Click for Coverage
Exclusive Content
Original Shows, Motorsports and Live Events
Try it free for 14 days
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

V-8 Engine & Race Suspension Make This Jeep Nearly Perfect

Posted in Features on August 19, 2016
Share this

Bryan Crofts has had several nice vehicles over the years, and with each one he seems to up the ante. He traded a built Jeepster for this Jeep back when it was a TJ with a 4.0L engine. “The owner had already spent a lot of money on the Spidertrax axles,” says Crofts, “and they have never given me any issues.” He wasn’t content to leave the Jeep alone. He took it to Shaffer’s Off Road, where he and Mike Shaffer devised a plan to lengthen the Jeep and add coilover and bypass shocks so that Crofts could race the Jeep in King of the Hammers.

“On the trail, on the street, wherever”

After getting the suspension dialed in, Crofts recently had JEEP Speed Shop add an LS3 engine, 6L80E transmission, and Atlas transfer case to the Jeep. After spending this much money some people would be scared to scratch their investment, but not Crofts. He has a ton of miles on this Jeep, on the trail, on the street, wherever. When you do that, little issues can drive you nuts, so he has addressed all of them to minimize compromises to the point they are virtually eliminated. Just as impressive as the gobs of horsepower and suspension travel are all of the little details, from the rear rack that pivots out of the way of the Yeti cooler to the electronic transmission gear indicator on the dash.

The custom front tube work holds a Warn 9.5xp winch wrapped with synthetic winch line. A Factor55 Ultrahook operates as both a thimble and a hook to handle extraction situations. Lighting comes from Baja Squadron XL lights in the factory headlight locations and a 50-inch Rigid Industries LED light bar across the top of the windshield.
The latest and greatest upgrade involved replacing the 4.0L engine, five-speed manual transmission, and four-speed Atlas II with a new drivetrain. A GM L99 engine with a “2 tune” by 208 Motorsports was shoehorned in the engine bay by JEEP Speed Shop. The V-8 feeds a 6L80E six-speed automatic that has enough gears to allow the four-speed Atlas to be swapped out for a two-speed Atlas II with a race case and 3:1 gears.
Bryan Crofts found enough room to fit a Premier Power Welder in the passenger side of the engine bay, up against the firewall. Out of the frame to the right is an sPod used to power all of the aftermarket electronics in the Jeep.
The inner fenders were replaced with tube and sheetmetal to mount the King coilover and bypass shocks. Behind the shock mounts you can make out the control box for the winch, PSC power steering reservoir, and fittings for the York air compressor. There is no unused space in this engine bay.
Each corner of the Jeep has a King 2.0-inch-diameter, 14-inch-travel, remote-reservoir coilover shock and 2 1/2-inch-diameter, three-tube bypass shock, along with a King air bump. The coil rates are 150 over 200 lb-in in the front and 150 over 250 lb-in in the rear. Bryan Crofts claims that having Phil Liccardi tune the shocks was the best thing he has done for the suspension.
The four-link front suspension was custom built by Shaffer’s Off Road with 2.0x0.250-wall heat-treated chromoly links and 1 1/4-inch RuffStuff chromoly rod ends. The Panhard bar runs directly behind and parallel to the draglink in order to eliminate bumpsteer. The front of the frame was cut off and replaced with tube to move the steering box forward and stretch the wheelbase 5 inches. The Saginaw steering box, hydraulic assist ram, and rest of the steering components are all from PSC.
The front axle is a Spider9 with fabricated knuckles and 300M axleshafts from Spidertrax. The axleshafts use CTM 300M U-joints and are connected to a True Hi9 high-pinion third member filled with an ARB Air Locker and 4.88 gears. Since Crofts often drives his Jeep on the street he runs 35-spline Warn Premium hubs instead of drive flanges.
Rolling stock consists of 38-inch Falken Wildpeak MTs bolted on to 17x9 TrailReady HD beadlock wheels. The GenRight aluminum fenders and AEV Highline hood allow for the big tires while keeping the ride height low and stable.
A 22-gallon fuel cell behind the PRP front seats feeds the LS engine. The big cell takes up a lot of real estate, but it allows Crofts to wheel all weekend long without ever worrying about fuel.
Spiderweb Shade made Crofts a custom bikini top for his Jeep that attaches to the custom 2-inch chromoly rollcage from Shaffer’s Off Road. The factory top still fits over the cage and allows him to drive his Jeep all year.
Crofts replaced the swingout rear door for a CJ tailgate. It provides a table for items out of the Yeti 110 cooler. The custom rear rack can be filled with a weekend’s worth of camping gear and still pivot up to access the cooler.
The rear suspension is a triangulated four-link with trailing arms fitted with 2.0-inch, 14-inch-travel, remote-reservoir coilovers and 2 1/2-inch, three-tube bypass shocks. The links are constructed from 2.0x0.250-wall heat treated chromoly and capped with 1 1/4-inch Ruff Stuff rod ends.
The rear axle is a Spider9 with Spidertrax lightweight brake rotors and Wilwood calipers. The True Hi9 third member keeps the High Angle driveline out of the rocks. The ARB Air Locker and 4.88 gears route power to the Falken tires.
The big horsepower and bypass shocks allow this Jeep to go more places than most, and do it at speeds that would scatter parts from most rockcrawlers. This is basically a King of the Hammers buggy with a Jeep body.
Crofts’ Jeep actually started as a TJ Rubicon, but it was stretched to match LJ length by Shaffer’s Off Road. The added length results in a more stable suspension and better packaging for the longer drivetrain.
Crofts lives in Northern California and can be found on the Rubicon or Fordyce Creek Trail most weekends during the summer. He drives his Jeep everywhere from the grocery store to the trailhead and beyond.
When California reintroduced the classic black license plates, Crofts was one of the first people in line to get a customized one for his Jeep.

Tech Specs

2003 Jeep Wrangler TJ (stretched)

Engine: L99 6.2L V-8
Transmission: 6L80E 6-speed automatic
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Front Axle: Spidertrax Spider9 with True Hi9 third members, 4.88 gears, ARB Air Locker
Rear Axle: Spidertrax Spider9 with True Hi9 third members, 4.88 gears, ARB Air Locker

Springs & Such: King 2.0-inch coilovers, 2 1/2-inch 3-tube bypass shocks, and air shocks; custom Shaffer’s Off Road 4-link (front and rear)
Tires & Wheels: 38x13.5R17 Falken Wildpeak MT on 17x9 Trailready HD beadlocks
Steering: PSC pump, steering box, hydraulic assist ram, reservoir
Lighting: Rigid Industries 50-inch LED light bar, Baja Designs Squadron XL LED headlights, Rigid Industries rear LED race light
Other Stuff: Warn 9.5xp winch with Factor55 Ultrahook; Spiderweb shade; Jaz fuel cell; High Angle drivelines; CBR custom radiator; Currie Antirock sway bar; PRP seats and harnesses; Tuffy center console; Premier Power Welder; sPod; GenRight aluminum high front fenders, rear corners, and tub guards; AEV hood; Odyssey battery

PhotosView Slideshow

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results