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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Project Teal - J II, Part 17

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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We spent about six months testing the High Clearance Crawler kit. We really like the front portion of the kit, thanks to the simplicity of the radius-arm design and the silky-smooth ride afforded by the Dirt Logic 2.5 coilover shocks.

We first noticed Fabtech's new coilover conversion for Jeep TJs at the 2004 SEMA show in Las Vegas. Ever since then, we've drooled over the idea of upgrading Teal's coil-sprung long-arm suspension to the new "High Clearance Crawler kit." Lucky for us, Fabtech also wanted to test-fit the kit on a pre-2000 Jeep TJ. "Awesome," we thought, "Teal-J is an early '97 vintage, so everybody wins." However, when it came down to installation time, Fabtech's research and development team encountered a whole assortment of complications specific to our beloved Teal-J's underpinnings. First, we have the Hemi engine, not exactly what you'd find under the hood of your typical TJ. The Fabtech engineers had to resolve issues related to routing the exhaust, oil filter clearance, and driveshaft angles before work could even begin. Then there was the Dynatrac ProRock 60 rear end-not as much of a problem as the Hemi, but still an issue that had to be addressed before installation could occur. You see, the guys at Fabtech designed their Crawler kit to fit a factory Jeep, not the Frankenstein mishmash that Teal has evolved into over the past few years. However, they took on the challenge and proceeded confidently with the upgrades. The results were mixed. Rather than showing you the lengthy step-by-step installation process, we decided to highlight some of the trick aspects of the kit and provide information that might help would-be buyers decide if this is the right kit for their TJ.

We must warn you, this system is quite complex, so without proper equipment, training, and/or experience, we don't recommend installing it on your own at home. Get help from a qualified professional shop. Drilling, cutting, and grinding are all required.

Much of the Teal's Crawler kit was in prototype form when we shot this, so don't be surprised if some of the components in our pictures look slightly different from the actual production parts.

Here, you can see the factory coil bucket has been removed, and the start of what will eventually be the new shock hoop. These shock hoops bolt onto the frame and tie into an engine-mount bracket inside the framerails. Because Teal-J's motor mounts are not original, Fabtech had to build these custom hoop support structures. You'll also notice the new bumpstop bracket and track-bar drop bracket, each of which is constructed from 11/44-inch plate steel.

Fabtech Motorsports has a well-known history in off-road racing. They sponsor several successful racers in both competition rockcrawling and go-fast desert racing. Professionals such as Tracy Jordan, Greg Foutz, Scott Steinburger, and Chris Amerein all race for the Fabtech family. These sponsorships give Fabtech designers access to the toughest proving grounds around. They also involve designing, building, and prepping actual race vehicles throughout the racing season. So it's no wonder Fabtech's team has some of the most innovative suspension products around. We enjoyed hanging out with the Fabtech R&D team while Teal-J was being worked on. Aside from checking out tons of cool race vehicles in the shop, it was refreshing to see all the designers, fabricators, and other Fabtech employees pulling into the gigantic 200,000-square-foot Chino, California, facility each morning. (The scene reminded us of our own Primedia building parking lot, full of interesting project trucks to drool over.) In fact, the variety of trail-ready toys owned by Fabtech employees proved to us that the people behind the scenes at Fabtech are indeed enthusiasts, not just pencil-pushing pavement-pounders out to make a quick buck. This gave us lots of confidence that the TJ Crawler system would work well on the trail.

Fabtech's Crawler system was designed for hard-core rockcrawling enthusiasts, so we expected the kit to have robust componentry. It did. Additionally we expected it to have competition-proven design aspects, or in other words, we assumed we'd see the trickle-down effect of race technology in their production parts. We did. But perhaps the most surprising part of what we discovered about Fabtech's High Clearance Crawler system was how much the kit changed Teal's everyday street dynamics. More on this later.

Maximum ground clearance and articulation were the goals of the Fabtech designers. Both require careful engineering to get right. And because Fabtech's TJ Crawler system was derived from race vehicles, it features both of these as well as some pretty uncommon link geometry that Fabtech claims helps in many rockcrawling scenarios. The front of the system features an adjustable radius-arm setup and two 2.5 Dirt Logic coilovers built in-house by Fabtech. The rear of the system uses a three-link wishbone arrangement and standard coil springs. The entire system is connected by a three-piece 11/42-inch-thick transfer-case bellypan that bolts directly to the framerails. This system provides zero caster and pinion angle change throughout the entire range of travel.

PhotosView Slideshow

We tested Teal's new suspension over a variety of terrain. First, we drove the Jeep on the pavement for several thousand miles to get a feel for the rig's new roll-center and anti-squat characteristics. Our only complaint here was the kit's rear-link geometry which caused predictable but unnerving torque transfer during hard left turns. Part of this can probably be attributed to the Detroit Locker in the rear axle, though we feel that the kit's rear link-arm design was also a contributing factor. Similar to setups found on some Trophy Trucks, the wishbone (or center link) shares a common mounting bolt with each of the upper mounts on the lower link arms. On Teal-J, this design resulted in massive anti-squat, effectively causing the rear axle to push down hard during acceleration. This downward force pushes up on the chassis, which causes the front suspension to try to compensate. With the front axle connected laterally by a track bar, the force is directed down through the track bar, effectively pushing down on the passenger-side front tire. This causes the front driver-side tire to lift off the pavement with even the slightest of throttle during a left turn. When we questioned Fabtech about this, they pointed out that that effect actually would help during steep hillclimbs and that the dynamic was probably amplified significantly by the increased torque of Teal's Hemi engine. We couldn't disagree.

Next we set out for the sand dunes of Twentynine Palms, California. At first, we were blown away with how well the Dirt Logic coilover shocks soaked up whoops in the front. However, the rear, having standard coil springs and less capable monotube shocks, tended to buck and bounce with any significant speed. Afterwards we decided to jump Teal-J a few times to see how well the system could handle a hard bottom-out. Unfortunately, it only took three small jumps to completely destroy both front polyurethane bumpstops. Needless to say, this kit wasn't designed for frequent flying.

We then took on some nasty boulder obstacles in one of our testing facilities near Los Angeles, California. With the front sway bar disconnected, the Jeep flexed its way around our rock garden with ease. In Moab last spring, we really put the kit through its paces. Moab Rim, Kane Creek, and Hell's Revenge proved this kit was quite capable in the rocks. On a top-secret trail ride ("Moab's Best Kept Secret," Aug. '06), we flogged Teal-J pretty hard trying to keep up with Clifton Slay's group, and we're happy to say the only problem we encountered all day was one broken bumpstop. Unfortunately, hydraulic bumpstops are not yet an option with the Crawler kit.

PhotosView Slideshow

* Massive 251/48-inch rebuildable forged rod ends
* 3/8-inch high-density plastic transfer-case skid pan cover is standard
* Double-shear mounting brackets throughout
* Exhaust modification kit available; includes a Magnaflow muffler
* All hardware is Grade 8
* Zero caster and pinion angle change
* Very detailed instructions with graphics


Fabtech Motorsports
Brea, CA 92821


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