Here is my website, you can see some other additions since I wrote up the initial build, the website also has photos of the build;
Our family likes to camp and explore the back country. We visit ghost towns, abandoned mines and other sights off the beaten path. My son, Jack and I do a little prospecting from time to time. We needed a reliable off road rig. It has to be ready to hit the highway, be towed behind our camper, cruise down fire roads without beating us to death, crawl over desert trails to remote ghost towns and above all, make it back every time. I would be trusting this rig to haul my son, Jack, my wife, Crystal and me all over the back roads of southern California.
We already had a 1997 Jeep Wrangler 4.0 liter Sport with an automatic transmission that we flat towed behind our 1999 Ford F350 Superduty Crewcab with the legendary 7.3 liter Powerstroke diesel engine. Mounted on the F350 we have a 1999 Lance 1010 Camper. I wanted to be able to still flat tow the Jeep when we go camping.
To get this project started I visited a few of the local 4x4 shops and settled on T&J Performance in Orange, California to do the majority of the work on our Jeep. The crew at T & J Performance race a 1997 TJ in the Jeep Speed series, they have a full shop and are working on a wide variety of rigs from vintage Jeepsters and CJs to race ready XJs, old broncos and various race trucks. You can even rent a Jeep Speed racer from them. Mike, Tom and Jake were very helpful and offered a number of suggestions on equipment and set up that proved useful. They even let me take their Jeep Speed TJ for a spin to see how the lift kit handled.
Here’s the game plan;
The stock TJ Sport came with a Dana 30 with disc brakes in the front and a Dana 35c with drum brakes in the back. We upgraded to Dana 44 Rubicon axle housings from the Mopar catalog, these were stuffed with Alloy USA Inc. chromemoly axle shafts, bearings and a 4.88 heavy duty ring and pinion set to turn bigger tires. ARB air lockers were installed front and back, these include the ARB air compressor with the tire airing kit. Heavy duty Barnett differential cover/skid plates were installed to further harden the axles. The rear is built with 32 spline axles, the front with 30 spline axles. A Warn manual locking hub kit provides serviceable tapered roller bearings in the front axle (the stock TJ front bearings are non-serviceable). The Warn hubs also improved towing characteristics. In order to upgrade to the heavy duty Warn hubs required a change to a 5 on 5 1/2” wheel lug pattern (stock is 5 on 4 1/2” on the TJ), since we are building new axles front and rear this is not a problem. Adding disc brakes on rear axle was also a gimme’. T & J performed a transmission service and a transfer case rebuild before buttoning up the underbelly with the skid pans that come with the lift kit. These parts and services provide a big improvement in strength, traction, stopping power, reliability and rebuildablity over the stock set up.
Having committed to bigger tires, it was time to choose a lift kit. I wanted a long arm kit for the improvement in suspension geometry. We were looking for better ground clearance, increased articulation and a better ride over the washboard roads that are so common in the deserts. After perusing articles in various magazines and thumbing through a bunch of catalogs and brochures, I settled on a Rubicon Express long arm kit. I studied the specifications and discussed it with the guys at T&J and decided to go with a 5 1/2” lift so that 35 inch tires could be installed. Rubicon Express has an upgrade to their long arm kit that adds a tri-link to the rear suspension, this eliminates the track bar in the rear. We included this to further improve the handling and flex of the setup. The lift requires a transfer case tail shaft conversion to eliminate the stock slip yoke. A special drive shaft is also needed to make the stretch to the rear axle, Currie Enterprises provided these items with a CV (constant velocity) joint slip yoke eliminator kit and a CV drive shaft to match the lift. Since we have slung all of this heavy duty stuff under the little TJ we also added the CurryLync heavy duty steering tie rod and drag link. The lift kit also requires that the exhaust system must be modified to clear all of the new links, arms, plates and stuff. We decided on a MagnaFlow muffler, a “mini-cat” catalytic converter and custom bent exhaust pipe. Rubicon Express also provided the single tube, remote reservoir shock absorbers. These are build for Rubicon Express by Bilstein and are valved to match the Rubicon Express suspension, they include a sharp looking red billet bracket to mount the remote reservoir to the shock body. This Rubicon kit includes some very serious skid plates. After driving the rig for a while we made the decision to replace the stock sway bar with a Currie AntiRock set up. We didn’t do much crawling before, but with this rig we will probably start exploring a little deeper into the wilds.
Tires to run smooth and quiet on the road, as well as handle the rigors of the trail must be a compromise. I didn’t want to put up with to much tire noise at freeway speeds, but, I wanted tires that would hold up to the sharp rocks, spines and rough roads that are the norm in the southern California deserts. I chose B.F. Goodrich All Terrain Radial T/A KO in 35 x 12.5 - 15 mounted on ProComp Rock Crawler Xtreme Series 51, 15 x 8-4” back spaced black steel wheels. These tires may lean a little more to the road than the trail, this is a concession to our need to tow and use our Jeep for general transportation during camping trips. A set of 5 tires were mounted, balance and delivered to T&J Performance by Phillips Tire Company in Orange.
This completes the work done at T & J Performance.
The following additions were father/son projects that we did in our driveway;
Bumpers, there must be about a jillion of them. After EXTENSIVE research we settled on a front bumper from SFK Manufacturing/Skid Row Offroad, the NightCrawler Modular front bumper. The unique thing about this bumper is that it is comprised of bolt together parts. This may sound like it would not be as strong as a welded unit, but, if you look at the design you would agree that it is a stout unit. This bumper has an integral winch plate, crawl lights, removable/replaceable outer sections, 3/4” thick shackle plates and a 2” receiver. We added a Blue Ox tow bar bracket. A unique feature is that the outer bumper extensions can be removed if you decide to go radical on the boulders thereby providing additional approach clearance.
On the rear we went with the Rock Hard 4x4 Parts bumper/tire carrier. This unit is rated to carry up to a 38” tire and will accommodate the 5 on 5 1/2 lug pattern we used. It includes jerry can racks. A high mounted cargo rack can be added later. I liked this design because it keeps everything tucked up close to the tailgate to keep the departure angles good. It comes with a 2” receiver, (2) 5/8” x 2 1/2” D-ring shackles, the shackle tabs are welded on the inner and outer surfaces of the bumper for extra strength. The tire carrier impressed me with the strength of the pivot and latching mechanism. The pivot swings on tapered roller bearing and allows for adjustment of the bearings. I am hoping that this bumper will carry my spare tire, jerry cans and a Hilift jack and not rattle.
We installed a Warn 9.5ti Thermometric winch. This unit is very popular and I have heard many good reviews on it’s performance. To support the winch and a pair of PIAA 510 driving lights we installed an Optima yellow top battery, later a dual battery system and a bigger alternator may be added if we determine the need. We also upgraded the headlights using a Delta Tech H4 conversion kit to blue (bling!) halogen H4 type bulbs.
In the hopes of adding a few ponies to turn those big 35” tires a K&N Fuel Injection Performance Kit, Gen II was installed to complement the new freer flowing exhaust system. While the name of this add-on sounds impressive, it amounts to a new air box and a cylindrical K&N air filter.
As mentioned earlier we removed the stock sway bar assembly and installed the Currie AntiRock systems to provide more adjustability. We had to bend the AntiRock arms a little to clear the Rubicon Express brackets. Cooling is a critical factor in an off road rig. I added a FlowKooler high flow water pump to help assure a cool running ride. New hoses, belt and thermostat were installed at the same time. The old belts and hoses are packed for backups.
Communications are provided by a Galaxy DX959 CB single side band (SSB) radio mounted on a Rock-It mounting bracket. A loud speaker under the hood connects to the CB’s P.A. jack to address crowds. We use a Lowrance XOG GPS mounted on the Rock-it bracket for navigation. A speaker bar was mounted to the roll bar when we got the Jeep, it provides stereo sounds while cruising the boulevards.
To provide some storage for tools, first aide supplies and some spare parts we installed a Tuffy under seat drawer under the back fold and tumble seat. Smittybilt velcro grab handles and a velcro fire extinguisher holder to carry the B-C type fire extinguisher add some comfort and safety. A two piece hard top keeps the occupants dry and protected while still allowing the front top to be removed for some open air.
(The TJ had 137000 miles at the time this project started, it was still running strong, the 4.0 is a super engine)
T & J Performance Center http://www.tandjperformance.com/
Alloy USA Inc. http://www.alloyusa.com/
ARB Inc. http://www.arbusa.com/
Barnett Performance Products http://www.tandjperformance.com/products/products.shtml
Warn Industries http://www.warn.com/intro.shtml
Rubicon Express Inc. http://www.rubiconexpress.com/About.aspx
Currie Enterprises http://www.currieenterprises.com/
FlowMaster Inc. http://www.flowmastermufflers.com/
B.F. Goodrich, Inc. http://www.bfgoodrichtires.com/bfgapp/index.jsp
Phillips Tire Co. http://www.phillipstire.com/
Skid Row Offroad http://www.skidplates.com/
Blue Ox Inc. http://www.blueox.us/
Rock Hard 4x4 Parts http://www.rockhard4x4parts.com/
Hi-Lift Jack Co. http://www.hi-lift.com/
Optima Batteries http://www.optimabatteries.com/home.php
PIAA Corp. http://www.piaa.com/
Delta Tech Ind. http://www.deltatechindustries.com/
K&N Engineering http://www.knfilters.com/
Galaxy Radio Inc http://www.galaxyradios.com/
Tuffy Security Products http://www.tuffyproducts.com/