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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Building An "Everyman" TJ: Part 1

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 8, 2013 Comment (0)
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Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves with impossible tasks just to keep ourselves on our toes for the day-to-day rigmarole. Mel Wade, owner of Off Road Evolution in Fullerton, California, does this daily, building tough trail machines as fast as the customers come through the door. Competing in the Ultra4 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge is tough, but getting there is challenge in itself, especially when you're building and campaigning two vehicles that will race on consecutive days. But that didn't bother Mel or his crew as they set out to build an “Everyman” TJ just two months shy of the event. In fact, the looming deadline—the impossible task—was exactly what would motivate them.

While possessing all the attributes of a race car contender, the Everyman EVO TJ is still an everyday trail machine built with a wide selection of aftermarket parts, all of which would be a good and easy fit on any mild-mannered to extreme trail rig. Mel's goal wasn't to reinvent the wheel in building the EVO TJ but was rather to simply construct a capable and durable 4x4 that could conquer any terrain set before it.

Check out the beginnings of the EVO TJ build. We'll feature Part II of the build in next month's issue and the finished product—a race- and trail-ready TJ—in the October issue.

The Off Road Evolution Racing Team had a long a way to go and a short time to get there with its latest build, a 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ called EVO TJ that would compete in the 2013 Ultra4 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge. The Off Road Evolution Racing Team had a long a way to go and a short time to get there with its latest build, a 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ called EVO TJ that would compete in the 2013 Ultra4 King of the Hammers Everyman Challenge.
The 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ came into the shop a running rig with a 2.5L four-cylinder and AX-5 manual transmission. It had served as a shop rig and test mule for various Dynatrac parts over the years and was still ready for more action. The Off Road Evolution crew made quick work of stripping down the TJ to the frame and tub to begin the build. The 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ came into the shop a running rig with a 2.5L four-cylinder and AX-5 manual transmission. It had served as a shop rig and test mule for various Dynatrac parts over the years and was still ready for more action. The Off Road Evolution crew made quick work of stripping down the TJ to the frame and tub to begin the build.
The entire interior was removed to make way for a rollcage and custom dash. The stock engine and drivetrain also got the axe and will be replaced with more durable, premium components. The entire interior was removed to make way for a rollcage and custom dash. The stock engine and drivetrain also got the axe and will be replaced with more durable, premium components.
The entire interior was removed to make way for a rollcage and custom dash. The stock engine and drivetrain also got the axe and will be replaced with more durable, premium components. The entire interior was removed to make way for a rollcage and custom dash. The stock engine and drivetrain also got the axe and will be replaced with more durable, premium components.
The rollcage came together quickly and is shown here tacked together before final welding. Per the rules outlined for vehicles competing in the Everyman Challenge, little to no sheetmetal can be removed, which meant the seat bars had to sit atop the tranny tunnel and floorboards. The rollcage is constructed from 2-inch by 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing from Industrial Metal Supply. The rollcage came together quickly and is shown here tacked together before final welding. Per the rules outlined for vehicles competing in the Everyman Challenge, little to no sheetmetal can be removed, which meant the seat bars had to sit atop the tranny tunnel and floorboards. The rollcage is constructed from 2-inch by 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing from Industrial Metal Supply.
The rollcage came together quickly and is shown here tacked together before final welding. Per the rules outlined for vehicles competing in the Everyman Challenge, little to no sheetmetal can be removed, which meant the seat bars had to sit atop the tranny tunnel and floorboards. The rollcage is constructed from 2-inch by 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing from Industrial Metal Supply. The rollcage came together quickly and is shown here tacked together before final welding. Per the rules outlined for vehicles competing in the Everyman Challenge, little to no sheetmetal can be removed, which meant the seat bars had to sit atop the tranny tunnel and floorboards. The rollcage is constructed from 2-inch by 0.120-inch-wall DOM tubing from Industrial Metal Supply.
With Nitto Tire and ATX Series Wheels on board as sponsors of the EVO team, the tire and wheel choice was an easy one. The tires are 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers mounted to 17x9 ATX Series Slab beadlocks with 3.5 inches of backspacing. With Nitto Tire and ATX Series Wheels on board as sponsors of the EVO team, the tire and wheel choice was an easy one. The tires are 35x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers mounted to 17x9 ATX Series Slab beadlocks with 3.5 inches of backspacing.
Energy Suspension supplied a set of its Wrangler TJ 1-inch-lift body mounts along with various tube bushings and a transmission mount. Energy Suspension supplied a set of its Wrangler TJ 1-inch-lift body mounts along with various tube bushings and a transmission mount.
A Proform 258ci I-6 distributor is installed on the 505 Performance 4.9L stroker engine, along with the Taylor spark wires from Summit Racing. The Brown Dog Offroad 1-inch-lift motor mounts are also in view. A Proform 258ci I-6 distributor is installed on the 505 Performance 4.9L stroker engine, along with the Taylor spark wires from Summit Racing. The Brown Dog Offroad 1-inch-lift motor mounts are also in view.
The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker crate motor arrived as a complete turnkey assembly along with 505 Performance’s standalone EZ EFI system. The engine is fit with JBA headers and quality ARP fasteners throughout. Once mated to the custom-built 32RH auto transmission, the 4.9L stroker was lowered into the engine bay so motor mount placement could be determined. The goal was to raise the motor and move it forward while also raking it to the rear, following the lines of the transmission housing along the trans tunnel. With help from the 1-inch body lift from Energy Suspension, this allowed the Atlas transfer case and transmission to sit just above the lower framerail so a flat belly pan skidplate could be used. The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker crate motor arrived as a complete turnkey assembly along with 505 Performance’s standalone EZ EFI system. The engine is fit with JBA headers and quality ARP fasteners throughout. Once mated to the custom-built 32RH auto transmission, the 4.9L stroker was lowered into the engine bay so motor mount placement could be determined. The goal was to raise the motor and move it forward while also raking it to the rear, following the lines of the transmission housing along the trans tunnel. With help from the 1-inch body lift from Energy Suspension, this allowed the Atlas transfer case and transmission to sit just above the lower framerail so a flat belly pan skidplate could be used.
The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker crate motor arrived as a complete turnkey assembly along with 505 Performance’s standalone EZ EFI system. The engine is fit with JBA headers and quality ARP fasteners throughout. Once mated to the custom-built 32RH auto transmission, the 4.9L stroker was lowered into the engine bay so motor mount placement could be determined. The goal was to raise the motor and move it forward while also raking it to the rear, following the lines of the transmission housing along the trans tunnel. With help from the 1-inch body lift from Energy Suspension, this allowed the Atlas transfer case and transmission to sit just above the lower framerail so a flat belly pan skidplate could be used. The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker crate motor arrived as a complete turnkey assembly along with 505 Performance’s standalone EZ EFI system. The engine is fit with JBA headers and quality ARP fasteners throughout. Once mated to the custom-built 32RH auto transmission, the 4.9L stroker was lowered into the engine bay so motor mount placement could be determined. The goal was to raise the motor and move it forward while also raking it to the rear, following the lines of the transmission housing along the trans tunnel. With help from the 1-inch body lift from Energy Suspension, this allowed the Atlas transfer case and transmission to sit just above the lower framerail so a flat belly pan skidplate could be used.
The Brown Dog Offroad motor mount kits are ideal for high torque and horsepower driving situations but are also a great upgrade for trail rigs looking for quality insurance against failure. The Super Kit included Brown Dog’s Super Brackets, 1-inch polyurethane motor mount lifts, and Grade 8 hardware. The Super Brackets feature a double-welded, all-steel construction and offer more attachment points than stock to spread the stress load and virtually eliminate sheared bolts. The left bracket features up to seven bolts, four more than stock, and the right bracket features eight bolts, five more than stock. Brown Dog motor mount kits are available for YJ, TJ, XJ, and MJ model Jeeps. The Brown Dog Offroad motor mount kits are ideal for high torque and horsepower driving situations but are also a great upgrade for trail rigs looking for quality insurance against failure. The Super Kit included Brown Dog’s Super Brackets, 1-inch polyurethane motor mount lifts, and Grade 8 hardware. The Super Brackets feature a double-welded, all-steel construction and offer more attachment points than stock to spread the stress load and virtually eliminate sheared bolts. The left bracket features up to seven bolts, four more than stock, and the right bracket features eight bolts, five more than stock. Brown Dog motor mount kits are available for YJ, TJ, XJ, and MJ model Jeeps.
With the engine placement determined and the motor mounts welded in, the EVO crew commenced with bolting up some of the remaining engine components and routing the 505 Performance standalone EZ EFI wiring harness. With the engine placement determined and the motor mounts welded in, the EVO crew commenced with bolting up some of the remaining engine components and routing the 505 Performance standalone EZ EFI wiring harness.
A Powermaster high-amp alternator was installed. A Powermaster high-amp alternator was installed.
A Powermaster XS Torque starter was bolted to the block and will ensure solid starts. A Powermaster XS Torque starter was bolted to the block and will ensure solid starts.
The PSC Motorsports power steering pump with pulley and tank were installed on the 505 Performance 4.9L stroker. The PSC Motorsports power steering pump with pulley and tank were installed on the 505 Performance 4.9L stroker.
An Odyssey battery is held in a Ballistic Fabrication battery box that was mounted in the factory battery location. An Odyssey battery is held in a Ballistic Fabrication battery box that was mounted in the factory battery location.
Keeping things quick and easy is a welcome sight when building a custom rig, and the Direct-fit Flex-a-fit slim-profile aluminum radiator and 15-inch Black Magic S-Blade Electric Fan kit from Flex-a-lite made ordering and installation a breeze. Available for 1987-to-2006 Wranglers, the Flex-a-lite Flex-a-fit 1/2-inch, two-row aluminum radiator uses OE mounting points, features patented side-tank technology, and the T-channels offer better heat transfer. The all-aluminum radiator core is hand-welded in the USA to the Flex-a-fit side tanks, and heavy-duty mounting brackets are included. Keeping things quick and easy is a welcome sight when building a custom rig, and the Direct-fit Flex-a-fit slim-profile aluminum radiator and 15-inch Black Magic S-Blade Electric Fan kit from Flex-a-lite made ordering and installation a breeze. Available for 1987-to-2006 Wranglers, the Flex-a-lite Flex-a-fit 1/2-inch, two-row aluminum radiator uses OE mounting points, features patented side-tank technology, and the T-channels offer better heat transfer. The all-aluminum radiator core is hand-welded in the USA to the Flex-a-fit side tanks, and heavy-duty mounting brackets are included.
Keeping things quick and easy is a welcome sight when building a custom rig, and the Direct-fit Flex-a-fit slim-profile aluminum radiator and 15-inch Black Magic S-Blade Electric Fan kit from Flex-a-lite made ordering and installation a breeze. Available for 1987-to-2006 Wranglers, the Flex-a-lite Flex-a-fit 1/2-inch, two-row aluminum radiator uses OE mounting points, features patented side-tank technology, and the T-channels offer better heat transfer. The all-aluminum radiator core is hand-welded in the USA to the Flex-a-fit side tanks, and heavy-duty mounting brackets are included. Keeping things quick and easy is a welcome sight when building a custom rig, and the Direct-fit Flex-a-fit slim-profile aluminum radiator and 15-inch Black Magic S-Blade Electric Fan kit from Flex-a-lite made ordering and installation a breeze. Available for 1987-to-2006 Wranglers, the Flex-a-lite Flex-a-fit 1/2-inch, two-row aluminum radiator uses OE mounting points, features patented side-tank technology, and the T-channels offer better heat transfer. The all-aluminum radiator core is hand-welded in the USA to the Flex-a-fit side tanks, and heavy-duty mounting brackets are included.
Flex-a-lite also supplied two of its 10 1/2-inch by 15-inch by 1 1/2-inch HD remote-mount oil coolers. The coolers are thermostatically controlled and feature a custom shroud that maximizes the effect of its 850-cfm electric fans. Gator Clip mounting clamps were included for an easy installation. Flex-a-lite also supplied two of its 10 1/2-inch by 15-inch by 1 1/2-inch HD remote-mount oil coolers. The coolers are thermostatically controlled and feature a custom shroud that maximizes the effect of its 850-cfm electric fans. Gator Clip mounting clamps were included for an easy installation.
The Painless Performance battery cable kit features 15 feet of red #1 gauge positive cable and 3 feet of black #1 gauge cable, both with heavy-duty battery terminals already installed. Capable of handling more than 250 amps, the kit includes side post adapters and high-amp crimp ring terminals. The Painless Performance battery cable kit features 15 feet of red #1 gauge positive cable and 3 feet of black #1 gauge cable, both with heavy-duty battery terminals already installed. Capable of handling more than 250 amps, the kit includes side post adapters and high-amp crimp ring terminals.
Painless Performance is a great go-to for all electrical system needs. Shown here are a Painless Performance gauge wiring harness, a fuse and relay block with harness, battery isolator, loom, and an Offroad Six-Switch/Push-Button Start switch panel. The panel features a formed polyethylene liner to seal the faceplate to the dash or chassis, creating a water-resistant seal. All circuits and switches are protected by weather-resistant boots and all circuits are protected with circuit breakers. The panel includes 18 feet of TXL wire with machine-applied, vibration-resistant, fully insulated terminals. Painless Performance is a great go-to for all electrical system needs. Shown here are a Painless Performance gauge wiring harness, a fuse and relay block with harness, battery isolator, loom, and an Offroad Six-Switch/Push-Button Start switch panel. The panel features a formed polyethylene liner to seal the faceplate to the dash or chassis, creating a water-resistant seal. All circuits and switches are protected by weather-resistant boots and all circuits are protected with circuit breakers. The panel includes 18 feet of TXL wire with machine-applied, vibration-resistant, fully insulated terminals.
It turns out that the JAZ Products Pro Sport II 32-gallon fuel cell (PN 280-032-06) is a flawless fit between the rear fenders of Wrangler TJs (at least on stripped-down 1997 models but likely other years, as well). The Pro Sport II fuel cell features a seamless cross-linked polyethylene inner shell and a 20-gauge welded steel container powdercoated in red. This unit was ordered with the optional aviation safety foam, as well as the 45-degree filler neck. Other features include a Mil-spec anodized AN-8 fuel pickup and a Mil-spec anodized AN-8 tip over valve vent. It turns out that the JAZ Products Pro Sport II 32-gallon fuel cell (PN 280-032-06) is a flawless fit between the rear fenders of Wrangler TJs (at least on stripped-down 1997 models but likely other years, as well). The Pro Sport II fuel cell features a seamless cross-linked polyethylene inner shell and a 20-gauge welded steel container powdercoated in red. This unit was ordered with the optional aviation safety foam, as well as the 45-degree filler neck. Other features include a Mil-spec anodized AN-8 fuel pickup and a Mil-spec anodized AN-8 tip over valve vent.
The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker engine is rated at 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It’s available as a stroker kit or as a turnkey mill using 505’s EZ EFI standalone system, which is designed to work with all factory 4.0L components and can be used with any transmission. The engine features SCAT forged 43/40 H Series rods, RaceTec custom race pistons, Total Seal or equivalent rings, Clevlite rods and mains, and a custom blueprinted 4.00 stroke crankshaft. The engine is balanced and the compression is 9.2:1. A Proform 258ci I-6 distributer is used along with Taylor spark plug wires from Summit Racing. Also note the customized AEM TJ 4.0L air intake system. The EVO crew cut and welded the tube to route it through the firewall to mount the filter under the dash so cooler, cleaner air would enter the manifold. The 505 Performance 4.9L 294ci stroker engine is rated at 325 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It’s available as a stroker kit or as a turnkey mill using 505’s EZ EFI standalone system, which is designed to work with all factory 4.0L components and can be used with any transmission. The engine features SCAT forged 43/40 H Series rods, RaceTec custom race pistons, Total Seal or equivalent rings, Clevlite rods and mains, and a custom blueprinted 4.00 stroke crankshaft. The engine is balanced and the compression is 9.2:1. A Proform 258ci I-6 distributer is used along with Taylor spark plug wires from Summit Racing. Also note the customized AEM TJ 4.0L air intake system. The EVO crew cut and welded the tube to route it through the firewall to mount the filter under the dash so cooler, cleaner air would enter the manifold.
An Odyssey battery was wired with a Painless Performance battery cable kit and mounted in a Ballistic Fabrication battery box. An Odyssey battery was wired with a Painless Performance battery cable kit and mounted in a Ballistic Fabrication battery box.
The Flex-a-lite transmission cooler was secured to the Flex-a-lite radiator using the supplied Gator Clip mounting clips. The Flex-a-lite transmission cooler was secured to the Flex-a-lite radiator using the supplied Gator Clip mounting clips.
The Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case was tucked up high so its lowest corner is just above the bottom of the framerail. The Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case was tucked up high so its lowest corner is just above the bottom of the framerail.
A tube crossmember was constructed to support the 32RH transmission and Atlas transfer case. The EVO team will affix a flat-belly skidplate to protect both of these vital drivetrain components. A tube crossmember was constructed to support the 32RH transmission and Atlas transfer case. The EVO team will affix a flat-belly skidplate to protect both of these vital drivetrain components.

Sources

Auto Meter
Sycamore, IL 60178
866-248-6356
www.autometer.com
Flex-A-Lite
Fife, WA 98424
253-922-2700
http://www.flex-a-lite.com
Summit Racing
Akron, OH
800-230-3030
SummitRacing.com
Royal Purple
Porter, TX 77365
888-382-6300
www.royalpurple.com
Dynatrac
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714-596-4461
www.dynatrac.com
Poly Performance
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
805-783-2060
www.polyperformance.com
505 Performance
Albuquerque, NM
505-333-2600
www.505performance.com
Aeromotive
Lenexa, KS 66214
913-647-7300
http://www.aeromotiveinc.com
King Shocks
Garden Grove, CA 92840
714-530-8701
www.kingshocks.com
Discount Tire
855-869-7914
http://www.discounttire.com
Industrial Metal Supply
Irvine, CA 92606
949-250-3343
www.industrialmetalsupply.com
JBA Headers
San Diego, CA 92120
909-599-5955
jbaheaders
PSC Motorsports
Azle, TX 76020
817-270-0102
www.pscmotorsports.com
MasterCraft Safety
Santee, CA 92071
800-565-4042
www.mastercraftsafety.com
Odyssey Batteries
Reading, PA 19605
8005383627
http://www.odysseybattery.com
ATX Series Wheels
www.atxwheels.com
sPOD
661-755-8139
http://www.4x4s-pod.com
Ballistic Fabrication
Tucson, AZ
520-888-4441
www.ballisticfabrication.com
Jaz Products
800-525-8133
www.jazproducts.com
Advance Adapters Inc.
800-350-2223
www.advanceadapters.com
Borgeson
Torrington, CT 06790
860-482-8283
www.borgeson.com
ProForm
810-774-7775
proformparts.com
Sparco
800-224-7113
www.sparcousa.com
Brown Dog Offroad
866-401-3877
http://www.browndogindustries.com
AEM Induction Systems
800-992-3000
www.aemintakes.com

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