One of the most rewarding moments for any project is setting the rig on its tires for the first time. On a larger-scale build, such as our Rescued Wrangler, it doesn’t mean that we are finished. However, it does serve as a great measuring stick that showcases how far we’ve come and where we need to go. Despite what you may have seen on so-called “reality TV” car shows, a one-week turnaround for a project such as this isn’t realistic. Like you, we set small goals for the day/week and chip away at our project as time allows. We’ve been fortunate to work with the experts at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, on our build, which has made the past few months of wrenching and building, much easier.
For this month’s installment, we are finally ready to get the rig rolling (quite literally). Having the Jeep on its wheels will help us dial in important suspension pieces and address any possible clearance issues. In order to get the YJ able to roll, we had to decide on a set of shoes. Choosing the right tire for this rig was harder that we thought. The 2½-ton Rockwell axle has been the go-to axle for guys wanting to run 44-inch and taller tires for years. The 6.72:1 final drive ratio of the axle demands a large cleat and its heavy-duty full-float components are engineered to handle more than triple the weight of our Jeep.
From day one with this rig, our inner child screamed at us to go big with 54s, but our more grownup voice of reason talked us into 44-inch Pit Bull Rockers. While Rockwell axles and huge tires go hand-in-hand, there is more to the equation. So why not go with the largest set of cleats we could find? The answer comes down to the core of our project, which is still a mostly stock ’95 Jeep Wrangler.
We say mostly stock because the factory 4.0L inline-six remains, along with the stock three-speed automatic, and NP231 transfer case. Sure, the 4.0L is rated at 180hp and 220 lb-ft of torque which is OK, but not overly impressive. Essentially, we would rather have a little power on tap with 44s, versus constantly feeling underpowered with 54s. Aside from the power issue, the stock Rockwell ’shafts are only good for up to a 46, maybe 49-inch tall tire, depending on the application.
Admittedly, we are leaving the door open for us to up the tire size if we ever feel the need, but for now, we are excited about churning the 44-inch Pit Bull tires in the dirt. We still have plenty of work to do, but are happy to check off the large order we accomplished this month. Be sure to check back next month as we get our steering system in place and continue to make progress on our low budget, big Jeep.
Step By Step
On the front axle, we went with a set of Ballistic Fabrication Rockwell-specific radius-style control-arm mounts that come affixed with a flat-bottom coil plate. The coil plate comes with a spring retainer and is 5-1/2 inches wide to accommodate a coil from a Jeep Wrangler TJ. Each of the mounts are made of 1/4-inch laser-cut steel and fitted with a 7-inch gap between the 9⁄16-inch control-arm mounting holes.
We used EVO Manufacturing’s 3⁄16-inch steel universal control-arm mounts for both the upper and lower suspension mounts on the YJ’s frame. We modified the upper mounts slightly so that we could tie them to the stock body mounts. Since the Rockwell axle is extremely wide, we were able to place the EVO upper control-arm mounts on the outside of the framerails. This allowed the upper links a direct line to the axle mount, while the lowers have a slight kick that the Johnny Joints easily compensate for.
Just as we showed you last month with our rear lowers, we used Currie Johnny Joints on all of our upper and lower control arms. The 2.5-inch joints strength and range of motion make them perfect for our application. The Currie weld-in sleeves are set in 2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing. For adjustability, right and left-hand joints were used.
We opted to push our frontend forward quite a bit to achieve our 108-110-inch wheelbase goals. This front push also allowed us more control-arm length and acceptable operating angles. Ideally, the links would be completely flat at ride height, but the massive third member on the 2-1/2-ton Rockwell can be challenging to package under a conventional 4x4. On the positive, the high-top third member keeps the drivelines tucked out of the way much better than a traditional high- or low-pinion axle.
Once we dropped in our 3-1/2-inch Jeep Wrangler TJ BDS Suspension rear coil springs, we used a level and tape measure to square the front. Once we had the rig sitting where we wanted, we tacked in a set of DOM bracer legs to keep the Jeeps frontend in place. We’ve burnt through a few grinding wheels and Sawzall blades, but spending time to prep the surface for welding is well worth the time and effort.
For the upper coil buckets on the front of the Jeep, we used Ballistic Fabrication’s adjustable upper buckets. Once you weld in the base tabs, you can adjust the height of the bucket and bolt it in place. We are running a set of BDS Suspension 3-1/2-inch front TJ coil springs up front to match the springs out back. They are a little on the soft side, but combined with the right shock valving, it should make for a smooth and functional suspension. The upper bucket also has a bolt-on coil retainer so you don’t have to worry about the springs shooting out when the suspension is extended.
As is the case with most 4x4 shops, there is often an extra bracket or two sitting around. We scavenged this track bar bracket and set of tabs from Low Range 4x4 and fitted our custom track bar setup behind the front axle. We are using 1-1/2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM tubing for the track bar with 5⁄8-inch Grade 8 bolts and rod ends. There is still more bracing and fastening to be done, but this gets us rolling for now.
Finding wheels for the massive 6-on-8-3/4 Rockwell bolt pattern isn’t as easy as calling your local Discount Tire. We ordered our custom-built 15x12 beadlock wheels through The Off-Road Connection in Fultondale, Alabama. The Off-Road Connection owner Keith Baily worked with us to determine the best options and backspacing for the wheels. Since our hubs are flipped in, we opted to go with 3-1/2 inches of backspacing. While the steel wheels are not the lightest, the dual-plate wheel-mounting surface and heavy-duty beadlock faceplate make for an incredibly strong wheel.
One of the nicer aspects about beadlock wheels is that you can mount them at home. Using a little soap, water, and good old-fashion manpower, popping the 44-inch Pit Bull Rocker onto the wheel takes a little effort, but can be a one person job.
Securing the beadlock ring to the wheel is a tedious process, but one you should never rush. Our wheels came fitted with Grade 8 bolts and weld-in steel inserts. We had our wheels powdercoated locally by Area 51 Powder Coating, and were thankful that they took care and plugged the inserts before coating the wheels.
We remember when 44-inch tall tires used to be considered huge! To us, they still are. Our 44x19.50-15LTs Pit Bull Rockers deliver a massive footprint and weigh a hearty 146 pounds each. We’ve had great performance out of the Rockers in the past and look forward to putting them to the test on our rig.