Image: David Tracy

What do you do when the Jeep pickup that you’ve been neglecting for three years needs a transmission rebuild, but you don’t want to bother your friends to help wrench? You yank that gearbox by yourself. Very carefully. Here’s how I did it without killing myself, and how the process made me fall back in love with a truck I should probably sell.

I bought the truck back in my pre-Jalopnik days with plans to do a full restoration. But with the new job came a desire to focus on writing about the amazing things that can be done with dirt cheap junkers.

Fast forward three years, and I’ve turned three rust-buckets into road trip-worthy, off-roadable machines. It’s been fun, and my new $500 postal Jeep promises to continue the trend.

The J10, though, has sat in my backyard, neglected, with a bad transmission bearing, a rusted-out exhaust system, and some Fe2O3 holes in the back of the cab and door jamb. I’ve said I’d get back to fixing it multiple times, even using a bird’s nest as an excuse to delay wrenching. But only this weekend did I finally get around to taking the first step needed to get this beautiful full-size Jeep back on the road, so that I could sell the machine for a decent price to someone who can treat it like the Jeep Truck Royalty it truly is.

The only problem is, removing the truck’s transmission and transfer case made me realize why I wanted the J10 in the first place.

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Though I woke up yesterday morning with every muscle in my body aching, the extraction was fairly easy, and I was able to do it by myself without dying a single time.

The first thing I did was remove (read: break) the bolts holding down the bench seat, and take that awesome throne out of the cab. Then I undid the transfer case shift lever from the transmission inspection cover, and unscrewed the dozen or so fasteners holding that inspection cover to the top of the trans tunnel. From there, it was just another dozen or so bolts to get the shift tower off the transmission, revealing the glorious transmission innards:

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Things looked pretty good in there, actually. The synchros and gears appeared to be in decent shape, so I found it odd that the bearings decided to eat themselves (actually, it appears to be something wrong with the needle rollers). In any case, this sucker was coming out.

I crawled under the truck, and undid both driveshafts from the transfer case, removed the speedometer cable, and yanked the drain plug from the four-wheel drive gearbox. Then I just positioned my transmission jack underneath, and undid the five bolts holding the transfer case to the transmission.

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I ratcheted the trans jack’s strap tightly around the transfer case, and rocked it back and forth a bit until the two gearboxes separated. From there, I just lowered the transmission jack, untied the transfer case from it, and gently wiggled the T-case onto the pavement.

Then I jacked up the frame up with a floor jack to give some more clearance, and pulled the case of gears out from under the truck, at which point I carried its 85 pound heft into my garage, where it now sits, along with my now-sinusoidal spinal cord:

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Getting the Tremec T177 four-speed transmission out took a lot more work than extracting the New Process NP208 transfer case, because the manual gearbox actually sits on top of a frame-mounted crossmember, with a rubber trans mount between the two.

I placed a jack under the transmission, then undid the bolts holding the trans to the crossmember, as well as the eight bolts holding the crossmember to the frame. From there, I was able to lower the crossmember. Here’s a look at it as it sits now that the trans is out.

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With the crossmember out of the way, and the trans jacked up, I had to undo the transmission from the engine. This meant first placing a jack stand under the engine, since its rear would no longer be supported once it was divorced from the trans.

My oil pan is a strong, steel one with a thick metal skid plate. Between that, and the piece of wood I placed on top of the jack stand, I wasn’t too concerned with damaging my oil pan.

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Getting to the top bellhousing bolts wasn’t hard at all thanks to the opening created by removing the transmission inspection cover. Check out that awesome access to the bolts:

Removing the starter motor, clutch linkage, and lower bellhousing bolts wasn’t even remotely hard, and while undoing a little exhaust tube that ran under the transmission was a bit annoying, it wasn’t too bad, either:

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In no time, I had the transmission strapped to the transmission jack, ready to come down to earth. I gently lowered the trans until the engine oil pan sat firmly on the jack stand, then I pushed and pried on the transmission until it separated from the engine.

There was a bit of a problem once the transmission was on the ground, namely that I couldn’t get it out from underneath the truck, since the bellhousing was so tall. But all I had to do, there, was undo the four bolts holding the bellhousing to the transmission gear box. I was then able to pull the entire housing up through the inspection cover, and then place it on a table in my garage, where it now sits:

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The transmission gearbox I was able to slide on its side under the truck’s frame rail, at which point I lifted its roughly-85-pound-mass into my house, where it now awaits a rebuild:

As the temperature drops here in the Detroit area, I’ll be able to stay inside rebuilding this transmission, before popping it back into the truck, which currently sits in my driveway, transmission and transfer case-less:

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Notice how on the clutch cover above, you can read the date “16 Dec 84.” Yes, that’s almost certainly the original clutch, for which I’ve already purchased a replacement:

Anyway, the point to all this, is that wrenching on this truck has already been so much easier than wrenching on my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle. And its simplicity—the tiny gearbox with the cable-actuated clutch, the small inline-six engine that leaves plenty of room for wrenches, and the bench seat—give the truck soul. How could I possibly part ways with this thing?

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But surely I can’t get rid of the gorgeous Golden Eagle, right? Maybe I just keep both, and store them in a Harbor Freight portable garage to prevent them from rusting out until I get around to them?

Oh boy.