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Stretching A TJ Wrangler: The Long And Short

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on March 1, 2012
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Photographers: Alan Huber

The ’97-’06 Jeep Wrangler TJ is one of the most popular and well-supported build platforms on the planet. Like most things in life, the 93.4-inch wheelbase Wrangler isn’t exactly perfect right out of the box, although the Rubicon models are pretty close. We’ve had our ’97 Jeep Wrangler for nearly a decade now, and over time its suspension system, along with our trail appetite, has evolved substantially. Like many of you we started out with a basic budget boost, then moved up to a short-arm lift, and ultimately to a 4-inch Superlift long-arm suspension system. While the long-arm upgrade was a huge improvement over the stubby factory control arms, we felt that the Jeep still had plenty of room to grow.

Some time ago we swapped in a 5.9L V-8. During the engine swap we upgraded the front end with a do-it-yourself high-line fender kit along with an EVO Mfg. front coilover conversion. This suspension setup netted us 12 inches of vertical wheel travel up front, all while keeping the TJ very low. Initially we tried to keep the standard wheelbase with coil springs in the rear, but it was obvious that the back half of the TJ was hindering the Jeeps overall performance.

To help take our TJ to the next level we decided to install a Super Stretch (SS) kit from EVO Mfg. The Super Stretch kit includes new rear body armor panels that allow for a 3- to 5-inch wheelbase stretch, coilover towers and axle tabs, LED taillights (optional), and all associated hardware. Along with stretching the wheelbase on the Jeep, we wanted to maximize the suspension travel. This meant ditching the rear coil spring setup and upgrading to coilovers. Though the 12-inch travel Walker Evans coilovers may seem a little pricy when compared to your standard coil spring and shock setup, the performance and tuning advantages are well worth the cost.

Since the EVO Super Stretch armor is all bolt-on. We taped out the rear portion of the tub and then clamped the panels in place. With the Wrangler’s sheetmetal being pretty thin, drilling the necessary holes was a breeze. When ordering your kit, be sure to specify if you want to re-use your original taillamps or upgrade to the flush-mount LED lights as we did.

To convert our TJ’s suspension system we enlisted the help of the authorized EVO Mfg. installers at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina. While there we wrenched alongside the expert fabricators and had our stretch conversion installed after a long days work. Though driveway installation is possible, the required welding, cutting, and drilling will necessitate a more evolved tool set. And while the rear conversion may seem like a lot of work, it’s a pretty straightforward upgrade that nets tremendous performance advantages.

With the armor set in place we marked out the underlying sheetmetal and began trimming. We used a cut-off wheel, but a reciprocating saw or body saw will get the job done just as well.

The Ultimate Test
In order to test our new setup to the fullest, we took our TJ on the Ultimate trail ride—our sister magazine’s (Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road) Ultimate Adventure. The weeklong, 1,000-mile-plus wheeling trip placed the Jeep against huge rocks, big climbs, and bottomless mud pits on a seemingly daily basis. Given that we were not running a front sway bar, only the factory rear one, we were extremely pleased and surprised at how stable the Jeep felt both on- and off-road. With the wheelbase now sitting around 99 inches with 12 inches of usable wheeltravel front and rear, the Jeep feels great and works leagues better on steeper climbs. Overall, the combination of the new mods, along with the high-clearance Superlift long-arms, 37s, and the mild V-8, allowed the TJ to be a more versatile vehicle, which is exactly what we were looking for.

Once we had all of our trimming and drilling knocked out we sent the armor out for powdercoating. After receiving a nice semi-gloss finish we bolted the 3⁄16-inch steel panels in place with the provided countersunk hardware.
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Eibach Springs
Corona, CA 92879
Superlift Suspension Systems
West Monroe, LA 71292
GenRight Off-Road
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Walker Evans Racing
Riverside, CA 92516
J.E. Reel Driveline
Pomona, CA 91766
Low Range 4x4
Wilimington, NC 28412

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