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A Midwestern 2005 Jeep LJ that’s Right at Home Out West

Posted in Features on September 26, 2017
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

One of the cool things about being a Jeep enthusiast is that no two Jeeps are alike; Jeeps are as individual as the people who build and drive them. We love diversity, but there are also certain build formulas that are proven to work better, in most situations, time and again in the dirt: long and low, V-8 power, big tires, and big axles. How those formulas are packaged together varies a lot, but it’s rare that they come out quite as neat and clean as Adam Shoemaker’s 2005 Unlimited.

We caught up with Adam and his LJ in Moab during the Easter Jeep Safari, to which he has made the pilgrimage all the way from his hometown of Fenton, Michigan, for the past several years. Adam’s LJ is quite different from the Jeeps you usually see built in the Midwest, and we were surprised when we spied the Michigan plate on a Jeep that we would have guessed hailed from somewhere out West. It turns out Adam owns an off-road shop in Michigan, and has been cranking out super-clean builds like this LJ for the past several years. This latest build incorporates all of the tricks and tips learned from previous builds.

Chassis
The key to any build is a solid foundation, and Adam found it in a stone-stock LJ. While the wheelbase is a trail-friendly 104 inches, Adam pushed the front axle forward an additional three inches and the rear axle back four inches. The axles are located with a Full Traction long-arm system, but the kit has been modified with custom solid aluminum links to accommodate the wheelbase stretch. The conservative lift height comes via a pair of 3-inch BDS springs in the front and 2-inch Old Man Emu springs in the rear, and three-inch-lift springs with matching-length Bilstein 5100 shocks. Several other modifications were needed to make the axles work in their new locations, including an aluminum Gen-Right stretch tank protected by a steel skidplate.

Body and Interior
A host of Poison Spyder products adorn the exterior of the Jeep, including stretched rear corner guards, rocker guards, and bumpers. The front has been fortified with an AEV Hi-Line hood and Defender XC fenders, while a Warn Xeon 10-S winch is nestled into a BFH bumper. Aluminum inner fenders help keep the occasional Michigan muck out of the engine compartment. The breathtakingly perfect blue paint is actually a factory Jeep color from a 2015 JK.

The Jeep’s cabin is noticeably near stock and clean with the exception of the Lazer-Fit full rollcage kit that works with the factory seatbelts, while a SpiderWebShade keeps the sun off occupants. One of our favorite parts of this Jeep is the gauge cluster, which is fully functional and keeps tabs on the LS powerplant by using all aftermarket gauges behind the factory face and needles. Red Line Gauge Works is credited with this stock-looking trickery. A subtle but easily accessible switch pod is positioned above the rearview mirror to control the lockers and other accessories.

Powertrain
While not terribly critical in the rocks, there’s really no such thing as too much power in the sand. Wanting to have plenty of power on tap in general and knowing that the Jeep would see some time in the dunes, Adam introduced an all-aluminum 425hp 6.0L LS engine to replace the factory inline-six. The engine looks like it was put there from the factory, thanks in part to Speartec stand-alone wiring harnesses, and a Wide Open Designs alternator and power steering relocation kit. A Novak aluminum radiator and electric fan combination keeps the engine cool, while the exhaust has a very mellow tone thanks to a 3-inch mandrel-bent exhaust system and a Flowmaster muffler. Other underhood goodies include an Optima battery, PSC power steering pump, Sanderson headers, an ARB mini-compressor, and an Spod switch system.

A built 4L60E transmission and a 4.3 Atlas transfer case deliver power to the Dynatrac ProRock 44 front and Currie RockJock Dana 60 rear. The front axle has Reid Racing knuckles and RCV shafts, with JK outers that allow the use of larger brakes. The rear is filled with 35-spline goodies, and both axles sport 5.13 Yukon gears along with Yukon air lockers. The built axles easily handle the 37x12.50-17 BFGoodrich Krawlers mounted on Trail Gear beadlocks.

Why This Jeep?
Though Adam hails from Michigan, he spends as much time as he can out West, and this has had a big influence on how he builds his Jeeps. On the one hand, his latest Jeep features a low center of gravity and a flexy suspension—both major advantages on the slow-speed rockcrawling trails out West. On the other hand, is the 425hp LS engine under the hood for when Adam heads to his home state’s Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The Jeep is fully clad with Poison Spyder body armor to help keep rocks and trees away from the body, but its immaculate paint would be right at home cruising Woodward Avenue. It’s nicely accessorized but not too flashy, with all the right equipment to hit the hard stuff along with the shiny paint that would make the Jeep right at home in a car show. If I were going to build my dream LJ, it would pretty much be just like this one.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: 2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
Engine: GM all-aluminum 6.0L V-8
Transmission: 4L60E
Transfer Case: Atlas 4.3
Suspension: Customized Full Traction long-arm system
Axles: Dynatrac ProRock 44 with JK outers (front), Currie RockJock 60 (rear), both with 5.13 Yukon air lockers
Wheels: 17-in Trail Gear beadlock wheels
Tires: 37x12.50-17 BFGoodrich red-label Krawlers

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