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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Southeast TJ By West

Right Front Angle
Tom Morr | Writer
Posted November 1, 2010

Mike West 'Wheels His Wrangler North, South, East, And Even West

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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