How To Take A YJ To The Next Level
Tony Pellegrino of Simi Valley, California, says that he just didn't know any better when he selected an '87 Jeep Wrangler YJ as the foundation for building his trail rig. He wasn't worried about frame strength since the YJ is pretty solid in that department, but he was discouraged by the selection of available aftermarket parts for this vehicle. After searching high and low for parts that would meet his needs, he eventually abandoned any hope of finding what he wanted and started making up plans to build his own. Soon after came the launch of Gen-Right Off Road and a full line of YJ-specific parts for those eager to expand upon this oft-ignored Jeep model.
With 38 years of wheeling experience at both recreational and racing levels, Tony has visited many hard-core wheeling destinations. Some of his favorites being the Hammer Trails, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and of course Moab and the Rubicon Trail. Upon each trail, however, he found that the short wheelbase of his YJ left it largely deficient in tackling most obstacles. To make things better, Tony stretched the wheelbase 5 inches in the rear and 2 inches up front to total 100 inches. The wheelbase stretch was accomplished using Gen-Right's EXT Stretch kit, which includes an EXT gas tank and skidplate, a pair of rear corner guards with wider wheel openings, and a set of stretched rocker guards. A set of Gen-Right's Boulder Series front tube fenders was also installed.
Although the EXT Stretch kit created the foundation for a wheelbase stretch, it was still necessary to alter the factory leaf-spring suspension arrangement to actually achieve the stretch. The front suspension received the Gen-Right Builders three-link suspension, which was paired with a set of Fox 14-inch travel, 2.5-inch air shocks. The rear received the Builders triangulated four-link and outboard-mounted King 14-inch travel, 2-inch air shocks that offer more than 36 inches of extended length. Rear suspension movement is also assisted by Air Lift adjustable air springs. With the suspension components in place, there was enough space for a set of 40x13.50R17 Goodyear MT/R tires mounted on 17x9 American Eagle wheels equipped with OMF beadlocks.
The factory 4.2L I-6 engine resides under the hood and is relatively stock with the exception of a Mopar EFI conversion and a K&N air filter. Tony attributes the engine's longevity to the fact that he's maintained it using only AmsOil synthetic oil. The stock five-speed transmission is still in place, but the stock transfer case was ditched in favor of an Atlas II with a 5:1 low ratio and 1350 outputs. The tranny and T-case are protected by an aluminum flat-belly skidplate. Dynatrac ProRock 60 axles sit at the front and rear of the YJ, both with 5.38 gears and Detroit Lockers. The front ProRock 60 axle uses Dynatrac's high-steer arms and heavy-duty steering components, and a Gen-Right track bar is also in place.
After four times of calling it finished, Tony looks back and wishes he'd just done it "right" the first time. But that's the pitfall of building a custom rig. His favorite mods are the 100-inch wheelbase stretch, the beefy Dana 60 axles, and the fact that he fits 40-inch tires but still retains a relatively low ride height. A definite indication that he will soon call his YJ finished for a fifth time, Tony expressed a dislike for the EFI kit on the 4.2L I-6. Considering how capable and adventure-ready his YJ has become, he says the money and time spent on the EFI system should have gone toward the purchase of a 5.3L Vortec V8 engine and auto transmission from a late-model Chevy Suburban. Despite his own misgivings, however, we think Tony did a fine job on the build, creating a shining example of how to take a Jeep YJ to the next level.