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Project TJ Buildup Review

Front Passenger Side
Christian Lee | Writer
Posted February 18, 2004
Contributors: Kevin McNulty

30,000 Miles and Still Jeepin'

We love 'wheeling our '02 Project Jeep TJ. Not that we thought we wouldn't; it's just that we really, really love 'wheeling our Project Jeep TJ. It started out simply enough, with a few parts added here and there in an effort to increase its off-road capability. But as most of you can probably relate to, new parts begat new parts, and once those buildup wheels start spinning, they're not easy to stop. Now that we've pushed the odometer past the 30,000-mile mark and have a good deal of trail miles under our belts, we figured it was about time we gave everyone an update on how all those new parts are working out.

Drivetrain
Being that we'd earned a spot on the 2002 SEMA convention floor, it was crucial that we equip our Jeep with the latest and greatest products to best represent it as the 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility poster child. Dynatrac came to the plate with a set of its Pro Rock 60 axles complete with 4.56 Precision Gears, 35-spline axle shafts, ARB Air Lockers, and Dynatrac's heavy-duty steering and disc brake options. How are they working out? Are you kidding? If any item on the TJ earns more attention than the vehicle in its entirety, it would be the Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 axles. People can't keep their eyes off them. Better yet, they're seemingly indestructible despite our blunders along the trail. We've battle-scarred the housings and covers a bit, but we've yet to find a way to break 'em.

Offering traction on demand, the ARB Air Lockers are a godsend and the Tom Woods driveshafts still look brand new. To get that low-down feeling, Tri County Gear in Pomona, California, rebuilt the TJ's NP231 transfer case using a Tera Low 231 conversion kit. The 4.0:1 gear reduction has worked fabulously, faltering only once due to a shifter linkage issue.

Engine
The 4.0L I-6 is a great motor. Once the macho-size tires and axles were in place, however, it felt and showed the hurt. AEM came forward with its Brute Force air induction system, which uses a four-layer cotton gauze air filter, a CNC-mandrel-bent air tube, and a throttle-body spacer. The kit worked great, but we took it a step further by installing Banks' headers and exhaust to achieve even higher horsepower and torque output. Our next step in addressing engine performance will involve re-flashing the computer, which we'll detail in an upcoming issue.

Suspension, Tires, and Wheels
One of the first steps in the buildup of our Project TJ was Tri County Gear's installation of a Rubicon Express 5.5-inch Extreme Duty suspension system. The Rubicon kit has been an incredible asset to our TJ. Even sitting on stock axles with just a rear OX Locker, the TJ benefited greatly from the installation, with off-road capability improving tenfold. The kit permitted use of 35x12.50R15 Pro Comp Xterrains mounted to 15x10-inch Allied bead locks, both of which served us well in the vehicle's first journey to Moab. Once the Dynatrac axles were in place, we opted to jump up the tire size and mounted a set of 37x12.50R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain A/T KM tires on 17x10-inch Allied bead locks. The BFG Muds are a classic set of meats and performed exceptionally well on and off the road. We also installed Tri County Gear's 1-inch body lift to create more space beneath the fenders for the taller tires. A set of 37x12.50R17 BFG Krawler T/A KO tires came next and again held true to BFG's commitment to quality and performance. The latest rubber beneath our TJ is a set of 37x13.50R16 Mickey Thompson Baja Claws mounted to 16x10-inch MT Classic II wheels, which we reviewed in this month's issue.

Regarding shocks, we first used a set of Old Man Emu gas-pressurized units recommended by Rubicon Express. The Emus worked well with the new suspension and never let us down. A set of 12-inch-travel, 2-inch-diameter Bilstein 7100 Series remote reservoir shocks came next and have since served as the TJ's main set of jouncers. The 7100 Series shocks have performed very well on every terrain we've tackled and assist greatly in vehicle handling.

The latest step we've taken in addressing our TJ's suspension and handling performance was the installation of front and rear Currie Antirock antisway bars. This not only made our lives easier in that we never have to disconnect the antisway bar, but it also increased on-road vehicle control and handling by enabling us to preload the suspension for a much smoother and more fluid ride.

Body Armor, Interior, and Trail Equipment
It seems a shame to spend all that time building a nice rig just to take it out and beat on it, but that's the name of the game when conquering trails is your hobby. We've taken a number of precautions in warding off the inevitable rock damage. Bulletproof bumpers reside in the front and rear, and also serve as air tanks to the Kilby Enterprises engine-driven air system. The front bumper houses a Ramsey Patriot 8000 winch, which we've only had to use twice to assist other people, and a set of Light Force lights that we wired into the stock foglamp switch. The rear bumper offers a swing-out tire carrier and Hi-Lift jack mount, in addition to optional jerrycan mounts. Tomken Rocker Skids protect the side panels and have the scratches to prove their worth. A set of Warrior Products steel corners has also saved the stock panels from damage. Finally, a steering box skidplate from Skidrow Automotive keeps the AGR steering box well out of harm's way.

In making the interior more suitable for our means of use, we had T&J Performance Center create a six-point rollcage based on the stock roll bar. We also installed a console, glovebox, and storage/speaker boxes from Tuffy Security Products to keep our loose items stowed and secure, and a set of Mastercraft Rubicon seats and restraints to keep our rear in place.

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