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The Wild One

Posted in Features on July 23, 2002
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Jesse Meyer owns Mudder Truckers, a four-wheel-drive shop based in Milford, Ohio. He and friend/coworker Nick Allen have considerable experience modifying customers' Jeeps, having done numerous suspension, driveline, and steering upgrades -- and everything in between. But this was the first time that Jesse had done so much custom work on one vehicle. It proved to be a learning experience.

Unlike the vehicles that customers brought into his shop, this one was his pet project and there was no strict plan laid out by the vehicle's owner. He had basic ideas of what he wanted and made each step of the process work before moving on to the next. Once he got started, though, he couldn't stop, and it wasn't too long before he had torn out the axles. The next five months were spent radically modifying his TJ. Now this beast is virtually unrecognizable as the Wrangler it once was; it can tackle anything in its path, be it land or water.

It all started three days after Meyer bought his 2000 Jeep Wrangler, when he put a 3-inch lift and 33-inch tires underneath. Soon he had the axles out, and then bolted in a Dana 60 up front and a GM 14-bolt in the rear, both equipped with 4.56 gears and Detroits. He then lengthened the wheelbase by 20 inches. For serious 'crawling, he installed a custom four-link suspension that uses Skyjacker shocks in back and Race Runner coilovers up front. Overall, he gained 8 inches of lift.

For easier steering chores, Meyer replaced the stock steering with an AGR setup and then replaced the stock gas tank with a fuel cell for better ground clearance. STM disc brakes were bolted in at all four corners, joined by Eaton 15x10 bead locks wrapped in immense 39.5x15R15 Super Swampers.

The modifications continued on the body where the only indicators that this is a TJ are the familiar grille and headlights and the vehicle's overall shape. The blue Wrangler uses a M.U.D. (Mudder Truckers') custom rollcage and modified bumpers, a custom brushguard, and fender extensions. Jesse also cut the hood, added a Warn winch, installed a Teraflex Belly-Up skidplate, and welded on front and rear trusses.

Jesse says that the stock engine and transmission do the job for now, but for low-down gearing he swapped the stock T-case for an Atlas II 4.3. Of course, that doesn't mean his work is done. He recently bought another TJ, equipped with a four-cylinder and a five-speed, which will someday inherit the I-6 and automatic from the blue TJ. This one will be getting a new engine and transmission, probably a tuned-port V-8 and a 700-R4. There are other plans as well, which he describes as "odds and ends" that he wants to perfect.

Even though there were obstacles, challenges, and problems to overcome with every component he installed on this Jeep, Jesse is building another Jeep as well. (For those of you keeping score, that makes three.) Jesse has also purchased a CJ, which he is going to turn into a tube-frame crawler. His goal is to bring the weight of the vehicle down to 2,500 to 3,000 pounds to make it both lightweight and nimble. Seeing what he has done to this TJ, it will be interesting to see what innovations he can add to the more conventional CJ.

02024wd 01zoom+2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ+Drivers Side View On Mound
02024wd 02zoom+2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ+Front Passengers Side View Driving In Water
<br>The Dana 60 frontend is equipped with 4.56 gears and a Detroit locker. Note the custom truss. An AGR power steering setup makes moving the 39-inch Swampers a breeze.
The Dana 60 frontend is equipped with 4.56 gears and a Detroit locker. Note the custom truss. An AGR power steering setup makes moving the 39-inch Swampers a breeze.
<br>Meyer swapped out the stock suspension for a M.U.D. custom four-link setup that uses Race Runner coilovers up front. Overall, he gained 8 inches of lift.
Meyer swapped out the stock suspension for a M.U.D. custom four-link setup that uses Race Runner coilovers up front. Overall, he gained 8 inches of lift.
<br>With the exception of an Optima battery and a K&N filter, the engine bay remains stock. And while the stock tranny does a serviceable job on the trail, Meyer did opt to swap in an Atlas II T-case.
With the exception of an Optima battery and a K&N filter, the engine bay remains stock. And while the stock tranny does a serviceable job on the trail, Meyer did opt to swap in an Atlas II T-case.
<br>A beefy GM 14-bolt axle replaced the puny Dana 35. It runs 4.56 gears and a Detroit locker. Note that the gas tank was removed for better ground clearance. The TJ now runs a fuel cell in the cargo area.
A beefy GM 14-bolt axle replaced the puny Dana 35. It runs 4.56 gears and a Detroit locker. Note that the gas tank was removed for better ground clearance. The TJ now runs a fuel cell in the cargo area.
<br>Supporting the Warn winch up front is a fully custom bumper that is tied directly into the frame.
Supporting the Warn winch up front is a fully custom bumper that is tied directly into the frame.
02024wd 08zoom+2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ+Side View Step

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