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2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Fire Ant

Rear Axle
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted February 1, 2002
Photographers: Randall Jachmann, Rick Russell

Like The Fierce Little Insect, This TJ Wrangler Packs A Wallop!

Fire ants build mounds that can be more than 2 feet above ground and 6 feet below, and they're known for their tenacity and fierce demeanor. Fire ants' enemies quickly find out that the little insects have a sting that belies their small size. When John Currie finished building his latest rockcrawling TJ, his brother Ray suggested they call it the Fire Ant since the shrunken Jeep TJ turned out to be as capable and nasty as the little insect.

John started with the burned-out hull of a late-model TJ Wrangler. Knowing a narrower body might negotiate squeezes better, John cut 3-1/4 inches from each side of the tub and took 6-1/2 inches from the hood and the grille. After running Fire Ant in one competition, John cut off the back half of the body and the chassis, where the rear control arms mount to the frame, and replaced everything with a tube frame and replaceable rear quarter panels with no rear floor. He also built and installed a custom fiberglass hood and aluminum front fenders.

The Curries like power and wanted to install a V-8 into the Fire Ant. In the past, all Currie V-8 swaps used Chevrolet or Ford engines. This time, John was able to salvage an almost-new 4.7L Power Tech V-8 and a high-tech five-speed automatic transmission from a Grand Cherokee. This accomplished two things: The Curries were able to show off their technical expertise by performing this difficult swap and making it work, and it kept Mopar parts under the hood. For years, DaimlerChrysler has been upset that most Jeeps get Chevrolet power, or, if not Chevy, Ford. Hardly anyone tries to use late-model Jeep or Chrysler engines because there are no wiring harnesses, motor mounts, or any other swap pieces for the Mopar mills. For a while, Mopar Performance was going to produce a swap kit for Jeeps, but, as usual, the person in charge of that was transferred and corporate policy shifted away from that program. Regardless, that's why there are more Chevy and Ford V-8s under Jeep hoods than there are Jeep.

The engine not only went into the abbreviated engine compartment, but it also looks super-clean too. The custom brass radiator from Mattson Radiator keeps things cool, and an air filter from K&N keeps things clean. The stock Cherokee exhaust manifolds were retained, but John custom-bent the exhaust system, using some off-the-shelf pieces from Currie Enterprises' TJ Wrangler system. To keep the engine running, you need fuel. A custom stainless 7-gallon gas tank was fabricated with the Cherokee fuel pump inside. John says that 7 gallons is more than enough for the rockcrawling competitions. The beefy Atlas II gear-driven transfer case from Advance Adapters also doesn't hang below the frame. The 3.01:1 Low range ratio is perfect, as is the ability to run in front- or rear-wheel drive. Cutting brakes up front and a rear hydraulic brake lock allows John to pivot the Fire Ant around in its own length.

Currie Enterprises' claim to fame is its frontends and rearends, so John pulled out all the stops to make the Fire Ant cutting-edge. Up front, a trimmed Ford 9-inch heavy-duty housing was used, complete with an integral skidplate. A Currie High Pinion 9-inch third member with 4.56 gears and a Detroit Locker keep the driveshaft out of harm's way and relieve steep driveline angles at the transfer case. The axles are 35-spline, and 1-ton knuckles were used for strength. Let's face it: With tires getting bigger and bigger, wimpy Dana 44 or Jeep CJ knuckles and axles don't cut the mustard anymore. Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners stop the TJ on a dime. In back, a Currie reverse-rotation high-clearance Dana 60 with 4.56 gears, a Detroit Locker, and a cut housing for ground clearance ensures that the Fire Ant has no rearend woes.

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