A TJ Unlimited Retires In Style
Where do Hawaiians go to retire? After living in paradise, it's hard to imagine what change of venue would be a change for the better. After an illustrious career as a rental Jeep in Hawaii, this '06 TJ Unlimited somehow found its way to a pre-owned car lot in Poway, California. Steve Hallin met the Unlimited there and brought it home to roost in Lake Elsinore, California. This TJ gives new meaning to the idea of "active retirement."
"I had an '82 CJ-7 for a while," Steve shares. "Every year for 12 years, I'd take it out to Death Valley for New Year's and go exploring. Eventually, I sold the CJ-7 to my business partner so I could get a boat and a trailer. As it turned out, I missed the Jeep a lot." At one point, Steve got a ride in his former CJ, and he knew he'd been missing out. "I wanted to get back into it. The CJ was a great Jeep, but I had to re-do almost everything on it because it was older. I decided to get a TJ because there were more suspension options and because the newer Jeep wouldn't have so many bugs to be worked out."
The buildup story follows a familiar pattern: the snowball effect. Gen-Right products first made their way onto the newly-purchased TJ: a roll cage, a rear tire carrier, rocker panel protectors, and front tube fenders. With the protection in place, it was time for a suspension kit, and Fabtech's 8-inch long-arm suspension system got the nod. The snowball effect really began when the 37-inch Goodyear MT/R's on Walker Evans beadlock wheels were bolted up. The stock axles weren't strong enough to withstand the stress brought on by the big donuts. Solid Axle Dana 60s were the answer, and Steve went for the strength of kingpins up front. Roll cage? Check. Body protection? Check. Suspension? Check. Tires and wheels? Check. Every box seemed checked except one: the powertrain. The stock 4.0L inline six is a good engine, but it lacked the oomph to move the meaty 37s authoritatively, not to mention the weight added by the `cage, body protection, and the one-ton axles.
Even though engine swaps have been done often enough to have become commonplace in the trail world, the truth is that an engine swap is still a major undertaking and needs to be done right. Add in the strict rules the State of California imposes, and you've got the recipe for expensive trial-and-error. Steve tuned to Pomona Gear for a 5.7L Hemi swap. Sam and his crew at Pomona Gear got the Hemi drive train installed, along with the essential (and often elusive) CARB approval needed to stay street legal.
It's hard to think of a better retirement package for a hard-working Hawaiian rental Jeep, as Hawaii's wet climate leads many a chassis down the destructive road to rust. Instead of rusting away, it's been re-located to the drier climate of the mainland, and outfitted with hardcore hardware. The Jeep has a variety of trails close at hand, and now has an owner who's ready to explore them all. For this TJ Unlimited, the good life has just begun.