing with the alignment like on the cars I’m used to. The brakes work well, as I discovered when some jerk ran a stop sign in front of me. I also learned that the Comanche has one of the best stock horns I’ve ever heard. I’m not changing it.

Remember that full tank of gas I got? Well, it’s not full anymore. Unbeknownst to us, or the previous owner I imagine, the tank leaks. That’ll decrease our range a bit. So we’re catching as much as we can in a bucket. I guess that’s one more thing we’ll have to replace, since spontaneous combustion can ruin your day.

Bits And Pieces

Comanche parts

A new gas tank was not included with the Jeep, but many other parts were. The original passenger door came with it, since it now wears a non-rusty door from a newer Cherokee. We may wire up the power windows, or pull the manual regulator out of the original door and install it in the new one. We’re also pondering whether to keep the large side mirrors, or switch to the smaller kind like the Cherokee uses. The old doors also have those awesome rotating vent windows, which I’d like to keep if I can. That’s a project for later. So is replacing both front fenders with two fresh ones, from the same Cherokee that already donated its door.

We got a brand new front bumper, as well as the dented original one for parts donation. The original fog lights were included but I’m going to hold out for some modern LED lighting, and wire them into the factory switch. The interior was included, but isn’t installed right now because of the rust repair. There’s also a box with all kinds of bolts and stuff to put things back together again. I’ll check here before buying new bolts for little things like the seat belts. A new, Thrush muffler was a nice surprise, especially since it gets a bit loud when accelerating just now.

One of the best spare parts I found was a fully instrumented gauge cluster. This Comanche has what I call the “idiot light” gauge cluster, consisting only of a speedometer, fuel gauge, and three lights to tell you when things go wrong. The Cherokee I learned to drive on had the full gauge cluster, with a tach (not needed in an automatic, but whatever), coolant temperature, oil pressure, and voltage gauges. Before we even got the truck I already decided that I wanted to swap to the full cluster someday. Apparently the previous owner had the same idea, saving me the trouble of finding one.

These extras were part of the reason we went for this deal. Although it’s an unfinished project, many of the pieces to finish it were included. It’s just up to us to finish the job.

The Plan

Based on what I know, what we need, and what we want to do with the Comanche, I’ve come up with a plan of attack. First, we’ll fix what it needs to pass inspection.

  • Bolt seat belts in
  • Bolt seat in
  • Patch rust
  • Install new front bumper
  • Bolt on license plates
  • Bolt on and wire rear license plate bulb
  • Swap headlights for H4s (stock sealed beams have moisture in them and sealed beams suck anyway)
  • Swap front turn signal bulbs for amber ones
  • Install muffler if needed

In addition, the following is needed for general drivability.

  • Tune-up (plugs, wires, cap, rotor)
  • Replace or patch gas tank
  • Install battery tray and clamp

This should be enough to get it on the road and usable as my winter daily driver. At this point it becomes a rolling restoration, as we tackle the following projects before we take it to its first rally.

  • Install ham radio antenna
  • Figure out where the ECU is supposed to go and mount it out of the way
  • Plug holes in floor under seat
  • Bedliner the cab floor (no carpet to trap rust causing moisture this time)
  • Reinstall interior
  • Install ham radio
  • Replace passenger mirror
  • Replace driver’s door and front fenders
  • Install receiver hitch on back bumper

Finally, once warm weather returns, we can jump on these other projects.

  • Add driving lights
  • Replace driver’s door
  • Swap front fenders for spares
  • Repaint the whole truck to one matching color
  • Replace “idiot light” gauge cluster with fully instrumented gauge cluster
  • Replace missing metal under battery tray

At least, that’s the current plan. I’m sure things will change as we go along, and as we find new exciting problems to fix.


    1. Far away, until we decide what we want, what we’re using the truck for, and how much we want to spend. A suspension that’s great for a rock crawler won’t work so well on a fast rally stage, and vice versa.

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