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Overland Overhaul: Coilovers, Wheels, and Tires for an Adventure-Bound Wrangler

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on April 23, 2019
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Epic adventure can sometimes come in a small box. In fact, self-reliance and capability can be built into any 4x4 platform imaginable—for example, a ’17 two-door JK Wrangler. Our goal was to take the Jeep on the Four Wheeler Overland Adventure in May 2019, and it needed to have enough overland equipment to survive multiple days off-grid, while still maintaining its highway manners and trail-crawling duties. Our plan: Revive the Wrangler’s suspension system, address the Jeep’s dim lighting situation, and outfit the rig with enough armor, auxiliary fuel, and expedition gear for extended stays in the backcountry.

Though its life only began in 2017, the JK had seen more than 50,000 rough miles, and its suspension was in need of an overhaul. The springs and shocks had long since given up their youthful vigor, the lower control arms were rock-abused, and the front differential held damaged remains of spider gears. It was time for some much-needed modification.

We talked to the folks at JKS Manufacturing and outlined our goals. Using a four-day, three-night expedition as an example, we took an inventory of our fuel, water, tools, and camping equipment and came up with a payload of roughly 300 pounds. The Jeep was also already loaded with a bumper, winch, and armor, totaling about 200 pounds. We needed a suspension system that could support that weight while maintaining a good clip through rough roads—and still articulate over obstacles. JKS recommended converting the tired coil-spring suspension on the Jeep to coilovers using the company’s mounting kit, which was designed to be compatible with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers, offering between 2 and 2.5 inches of lift height.

For the rear, JKS recommended a similar mounting kit, also compatible with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers, that at press time was not yet for sale. To complement the articulation of the coilovers, JKS J-Flex control arms were adjustable to accommodate our desired 2.5 inches of suspension lift, and more. The kit also included an adjustable front track bar, track bar relocation brackets, brake line extension brackets, and Quicker Disconnect front sway bar links. To combat harsh bottom-outs while traveling, JKS also recommended Fox 2.0 bumpstops for the front and back of Jeep. These hydraulic bumps were adjustable and would cushion those last few inches of suspension travel that previously ended with bone-jarring impacts.

With the factory wheels, worn tires, and a suspension system in need of an overhaul, the ’17 Wrangler had a 36-degree approach angle and 38-degree departure angle. Those numbers increased to 46 and 42 degrees, respectively, with 10 inches of clearance below the differential. The RTI score increased from 620 to 797 with tires at street pressure and sway bars disconnected.

With the suspension planned out, we needed a solution to the woebegone Dana 30 frontend. Our wheeling habits and 33-inch tires had dealt the gears and axlehousing crippling blows, and we needed to upgrade without going overboard. We chose to not only beef up the metal between the JK’s wheels but also add ground clearance with Dynatrac’s ProRock 44. With overbuilt end forgings, thicker axletubes, and a rock-deflecting differential cover, this axle would give us the confidence to explore the backcountry without the constant worry of bending a housing or damaging our gears. Better yet, it came loaded with 30-spline axleshafts, 1310 U-joints, 4.10:1 gears, Dynatrac rebuildable balljoints, and an Eaton ELocker.

For handling the most intimate relations with the ground below, we chose Dick Cepek’s Trail Country EXP. The tire falls within the “Rugged Terrain” category, straddling the gap between mud-terrain and all-terrain, and it suited the needs of the Jeep perfectly. Not too aggressive of a tread pattern to make pavement travel unbearable, but enough reinforced sidewall strength, tread depth, and lug spacing to keep the adventure moving—mud, snow, or shine. After a lengthy spell with rock-rashed factory wheels, we opted for the contrast of the satin-bronze VTX Terra wheelset.

We visited our friends at South Bay Truck & 4x4 in Lawndale, California, to begin the Overland Overhaul. Read on for some highlights of the installation on our ’17 Wrangler, and stay tuned as we continue with trail armor, lighting, and expedition equipment in preparation for our 2019 Overland Adventure.

With tires and wheels removed, Charlie of South Bay Truck & 4x4 got busy stripping the Jeep of its remaining stock components, including the sway bars, upper and lower control arms, shocks, and coils. Since the coils were being replaced, spring removal was expedited with a cutting torch.
We laid out the JKS Manufacturing front and rear adjustable upper and lower J-Flex control arms, adjustable track bar, Quicker Disconnect front sway bar links, front and rear track bar relocation brackets, and mounts for the front and rear coilovers to make sure we had everything before proceeding. Also shown are the Fox 2.5 DSC front and rear coilovers and the front and rear Fox 2.0 IFP bumpstops.
Installing coilovers in the rear of the Jeep required us to remove the trail-damaged factory muffler. We reached right for the cutoff wheel and left enough piping to direct the hot gases down and away from the suspension components.
Making the JKS lower rear coilover mounts fit the Jeep required some modification of the factory lower control arm brackets. We ground off the mounting tabs for the old shocks and sway bar. Then, we marked and removed roughly an inch from the bottom of the bracket. With everything ground smooth and coated with enamel, the JKS lower coilover mounting bracket slid on smoothly and bolted right up.
After removing the stock upper shock mounts with a cutting torch, we cleaned the surfaces, drilled out the appropriate holes, bolted on the JKS upper coilover mounting brackets, and installed the coilovers.
Mounting the remote reservoirs for the Fox 2.5 DCS coilovers required a trip to the scrap pile for two strips of channel steel. Charlie cut them to length, painted them with enamel, and fastened them to the bottom of the Jeep’s rear storage compartment where the stock muffler once lived. This kept the reservoirs safe from offending obstacles and exhaust gasses, while still lending access to the reservoirs’ adjustment dials.
PhotosView Slideshow

We removed the weathered factory bumpstops and ground off their mounts. We used a 2.5-inch hole saw, according to Fox’s detailed instructions, to insert the new bumpstop mounting sleeves into the frame and then welded them in place. After cleaning and painting the whole area, we threaded the bumps into the sleeves. We opted to reinforce the strike surface on the axlehousing for each bumpstop with 3/16-inch steel, which we welded directly on top of the smaller factory pads and painted with protective enamel.

The rear sway bar mounts required some custom-fabricated 1/4-inch steel spacers to make sure the sway bar cleared the remote reservoirs when cycling.
Moving to the frontend, we salvaged the knuckles from the stock Dana 30 axle and tossed the rest in the scrap heap. Frank of South Bay Truck & 4x4 began prepping the Dynatrac ProRock 44 for the JKS coilover mounts, which required cutting the mounting brackets designed for stock shocks and drilling boltholes below the factory spring perches. After bolting on the JKS lower coilover brackets, Frank reinforced them by welding directly to the axlehousing.
Stock Dana 30 front axle (left); Dynatrac ProRock 44 front axle with rebuildable ball joints, reinforced end forgings, and more (right).
We completely cut off the stock shock towers and clearanced the coil buckets, all according to the detailed instructions from JKS. We then drilled into the coil buckets using the JKS template, and the two-piece coilover mounting system bolted into place.
Before installing the front coilovers, we removed the front factory bumpstops, measured and cut the factory bumpstop holders according to the instructions, and threaded the front Fox 2.0 IFP bumpstops into place.
With the front coilovers tucked into their respective mounts, we hose-clamped the remote reservoirs into place and checked clearance on the JKS J-Flex upper and lower control arms and the adjustable track bar. During full droop, the stock front driveshaft contacted the Jeep’s frame crossmember and exhaust hoop, necessitating an aftermarket replacement ’shaft.
Wiring the Eaton ELocker in the Dynatrac ProRock 44 was as simple as connecting the positive and negative leads into our sPOD switch relay.
After mounting the 285/75R17 Dick Cepek Trail Country EXP tires to our 17x9 VTX Terra wheels, we set the Jeep on the dirt and got busy dialing in the suspension to handle all our gear, while still maximizing articulation.

Shakedown and Thoughts

Our practice run included taking a full payload of gear out for a session of rutted crawling and higher-speed trails. The JKS Quicker Disconnects made it simple to unleash the front axle and let the Fox coilovers flex and droop over rocks and ditches. When traveling a bit faster, the Fox bumpstops allowed us to carry more speed through trail irregularities that would normally result in painful metal-on-metal bottom-outs.

Sources

Dynatrac
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714-596-4461
www.dynatrac.com
JKS Manufacturing
Coldwater, MI 49036
517-278-1226
www.jksmfg.com
Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels
Stow, OH 44224
330-928-9092
www.dickcepek.com
South Bay Truck and 4x4
310-219-0727
http://www.southbay4x4.com
Fox Factory
800-369-7469
www.ridefox.com
Precision Designs
661-775-7799
4x4spod.com
VTX Wheels
562-698-8215
vtxwheels.com

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