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2002 Jeep Liberty - Liberated!

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2002
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Contributors: Gabriel Sheffer

The kid just stood there dumbfounded. In utter awe, his jaw dropped slowly to the ground. "Wow," he said, his eyes growing wider as he approached the 4x4. "I've never seen one of those before. It's bitchin'!" Brent Yeadon, the driver, just smiled. He'd heard it all before. Quietly, Yeadon replied, "Yep, it's one of a kind." With that the kid just stood there smiling, resigned to the fact that he was eyewitness to a truly special ride.

As if driving a fire-engine red '03 Jeep Liberty with bright-yellow custom bumpers and bead locks wasn't enough to generate ooh's and ahh's, consider what a lifted Liberty with a solid-axle conversion will do. Now stop imagining.

Since its introduction last year, the Liberty has won accolades from the automotive press across the board. But for hard-core four-wheelers the Liberty is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. Sure, stock models get a Trac-Lok limited slip with 4.10:1 gears and a skidplate. Clearly this thing was built with rocks and mud on the brain. And yet there's that dang independent front suspension. As any gearhead can tell you, IFS just isn't the best bet for tackling serious trails, even though the Liberty's system works pretty well. Consequently, swapping in a solid axle is a no-brainer-except that as far as Yeadon knew, no one had done it yet on a Liberty.

The Liberty's uniframe/unibody was scalloped for coil clearance and bumpstops were specially fabricated. A Rubicon Express track bar and a CJ-7 antiroll bar with JKS disconnects were also added.

The process, though daunting, was worth any anguish it may have caused. To begin with, Larry Trimm, Yeadon's partner at Trailready, removed the stock IFS and steering assembly. He cut off the IFS brackets and crossmember from the steel subframe. Trimm, a passionate 'wheeler to be sure, fabbed a new crossmember, control-arm brackets and control arms. He then handmade brackets for the AGR steering box. The lower control arms were also handmade, and a Rubicon Express track-bar bracket was modified for the setup. In order to fit the front coils at the proper height, Trimm built a new top coil bumpstop for the coils to connect to. Finally, the rig was ready for its new axle. The Dana 30 was bolted in along with 4-inch TJ coils, the aforementioned AGR steering box, an RE track bar and a CJ-7 antiroll bar with JKS disconnects.

If their company primarily builds bumpers and bead-lock wheels, why were Yeadon and Trimm so amped about the swap? "Well, no one's done it yet and we wanted to be the first," Trimm admits (he's right as far as we know). "Plus we want to show off our new Liberty bumpers." Indeed this rig will be the show truck for their Trailready nameplate. "As a new company, this rig is something that'll get us the attention we want." Certainly, it's already stopping traffic.

Moments after the teenager moved on, a sweet middle-aged woman approached. Without a word she examined the truck, circling it several times. Finally, she put her hand to her chin and sighed, "Oh that is cute! It is so cute!" Yeadon was not pleased. Later he would say, "Man, I guess we'll have to do some more to it. We're looking for the opposite of cute."

PhotosView Slideshow

Maybe it was this puppy's exterior that earned it that double-edged compliment. In reality, the fiery Liberty is the new big dog in a kennel of been-there-done-that rides at Trailready. Its new Dana 30 tops the 4x's list of goodies. The pumpkin itself is filled with a high-pinion centersection with 4.11 gears connected to 297X Yukon Gear heavy-duty U-joints. Both diffs were stuffed with ARB air lockers. The rear axle remains the stock 8 1/2-inch Chrysler piece.

Beyond the front axle swap, the Liberty boasts 6 inches of total lift, new 305/70R16 Mickey Thompson Radial Claw tires and M/T wheels that were refabbed with Trailready's custom bead locks. A Borla cat-back exhaust was installed and modified for control-arm and driveline clearance by friends over at Pro Muffler. Relying on PIAA 510s for a clear view of oncoming obstacles and a Cobra CB to keep Yeadon in touch with Trimm and his other buddies, the Liberty is indeed ready for the trail. A Warn XD9000i winch and a Power Shot air tank provide some extra security while out there on the trail.

Yeadon's Liberty gets maximum traction with a set of 305/70R16 Mickey Thompson Radial Claws on Mickey Thompson Classic 16-inch wheels fit with Trailready's own custom bead locks.

Lest anyone thinks this Liberty never actually sees any dirt roads, Yeadon took Four Wheeler into some heady Northwest terrain for an off-road afternoon. Yeadon and the Liberty cruised into Washington's Salton Basin, where mud, rocks, trees and bumpy trails await. We aired down and proceeded to crawl into the muddy forest.

Just as Yeadon came upon a wildly uneven embankment, the driver side of his Liberty almost slid into a fierce boulder protruding out of a muddy sidewall. A squirt of gas would have carved the door quite nicely were it not for Yeadon's insistence that this Liberty at least makes it to Autumn's SEMA show in Las Vegas unscathed. Call him cautious, smart, or timid, Yeadon knows when to say when. Whatever you do, however, please don't call his Liberty cute.


Owner Brent Yeadon, Everett, Washington
Vehicle model 2002 Jeep Liberty
Estimated value $30,000

Type SOHC V-6
Displacement (liter/ci) 3.7L
Aspiration Borla cat-back exhaust modified for control arm and driveline clearance

Transmission 45RFE 4WD Limited automatic
Transfer case NP242

Front Five-link coil, modified Superlift TJ kit
Rear Wishbone bracket, coil, modified Superlift TJ kit

Front Dana 30, ARB Air Locker
Rear Chrysler 811/42-inch, ARB Air Locker
Ring and pinion 4.11:1

Wheels (in.) 16x8 Mickey Thompson Classic w/Trailready bead locks
Tires 305/70R16 Mickey Thompson Radial Claw

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