Black Diamond's 3.5-Inch Lift Kit Makes A Yuppie Jeep A Little Less Suburban
The Jeep Wrangler YJ is a great platform for building a serious trail machine. Pick up one cheap, sink a few bucks into it, and have a moho tow-along that's more off-road capable than the stock Suzuki Sidekicks that seem to be the current Good Sam Club mainstays. Another advantage is that several DIY-able lift kits are available for the YJ. In a weekend day at home, the Gen I Wrangler can go from stock sorority-girl chic to getting thumbs-ups from TJ owners. (The flatfender Mafiosos will never turn their heads, however.) That's our thought process for lifting a stock, clean '87 Wrangler, which was purchased for $3,500, an average price in the L.A. area. Add a few bolt-ons and it's at least "tail-rated," judging from the play its owner now gets from the ladies. Trailwise, it's up to moderate rock and dune duty.
Our kit of choice here is the Black Diamond 3.5-inch system, which allows running 33-inch tires on the stock wheels. The Black Diamond kit fits this YJ's theme: affordable and easy. Black Diamond got the Jeep world's attention in 1996 with its XCL coil-conversion kit. Warn Industries subsequently sold the division to Superlift, which has fine-tuned parts of the product line and geared it toward trail vehicles. The basic Black Diamond kit includes brackets, leaf packs, mounting hardware, and shocks. The leaf springs feature shot-peened steel, tapered ends, military-wrapped eyes for durability, anti-friction pads, and polyurethane bushings. The spring rate cuts a compromise between topless YJs and those with added hardtop weight. Many upgrades are also available, including a dropped pitman arm, which corrects steering slop, and a steering stabilizer to help control wander. Rear-driveshaft bind or vibration can also be an issue on lifted YJs. The Black Diamond kit comes with transfer-case spacers to ease the pinion angle. However, this YJ's owner chose to keep the 1-inch-lift Con-Ferr shackles that were already on the vehicle, so it does suffer from driveline vibrations at highway speeds. Black Diamond offers an NV231 slip-yoke eliminator kit, which allows more than 4 inches of rear-driveshaft length and should solve the problem. No mad-crazy skills are required to install a basic YJ kit, although a couple of specialized tools are necessary. Superlift rates the job a "4" on the 1-5 difficulty scale, estimating installation time at 4-5 hours, but this job took closer to 8 hours with photo interruptions and installation of optional equipment. The lift made way for 33x12.50-15 Pro Comp Mud Terrains, which are surprisingly quiet on the road for a high-void-lugged tread; they even showed good dune prowess when aired down to about 8 psi. (For people who pay attention to the details, Superlift offers the TruSpeed speedo recalibrator for '92-current Wranglers to compensate for nonstock tire diameters.)
The sum of these parts has transformed a dirt-cheap, basically stock YJ from a weekend toy into a daily driver. With its top down and tub up higher, the Wrangler is equally at home on the pavement, the dunes, or exploring mining trails.