So, I just go through pulling the motor from this 2002 Rubicon, let me tell you all what I found...
Motor was pristine inside, except the oil pump chain was so loose it could almost fall off. No metal anywhere, no shavings in the oil screens etc. Hondamatic *seemed* fine, spun smooth etc.
I decided to spend $250 on an oil pump and gaskets and Hondabond and simply replaced the oil pump.
Just put it back together and it runs like new. Very strong, none of the ratcheting/grinding sounds like before.
I know that many people wind up the this same situation and I would humbly offer these pointers to anyone with possible problems with these older Rubicons.
1.) Check your oil pressure. My pressures went from 10-25psi to 40-125psi with the new pump. If your Rubicon starts to shift poorly and have "transmission" problems start here. Also, stop driving it, it might save the Hondamatic
2.) I used the closest standard thread size with lots of pipe tape instead of purchasing the adapter. I got 3/4 of a turn by hand and did not damage the metric treads.
3.) The motor is a big puzzle, but someone with some mechanical inclination and a reasonable set of tools will be able to do this job. Its a great excuse to get on of these 3/8 cordless electric impact drivers.
4.) If you decide to tackle an oil pump change you will need:
a manual - indispensable for me
a flywheel puller flywheel puller
a clutch puller clutch puller
a new oil pump chain
a gasket kit
lots of organization
All in all this project took a week of evenings, but waiting for the above tools/parts made it take 2 weeks start to finish.
One glitch that I haven't figured out is while in reverse. I sift the sub tranny into reverse and the display and shift lever are both in the "R" position. the wheels turn backward but the motors spits and sputters. The motor runs perfectly in forward, but it runs terrible in reverse. Any ideas.