A Solid-Axle KJ Reaches New Heights
Why a Liberty? We figured it was the first question that most people ask John Mathys about his 2003 Jeep Liberty, so we asked him, too. Simply stated, John wanted something different from your everyday trail rig. The Liberty was also a good fit for his family and gear for weekend runs to any of his favorite destinations near his Lancaster, California, home. The trails in Big Bear, Johnson Valley, and Calico top the list but John has also made hauls to Moab, the Rubicon, and trails in Arizona, as well.
John is no stranger to the four-wheel drive and automotive worlds. He's been active in the sport of four-wheeling for the last 10 years and is also an independent dealer for Amsoil, operating HotRodOil.com. Not surprisingly John's Liberty is full of Amsoil synthetic fluids, including; Severe Gear 75W110 gear lube in the differentials, 5W30 Amsoil ASL oil and filter in the engine, Amsoil ATF in the transmission and transfer case, Amsoil Extended Service antifreeze, and Amsoil brake fluid.
When it came to building his Liberty John didn't have to look far for a shop that was well-versed in building such vehicles. All J Products in Big Bear, California, has churned out scads of well-constructed Jeep Libertys, and was plenty capable of producing a similarly-equipped machine for Johns needs. First item on the agenda was to remove the independent front suspension components and replace them with a high-pinion Dana 30 solid front axle. The rear axle was replaced with a Dana 44 from a South American Jeep Liberty KJ. The axles were located using an Nth Degree/AEV long arm suspension system with a custom flat belly skid plate and JKS relocated track bars. The suspension was further complemented with a Currie Anti-Rock sway bar system and Fox 2.5-inch coil-over shocks up front and 12-inch travel Bilstein 5150 shocks and Old Man Emu coil springs in the rear. Offering about 8 inches of lift the suspension setup permits use of 33-inch tires.
Continuing the upgrades John had All J Products install a Rubicon NVG241OR 4:1 transfer case behind the factory 42RLE four-speed auto trans and 3.7L V-6. The new T-case was mated to the axles using new heavy-duty driveshafts from J.E. Reel. An All J Products front bumper was installed and John fabricated a winch mount to fit a Warn 8,000-pound winch wrapped with synthetic rope from winchline.com. Out back a Rock Lizard rear bumper with an All J Products' rear tire carrier was added, and All J's Boulder Bars rocker guards were also installed. John completed the build with a variety of interior components.
While John's Liberty certainly turned out as he expected and desired there were still a few changes he wishes he had applied from the start. Tire size tops the list. The 33-inch Maxxis Big Horn Radials are great on the trail and pavement but he would have been a bit more capable on 35s; a change that will be applied sooner than later. John also feels that aftermarket axle assemblies would have been the hot ticket. The Dana 30/Dana 44 combo is working well, but a Dana 44/Dana 60 combo might work even better.
Like all builds, John's Liberty is far from being "finished". There are always more plans on the horizon and the items mentioned above are just a couple of the possibly slated changes. In addition to All J Products, John credits many others for their assistance with the build, including: Frank Hayes for the differential work; Rock Lizard Fabrications for the rear bumper; HotRodOil.com for the Amsoil lubrication and filter products; and his wife and kids for encouraging him to pursue the build.