Since World War II, open-top Jeeps have become an icon tied with capability and durability. Sure, in that time other 4x4s have come, and many have gone. And although the modern-day Jeep has evolved from those first flatfenders, the current Wrangler has a lot in common with the original jeeps. Other 4x4s are barely recognizable when parked next to their automotive ancestors, if any exist at all.
One Jeep model that is bound to get any Jeepers heart beating a little faster is the Jeep Wrangler TJ Unlimited (unofficially known as the LJ). Available for three model years, the LJ is a stretched-wheelbase Wrangler TJ that is clearly inspired by two other stretched-wheelbase Jeeps of the past: the CJ-8 (or Scrambler) and CJ-6. All of these longer Jeeps have proven to be performers that also attract Jeep collectors, commanding a higher price than their shorter equivalents.
During the 2017 Moab Easter Jeep Safari we bumped into our friend Adam Shoemaker of Fenton, Michigan, and his lovely and large 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Our history with Shoemaker revolves around clean Jeeps, as we shot a feature on a TJ he built a few years back. And if that Jeep was clean, this Jeep is that much cleaner. Not much on this rig hasn’t been warmed over and reinforced, or will be.
The first step in this utterly cool and super-clean build was to find an LJ to start with. This LJ was no slouch, even in stock form. The 2006 started life as the rarest of the rare: a well-equipped last-year LJ Rubicon. Adam Shoemaker stripped most of the factory bits off the exterior of the Jeep and ditched those iconic 4.10-geared Dana 44s with bigger and better in mind. Taking their place are Solid Axle Industries Dana 60s and a passel of CrawlTek body armor.
Huge 42/14.50R17LT Goodyear MT/R tires with Kevlar are wrapped around 17x9 KMC Machete wheels that were powdercoated orange for a little pop. These tires clear thanks to CrawlTek Inferno Highline front fenders and a 3-inch front stretch. Out back the LJ’s tub was opened up to accommodate all that tire and a 4-inch stretch rearward. The suspension on the LJ comes care of a Rock Krawler Trail Hero 2.0.
Both front and rear axles are Solid Axle Industries Dana 60s filled with Yukon 35-spline axleshafts, a pair of ARB Air Lockers, and 5.13:1 gears. The front axle also has Reid Knuckles and Artec high-steer arms. Both axles also wear Artec axle brackets to bridge the gap from axle to suspension. A PSC steering system with a ram-assist cylinder tells the Jeep which direction to go.
A custom orange Spideweb Shade ties together the contrasting color theme of the KMC wheels. A CrawlTek Drop Down Tailgate harkens back to the Scramblers and CJ-6 Jeeps of yore. The custom tailgate from CrawlTek also has an interior Molle rack to help secure trail gear inside the Jeep. The rocker guards and rear bumper are also from CrawlTek
Under the hood still resides the Jeeps original 4.0L inline-six engine, which is bolted to the four-speed automatic transmission and NP241OR transfer case the Jeep left the factory with. Other underhood additions are an Optima YellowTop battery, an open-element air filter, a PSC power steering reservoir, and an sPOD to control the Jeep’s aftermarket electronic accessories. CrawlTek Revolution Inferno Highline Front Fenders help the Jeep clear the massive tires and come with clean aluminum inner fenders to keep out mud and debris.
The interior of the Jeep remains mostly stock with the addition of some MasterCraft seats and a Daystar dash panel. The extra 10 inches of interior space and added wheelbase give any LJ an upper hand on its more pedestrian TJ sisters.
We love any rig that wears big tires, is wide, and sits low to the ground. The stability afforded by the low center of gravity and the clearance of the huge tires allows any vehicle like this Jeep to be incredibly capable and easy to drive off-road. A Warn Zeon 12s lives on a CrawlTek Pyro Stubby Bumper in case the big Jeep needs a tug. The bumper allows the steering box to be rotated, gaining room for the front stretch.
MaxBuilt Trail Tails warn followers whenever Shoemaker slows. Currie Anti-Rock sway bars keep the Jeep level in turns while still allowing for plenty of flex. Special thanks to Area BFE near Moab for letting Shoemaker and us play as well as shoot this feature during EJS 2017. If you’ve ever been to Moab but haven’t visited Area BFE, you’re missing out. They offer all kinds of off-road challenges, accept donations, and can help you host an off-road event.
2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Engine: 4.0L I-6
Transfer Case: NP241OR
Front Axle: Solid Axle Ind. Dana 60, Yukon 35-spline axleshafts, ARB Air Locker, 5.13:1 gears, Reid knuckles, Artec high steer arms
Rear Axle: Solid Axle Ind. Dana 60, Yukon 35-spline axleshafts, ARB Air Locker, 5.13:1 gears
Springs & Such: Rock Krawler Trail Hero 2.0, 3-inch front and 4-inch rear wheelbase stretch
Tires & Wheels: 42x14.50R17 Goodyear MTR on 17x9 KMC Machete
Lighting: Truck-Lite headlights
Other Stuff: CrawlTek armor, rocker guards, fenders, and bumpers; MasterCraft seats; Yukon Gear & Axle gears; Artec axle brackets; Currie Anti-Rock; Warn Zeon 12s; MaxBuilt Trail Tails; Spiderweb Shade; Rigid Orange Rock Lights; Carolina Metal Masters grab handles.