Foresight can be everything when it comes to building a project Jeep. Knowing exactly where you want to go and what your end goal is can save you considerable time and money. When Randy Crews purchased his ’01 Wrangler secondhand a few years ago, he already had an idea of where he wanted to go with the build. What he didn’t anticipate was how quickly his modest build plan would evolve into the custom V-8–powered wheeler it is today. We caught up with the low-slug TJ and got the scoop on how this rig quickly came together.
ChassisHaving done his research, Randy knew that TJs often work well with a low lift and longer control arms. To achieve his suspension goals, he paired a set of Old Man Emu by ARB 2-inch Heavy-series coils and shocks with a Rubicon Express long-arm kit. To compensate for the added engine weight of the Poison Spyder Customs front bumper and Engo winch, a set of 2-inch polyurethane coil spacers were installed up front.
Since the Jeep is no longer a daily driver, he removed the front sway bar altogether. Aside from a few minor belly pan modifications needed to clear the transfer case and transmission, the rest of the suspension remained as it came. To be sure his stock fuel tank doesn’t crumple in the rocks, a Savvy fuel tank skidplate was installed out back.
DrivetrainMost V-8 TJs we’ve come across started off life with a four-cylinder engine. This was not the case for Randy, but he simply felt the stock 4.0L wasn’t powerful enough for his on- and off-road needs. The 360ci 5.9L V-8 was plucked from a Dodge Durango found in a local junkyard. The Magnum V-8 uses an Advance Adapters motor mount kit to secure it to the stock frame rails, while a plug-and-play wiring harness from Hot Wire Auto sends the firing orders. An aluminum radiator outfitted with an electric fan keeps the engine running cool, while 78506 Headman Headers feed a custom 3-inch exhaust system.
Bolted behind the V-8 is the Durango’s 46RE automatic transmission, which got a quick refresh before installation. This four-speed overdrive transmission feeds an Atlas II transfer case with a 3.0:1 low-range ratio. To handle the newfound torque, the stock Dana 30 was swapped out for a G2 Axle & Gear Dana 44 front axle. The new front axle got a serving of 4.88 gears, chromoly axleshafts, and a Detroit Locker. Helping the Jeep stop and steer more effectively are brakes and steering knuckles from a Grand Cherokee WJ. We’re told this custom crossover steering setup is soon to be aided by a hydro-assist steering kit.
Since this TJ came from the factory with the optional Dana 44 rear axle, Randy chose to leave it in place and upgrade it with a set of 35-spline chromoly axleshafts and an ARB Air Locker. Powering both diffs are custom drivelines from Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts.
Body and InteriorOne of the first modifications done to the Jeep was the GenRight highline front and rear fender conversion. By moving up the fender line by approximately three inches, Randy was able to run a modest amount of lift and 37x13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grapplers. These extreme mud-terrains would be paired with a set of 17-inch AEV beadlock wheels. When Randy was still using the Wrangler as a daily driver, he hated the stock headlights. So, he ditched them for a much brighter set of Truck-Lite LED headlights.
Speaking of lights, there are an assortment of Vision-X LED rock lights hidden throughout the body to aluminate the ground below at night. Helping to expel some of the under-hood temps is a Poison Spyder hood vent, while the company’s line of sliders were used to add much needed rocker panel protection. Inside, all of the stock instrumentation and seating is still intact. The custom 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM cage was hand built by Randy in his home garage. A feature made more so impressive considering he had never touched a welder or tube bender prior to owning the Jeep.
Good, Bad, and What It’s ForLow Jeeps with big tires simply work well. We’ve seen Randy Jeep crawl rocks and blast hill climbs with ease. While a wheelbase stretch could be beneficial is some scenarios, for the majority of the Southeastern wheeling that this TJ sees, it is perfectly equipped. Set up with a mix of junkyard and high-end components, it’s clear to see that this was a dollar-smart build.
Why I Wrote This FeatureHaving owned a 5.9L V-8 Jeep Wrangler, I knew how much fun the 360ci TJ could be in the dirt. This Jeep is a perfect example of an extremely well-built TJ, which is still easy to service and find parts for.
Hard FactsVehicle: ’01 Jeep Wrangler
Engine: 5.9L Magnum V-8
Transfer Case: Atlas II (3.0:1 low range)
Suspension: Rubicon Express long-arm w/OME 2-in springs and shocks
Axles: Dana 44 front w/Detroit Locker, Dana 44 rear w/ARB Air Locker
Wheels: 17x8.5 AEV beadlock
Tires: 37x13.50R17 Nitto Mud Grappler
Built For: Having fun