We bought our first Jeep (a ’46 CJ-2A) from my wife’s father in 1964 and there have been many more since, so we have quite a few decades of experience with Jeeps. When it was time to get our new-to-us Jeep, we decided to go with a first-gen Wrangler because, while it has many of the creature comforts we both desired, it has few of the electronic nannies I can live without. So when I located a fairly basic used Rubicon Unlimited LJ in Manchester, New Hampshire, our youngest son and I flew out to pick it up and drive it back to Arizona. We set the cruise control, turned the radio up, and steered the Jeep between fuel and food stops. That 3,000-mile trip, at those sustained high speeds across most of the United States, proved the reliability of the 10-year-old Wrangler.
When it came time to begin the transmogrification of the stock LJ, we decided to go with TNT Customs suspension lift kit. Talking to the folks at TNT, we found out that the TRI-4 rear suspension was designed to cycle vertically throughout articulation to eliminate rear-steer commonly found in other suspensions. The lower arms are manufactured from 2-inch, 0.375-wall 1026 DOM tubing to handle anything they may come in contact with. Upper arms are 1.50-inch by 0.250-inch 1026 DOM tubing. All control arms have 2 1/2 inches of adjustable length and feature rebuild-able Flex joints and bushings.
TNT Customs works with shock absorber and spring manufacturers such as FOX and ARB to create its suspension system. TNT recommends the FOX 2.0 Performance Series IFP smooth body shocks because they offer a comfortable on-road ride and predictable off-road handling. The Old Man Emu coil springs (2989 front springs and 2949 rear springs) from ARB are a perfect match for these shocks and the LJ. While the LJ’s Rock-Tek Y-link high clearance front arms are similar, albeit much stronger, to the Jeep’s OEM suspension, changing the rear suspension from a track bar system to a Rock-Tek dual-triangulated four-link, along with relocating the shock mounts helps to improve the overall stability of the Jeep. A big difference between this kit and others is there are no anti-sway bars to worry about disconnecting in this system.
The kit’s high-clearance pan nets a clearance gain of 1 3/4-inch over stock on ’97-’02 models and nearly 3 inches on ’03-’06 model years. TNT Rock-Tek long arm suspension kits also come with a weld-on, full-length rear axle truss assembly for the rear axle. It includes the TNT Tri-4 mount, coil-spring mounts, new lower control arm mounts, and shock mounts.
This kit is not for the faint of heart. It’s not a simple bolt-on assembly, and unless you’re a very experienced mechanic with a full complement of shop tools, including a plasma cutter, MIG welder, grinders, air tools, drill press, power saws, floor jacks, and a chest full of hand tools, you should really consider having a pro do the work. We did just that.
Rims and Rubber
One of the primary reasons to get a suspension lift system is to get more clearance for the axles with some bigger tires. We went with the Yokohama Geolandar M/T 35x12.50-17 directional tires because they will help us churn through mud with their beefy tread lugs and deep voids. In case your Jeep can’t fit 35-inch tires, the M/T directional tires are available in several different sizes, from 29 to 40 inches in diameter.
Big meats have to be mounted on wheels strong enough to support them and attractive enough to complement them. We liked the Raceline beadlock and got them through Summit Racing. These wheels are engineered to hold up to the extreme abuses of off-road desert racing and professional rockcrawling. They offer a 32-bolt beadlock system built with durable outer rings and a strong inner lip to allow your rig to go over obstacles, while keeping the tire bead securely attached to the wheel, even at very low air pressures.
A sturdy steering system upgrade is also something that should accompany a suspension lift system and larger tires. We turned to Rugged Ridge for its heavy-duty steering components (replacing the OEM tie rod with a stronger straight tie rod) and stabilizer. Once the install was finished, the LJ went to the closest Ted Wiens Tire & Auto for a full chassis alignment. A full chassis alignment should be done after any suspension rebuild, and the Ted Wiens shops have the requisite experience with 4x4s.