During a time when stretching, lifting, and adding a ton of armor was all the rage, we built a shortened, (relatively) low-riding, weight-conscious Jeep. Luckily for us, the formula worked and the Jeep known as Shrink Ray TJ, built-up in Parts 1 and 2 (Nov. ’12 and Jan. ’13 issues), is still buzzing up and down the trails and highways of the Southwest. Since completing the build, our ’97 four-cylinder TJ has been involved in a few other tech articles and is mechanically a bit different than when Part 2 of the build-up was completed.
To start, Shrinky got a lightweight set of Weld Wheels modified with OMF beadlocks and 35-inch Explorer Pro Comp MT2s (“Tight as a Tick,” June ’13). The TJ then got a set of junkyard-fresh front ZJ coils (“Super Cheap,” Aug. ’13) and a full set of JKS adjustable control arms (“Control Arm Options,” Apr. ’14) to supplement the old Rubicon Express Budget Boost. We also dropped the undergeared factory AX-5 transmission in favor of an SM420 with parts from Novak Conversions, Centerforce Clutch, and Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts (“Granny Gearing,” Nov. ’14).
Since then, the crawling ability of the little TJ has improved greatly with the SM420’s 7.03:1 First, but the on-road performance is not quite what it used to be. The SM420 is an amazing transmission, but there is one heck of a gap between Second and Third gear, meaning we have to rev the neglected and abused AMC 2.5L pretty high while merging on the highway. However, when off-road, Shrinky is simply amazing. We’ve started trying lines we know the Jeep has no business on because it’s surprised us in the past. It usually leads or follows rigs on 37s and 40s while on the trail. So far, everything has held up pretty well. We did destroy a front 4.88:1 ring-and-pinion in Johnson Valley last year, and the TJ has been on her side a few times (read: more body damage). Despite this, the windshield still has unbroken glass and the AMC 2.5L keeps on running. Our plan for the future of this rig includes more tire testing, and we’ll probably follow up with a few more crazy ideas to make the Jeep lighter and smaller.
Good, Bad, and What it’s For
As said, the gap between Second and Third gear is a bit wide for the four-cylinder engine. Also, the little Jeep gets fairly horrible gas mileage on the road, probably because we have to rev it so high to keep up speed. The 2.5L refuses to die though, and trust us, we’ve tried to kill it. It nearly hydrolocked in Moab three years ago after a flop and oil filled the intake. Also, we rarely, if ever, change the oil, the rev limiter gets a frequent workout, and the engine occasionally spins backwards when the Jeep stalls out in the rocks. Despite this, the little TJ will do 70 mph on the highway and ’crawl obstacles it should not be on.