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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Southeast TJ By West

Posted in Features on November 1, 2010
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Mike West has his priorities right. A landlord by trade, Mike and wife Lynn go four-wheeling whenever and wherever possible. "Work" doesn't encroach; Mike simply has his storage-space and trailer-park managers deposit the rent checks.

Currently based in West Monroe, Louisiana (but looking to relocate to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to be closer to the Superlift ORV Park), Mike has hit most of the big four-wheeling events in the country at least once. He's also visited a majority of the private off-road parks. Mike's '97 Jeep Wrangler TJ, which he bought new, has evolved over the years as he sees more places and meets more Jeepers.

With two major suspension companies in his hometown, Mike has volunteered his services as a product tester for both Skyjacker and Superlift. He currently runs a 7-inch Black Diamond X2 lift kit by Superlift. This kit is the second-generation version of the industry-changing Black Diamond XCL coilover-conversion kit introduced by Warn prior to the winch company selling its suspension division to Superlift.

Mike's TJ was a lab rat for X2 development. The original Black Diamond XCL converted leafs to coils, the first production kit targeted to hardcore rock-crawlers who wanted a long-travel suspension. For the second-generation X2, Superlift engineers used a street/trail approach. The goal was to maximize off-road wheel travel without submarining road handling at highway speeds.

Both kits go against the prevailing wisdom at the times of their respective debuts: old-school Jeepers initially puked at the thought of replacing traditional leaf springs with coils. Now that the factory Wranglers use coils at all four corners, the X2 once again goes against the grain by replacing the rear coils with SOA leaf packs. This does sacrifice a little wheel travel on the RTI ramp. However, the real-world advantage is better-controlled articulation. Weight transfer is much more predictable. Superlift banked on usable travel being preferable to turtle travel (i.e. body roll that puts the Jeep on its side or lid) where suspension performance isn't much of a factor.

The front suspension is a long-arm system that anchors the aft end of the link arms to the frame rails, independent of the tranny mount and belly pan. All four link arms use Superlift's Rockrunner design: threaded DOM tubing that uses swiveling ends with a combo of urethane and OE steel-encased rubber bushings. Because the arms pivot on themselves, they have bind-free articulation (in contrast to Heim ends). The threaded ends also permit caster to be set accurately. Finally, the arms are contoured to allow maximum ground clearance and full lock-to-lock steering.

Mike's TJ still runs prototype Superlift SSR monotube coilovers with remote reservoirs. The production system uses one-piece variable rate Superlift coils (to minimize noise) over Superlift SS monotube shocks by Bilstein. A Currie Enterprises Antirock swaybar system controls front body roll while being droop-friendly. Steering is upgraded with a complete PSC ram-assist system, including linkage, pump, and remote fluid reservoir.

The X2 installation was completed by Off-Road Innovations of West Monroe, Louisiana, and used the kit's optional Dana 60 mounts. Larry Conville of RockCrusher supplied a pair of the company's high-pinion Dana 60s. The RockCrusher units feature additional oil galleries to keep the pinion bearing well-lubed, disc brakes, and reinforced covers. Detroit Lockers and 4.88 gears were also installed. Based on trail conversations, Mike decided to add Longfield 300M front axleshafts for a little extra lifetime-warranted insurance. Tom Wood's 1350 driveshafts connect the RockCrusher 60s to a 4.3:1 low-ranged Atlas II transfer case. The auto trans remains stock.

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For power, Mike has resisted the Hemi-conversion temptation. Instead, he added a few more horses with a Superchips FlashPaq tuner and a Magnaflow exhaust system. The engine compartment also has an ARB electric compressor, which feeds a remote tank to provide onboard air.

Because Mike, wife Lynn, and their Schnauzer-mix named Wrangler, spend more hours in their Jeep than average owners, comfort and convenience were priorities. Mastercraft Baja RS seats and harnesses serve this purpose. The West's also have the Mastercraft slip-on seat covers for inclement weather around the Bestop Halftop. A Cobra CB serves as traditional on-trail communications; additional entertainment comes from a Sony sound system. Josh Cooper at Off-Road Innovations installed and customized a Blue Torch cage kit.

The TJ's body is tweaked for sheetmetal preservation and maximum articulation. Poison Spyder 3-inch tube fenders increase wheel-well clearance and are tied together by Poison Spyder Rocker Knockers. All the armor was powdercoated a color-matched red by A1 in West Monroe, Louisiana. For warm-weather wheeling, Mike removes his factory windshield and runs a Lexan unit from Thompson Motor Sports, also in West Monroe.

The rear bumper/tire carrier is also Poison Spyder-issue. Mike sourced the LED taillights from Mud Connection 4x4 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. KC spotlights illuminate obstacles on night runs, and Mike secures tools and recovery gear in a Tuffy lockbox underneath the Bestop Halftop's deck cover. For trail runs, Mike stashes a Q Industries/Smittybilt air compressor in the cargo area as a portable complement to the ARB underhood compressor.

A former drag-boat racer, Mike West isn't one to sit around idly and be semi-retired. And the Winnebago Warrior M.O. is too sedate for his permanent-vacation lifestyle. Although Jeep projects are never done, Mike West has his set up to take him and Lynn most places they want to go: north, south, east, or west.

PhotosView Slideshow


Vehicle: 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ
Owner: Mike West
Hometown: West Monroe, LA
Engine: 4.0L I-6
Induction: MPI
Transmission: 42RLE four-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Atlas II
Low Range Ratio: 4.3:1
Front End: RockCrusher Dana 60, Longfield axle shafts
Rear End: RockCrusher Dana 60
Ring and Pinion: 4.88
Front Differential: Detroit Locker
Rear Differential: Detroit Locker
Suspension: Black Diamond 7-inch X2 kit, front coilovers, Superlift SSR remote-reservoir shocks, Currie Antirock swaybars, Black Diamond Torque Fork traction bar
Tires: 39x13.50-17 BFGoodrich Krawler T/A Red Labels
Wheels: 17x9 Walker Evans Beadlocks
Backspacing: 3.5 inches

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