While the four-door JK Unlimited seems to be the darling of the Jeep market, the TJ Unlimited (or LJ in unofficial vernacular) offers a lot of advantages on the trail. The LJ has a more maneuverable wheelbase, is narrower, less expensive, lighter, and oh by the way, it isn’t powered by a minivan engine. Not convinced yet? Take a look at Jamie Eklund’s beautiful LJ and it will be certain to win you over. The first thing you notice about Jamie’s Jeep is the tires. They are big 42-inch BFG Krawlers on 20-inch Trailready HD beadlocks. However, although the TJ Unlimited is kinda big and the tires are huge, proportionately it looks sort of like a TJ on 37s at first glance...until you see the way this Jeep mows down the trail.
The factory LJ chassis is a stout platform that didn’t require boxing or beefing around the spring hangers and steering box mount like earlier Jeeps. Still, with over 100 pounds of rolling stock hanging from each corner, a stout suspension was a requirement. Jamie chose a Rock Krawler X Factor long-arm suspension in conjunction with AEV 4.5-inch coils and TeraFlex Speed Bumps. The front changes the geometry from a four-link with a track bar to a three-link with a track bar. Using just one upper link reduces binding during articulation and allows the bushings in the 2-inch solid steel links to live a long life. Currie Antirock sway bars with aluminum arms are used front and rear to provide resistance that equates to stability on the pavement and the trail.
The rear factory four-link and track bar are replaced in the Rock Krawler suspension with a triangulated four-link that does away with the track bar. Here the lower links are designed for maximum ground clearance, while the front links are angled for tire clearance at full lock. The control arms mount to a belly pan that clamshells around the frame and is modular with three separate pieces so the whole suspension doesn’t need to be removed to service the drivetrain. Both ends use Rock Krawler RRD 2.0 13-inch-travel fluted aluminum shocks that are valved for Jamie’s Unlimited.
Jamie’s LJ is pretty pedestrian upstream of the axles, but then again none of the components have given him any reason to throw his checkbook at them. The 4.0L provides all the torque you could need on the trail, but even with the Airaid intake and a Magnaflow muffler it does run out of steam on the freeway. From there power is routed through the factory 42RE four-speed automatic to an NV241 Rock-Trac transfer case.
After Jamie broke the factory Rubicon Dana 44, he started looking for something stronger. The solution came in the form of Currie RockJock axles with chromoly axleshafts, ARB Air Lockers, and disc brakes all around. Both axles were built to JK width. The front uses huge F-450 knuckles and 35-spline axleshafts while the rear uses giant 40-spline shafts. The rotated cover on the RockJock centersections makes them less likely to get hung up on the trail, although with 42-inch Krawlers that is rarely an issue.
A bigger issue than getting diffs hung up is trying to steer the huge meats, particularly when they are bound up in the rocks. A full PSC steering system uses an upgraded pump and high-volume reservoir in conjunction with a modified steering box and 11⁄2-inch-diameter, 71⁄4-inch-stroke ram. The ram works in conjunction with Currie steering linkage with 1-ton tie-rod ends and 13⁄8-inch-diameter 4130 chromoly tubing.
Body and Interior
While some aftermarket parts are designed to stand out like a sore thumb, you have to look twice at the AEV Highline kit to realize that it did not come from the factory. We appreciate that. The Highline fenders provide 3 inches of added tire clearance front and rear, but there is a catch. “The 37s looked too small after I added the Highline kit,” Jamie confesses, “so I had to get something bigger.” Up front a GenRight front bumper and hoop protect the AEV sheetmetal and house a Warn 9.5xp winch wrapped in Master-Pull synthetic winch line and a pair of KC HiLites HID Pods.
Color-matched GenRight corner guards protect the side of the LJ while a Toys by Troy gas tank skidplate and GenRight tubular tire carrier bring up the rear. Yes, Jamie carries a full-size 42-inch spare with him on the trail. Inside the factory interior provides plenty of room for camping gear behind the Corbeau LG1 seats. Occupants are further protected by the Toys by Troy cage that was added to the factory rollbar.
Good, Bad, and What It’s For
We were a little concerned that Jamie’s Jeep was too pretty to actually see much action on the trail, but once he started tackling whatever obstacle was in front of him it was clear that he is perfectly comfortable behind the wheel and not afraid to wheel his Jeep hard. It works great for rockcrawling, but even with 5.38 gears the 4.0L strains to push the 42-inch Krawlers down the freeway. In fact, Jamie opted to trailer his Jeep when coming down to California from his home in Olympia, Washington, last summer to run the Rubicon Trail.
Why I Wrote This Feature
My latest infatuation is LJs with Highline kits, so when I saw Jamie’s Unlimited in downtown Reno I had to rub my eyes to make certain it wasn’t a mirage. He and his friends had just finished up a vacation on the Rubicon, Fordyce Creek Trail, and Lake Tahoe. I left my card on his Jeep asking him to give me a call to get together and shoot some photos, and the rest is history.
Vehicle: 2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
Engine: 4.0L inline-six
Transmission: 42RE four-speed auto
Transfer Case: Rock-Trac NV241
Suspension: Rock Krawler Long Arm w/ AEV Coils (front and rear)
Axles: Currie Rock Jock (front and rear)
Wheels: 20x9 TrailReady beadlock
Tires: 42X14.50R20 BFGoodrich Krawler TA/KX
Built For: Rocks, cracks, and climbs