The Beauty of a TJ is that they are quite capable rigs in stock form, and just about every aftermarket off-road company makes parts for them. Our idea of an ultimate TJ involves buying a new TJ, bolting on some parts, and a few days later running the Hammer Trails. This turnaround, from stock to sick is what makes our fictional TJ the ultimate. OK, so you would have to invest a chunk of change into this Wrangler, but the point is, there is no quicker way to get from not owning a Jeep to owning a Jeep that can run some tough trails. Of course you could go buy someones clapped-out tired rock rig, but you didnt build it, and that wouldnt be ultimate, would it?
To keep things quick and easy we would pay a visit to our local Jeep dealer where we would pony up the cash for a brand new 02 TJ. A Sport model with the 4.0L, NV3550, and a Dana 44 rear is what we would look for. Other than that we dont care what options its got, or what color it is. Chances are we would sell various parts as soon as we tore them out, like the rug, bumpers, back seat, and so on. An 02 TJ frame is plenty strong right out of the box. You may need some reinforcing around the steering box mount, and we would invest in some skidplates to keep the vitals off the rocks. Add a 4-inch lift kit with a 1-inch body lift and our TJs chassis would be ready to clear the desired 35-inch tires. Now would also be a good time to scrap the rear sway bar and replace the front sway bar with Curries Anti-Rock sway bar kit to keep the TJ pavement-friendly.
There are plenty of aftermarket upgrades available for the 4.0L but for now we will leave our motor and tranny stock so we can focus on the axles and transfer case. First we would install a 4:1 low-range planetary kit into our NP231 so we could creep over rocks with confidence and control. This upgrade would be accompanied by the installation of a heavy-duty tailshaft conversion and a new CV driveshaft. Of course, we may be just as well off buying an Atlas II, and this may be the route we would take depending on how quickly we could get the parts. Next to come would be a locker for the rear Dana 44 and a locker for the front axle. We would keep it simple with a set of Detroits so we could count on their strength and reliability. We would do what we can to keep the Dana 30 alive while driving on the rocks, as a custom front axle could easily add a month to our project, as well as a couple grand. To keep the 35-inch tires spinning with power and authority we would fill our stock TJs axles with some 4.88 ring-and-pinions.
Body & Interior
The body and interior would be kept fairly stock except for the addition of a bolt-in front cage, rocker guards, sturdy bumpers, any needed fender trimming, and removal of anything not deemed absolutely necessary. That means out come the carpet and rear seat. We would move the spare tire into the area where the rear seat was to help with our departure angle and to save some weight.
Tires & Wheels
Since Johnson Valley is our desired destination we are going to need some tough rubber. Our lift should comfortably leave enough room for 35-inch tires so wed go with a set of 35x12.5x15 aggressive mud tires. To bind the tires to the axles we would keep it simple and bolt on some 15x8 black wagon wheels with bead locks.
Good, Bad, & Whats It For
Well, this Jeep is built for the Hammer Trails. And if you had all of the necessary parts, tools, know-how, a couple of friends to help out, a couple cases of beer, and the money of Garth Brooks gardener, you could build this TJ in your driveway within a couple days.