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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ: Adventure Jeep

Posted in Features on September 24, 2018
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We are interested in the building, engineering, modification, or restoration of Jeeps. Bolt-on or home-fab’d isn’t really the biggest issue, it’s all about doing the work (or as much of it as you possibly can) yourself. This not only creates pride in your creation, but also an understanding of how all the pieces and parts work together so you can diagnose and repair any problems that may occur on the trail.

At first glance, this built-to-the-hilt 1997 Jeep TJ may look like a bulletin board for some social media junkie. You know, the ones that post pictures all set up for adventure in places that look like they could be dirt turnouts along Highway 395. However, this custom Jeep, trailer, and the pair that drive it are the polar opposites of that. We’ve been on Baja treks with them. They competed in the 36 Hours of Uwharrie in 2017 (we photographed it in Uwharrie competition trim, including the canoe). That’s sort of like Camel Trophy, American-style. For those who don’t get that reference, it’s a 36-hour non-stop driving event in the Uwharrie National Forest of North Carolina that includes driving (or winching) through lots and lots of mud; it tests mechanical ability, navigation, outdoor skills, and the vehicle’s endurance, as well as that of its driver and co-driver. The list of off-road events they have participated in would fill pages. These people are the real deal.

Built by driver and co-driver, this Jeep and its matching trailer have been transformed into an adventure machine. Both are wrapped in a custom Brownell’s Desert Camo that was designed by the co-driver and installed by Blacart Creative Group. When not performing maintenance, repair, or road trip prep on current vehicles, or working on future projects (there is one soon to hit the road), the pair lives the freedom of a full-time life on the road. And by that we mean off-road. These two get their rig into places that are far off the beaten path and pavement. The Jeep and custom trailer are most often seen in the wild doing wild things. Which makes perfect sense, considering driver and co-driver go by Yeti and Yolo. We know their real names, but we’re sworn to secrecy. His Instagram handle is @thejeepcalledyeti and hers is @thewildyolo. Follow along as we give you an exclusive photographic and video tour of this custom-built adventure Jeep and trailer.

Why This Jeep?

We like real people and real Jeeps. They go together well. This 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ and its matching trailer were completed over a period of four years as the couple fine-tuned their long-term life on the road. Whether they’re on the trail or in the shop, this Jeep, its trailer, Yeti, and Yolo are all true adventurers.

Nestled into the Motobilt front bumper that’s crowned with Yeti-built custom highline tube work is a Smittybilt X2O 12,000-pound capacity winch tipped with one of Factor 55’s UltraHooks. The 12,000-pound winch offers enough power to pull the Jeep and it’s custom trailer out of trouble, or even get a larger vehicle unstuck. Beginning at the nose, there are no less than 17 Focal Engineering lights, including rock, rear tail red, amber, and strobe, and pod lights are mounted in appropriate and useful places all the way to the rear end.
The front Dana 30 left to make room for a G2 Core 44 axle, and it’s stuffed with an Eaton ELocker spun by a 4.88 ring-and-pinion gear set. Six inches of suspension system height was achieved by mixing and matching parts that suited Yeti’s ideal setup for road trips, Jeep trails, and towing a trailer. Among those were Pro Comp coil springs in front, TeraFlex links, and Rough Country RCX 2.2 Series shocks.
Very neatly packed into the TJ’s engine space is a bristling 5.3L V-8 out of a 2005 Chevy truck. It was refreshed and sports Sanderson block hugger headers and a custom-built 3-inch MagnaFlow exhaust system. A Novak Conversion kit helped make the swap a whole lot easier. Behind the V-8 is a 4L60E that owes its perch to a Novak adapter. The trans gets help keeping up with an upgraded custom torque converter from Anjo Machine, Beast HD sun shell, Lokar cable shifter, and a custom tune. Extra cooling comes from a Tru-Cool H7B transmission cooler positioned in the grille for best airflow. An NP231HD transfer case splits the power and delivers it to the axles through custom Tom Wood’s front and rear driveshafts.
The rear axle is also a G2 Core 44 swap filled with an Eaton ELocker and 4.88 gears. For the suspension setup out back Yeti again went with Rough Country RCX 2.2 Series shocks and TeraFlex links, but used Superlift coil springs instead. Mickey Thompson 35x12.50R15LT Baja MTZ P3 tires are wrapped around 15x10-inch Mickey Thompson Classic 3 Black wheels.
This is where Yeti’s fab skills begin to really shine. He bobbed 11 inches off the rear of the frame and then built upon that. The “boat-sided” tail of the TJ was all handbuilt from sheetsteel and tube, and it has been incorporated into the tube cage structure that surrounds the Jeep.
Bobbed and boat-sided, the rear-end design created by Yeti offered a much higher departure angle. In this case, the TJ also gained several levels of additional storage space in the rear compartment for things such as gearboxes and Biltwell gear bags.
Both the essential and frivolous occupy the TJ’s interior. Radios and navigation are there for sure; and we see a notebook, good seating from PRP, harnesses from Pro Armor, a SnoMaster refrigerated center console, and a first aid/survival kit. And then there’s the foxtail.
The custom cage designed and built by Yeti spiderwebs throughout the interior of the TJ, providing additional security as well as a place to hang things such as grab handles and the headphones for the PCI Race Radio intercom system that allows driver and co-driver to communicate without concern for engine or wind noise during long highway drives and competitions. During competition, Yeti and Yolo don Biltwell helmets.
Built from scratch by Yeti, the adventure trailer incorporates steel tubing of various sizes as well as sheetsteel and aluminum. It features a 4x10-foot cargo box and a 4x2x2-foot enclosed forward cargo space, cargo slots on the outside, and a rack for the Tepui rooftop tent. Fresh water for showers comes from the WaterPort tank next to the tent; a Krazy Beaver shovel, Gerber Gear axe, and spare fuel canister are stowed along the side.
On the passenger side of the custom-built trailer is storage for its spare tire and a set of folding traction pads. Completely loaded with gear for a long voyage, the trailer still weighs less than 2,000 pounds.
A fold-down tailgate/ramp opens up to allow easy access to the main storage compartment of Yeti’s custom-built adventure trailer.
The undercarriage was also built by Yeti, and includes a full tube frame, stabilizer jacks on all four corners, custom spring hangers, and a trailer hitch. The suspension consists of Rough Country RCX 2.2 shocks and a custom leaf-spring pack, and the trailer rolls on 33x12.50R15LT Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ P3 tires with 10x15-inch Mickey Thompson Classic 3 black wheels.

Hard Facts

Vehicle: 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ
Engine: 2005 Chevy 5.3L V-8
Transmission: 4L60E
Transfer Case: NP231HD
Axles: G2 Core 44, 4.88s, Eaton ELocker (front); G2 Core 44, 4.88 gears, Eaton ELocker (rear)
Suspension: 6-inch suspension w/ Pro Comp front coils, Superlift rear coils, Rough Country RCX 2.2 shocks, TeraFlex links
Wheels: 17x10-inch Mickey Thompson Classic 3 Black
Tires: 35x12.50R15 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ P3

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