1997 Jeep Wrangler - Mayhem To Moab: Part 2Posted in Project Vehicles on July 22, 2014 Comment (0)
A month ago we bought a ’97 Jeep TJ Wrangler to build for our annual trek to Moab, Utah, for the Easter Jeep Safari. That little Jeep came together quick because we mostly used bolt-on pieces and a good friend flew in and helped us sling wrenches. The Jeep was a bone-stock white four-cylinder model, and by the time we wrapped up the build it had earned the name Tube Sock. Tube Sock isn’t as fresh and white as it once was, but it’s definitely still fits great—on the trail, that is.
We are building Tube Sock low and wide, with mostly bolt-on parts. We started the build with body armor and concentrated on keeping it tight and light. With only a four-cylinder engine we don’t have a lot of power to spare, so we chose parts that were as minimal as possible so we wouldn’t have a lot of weight to drag up the trail.
“The little Jeep was due for some rock protection”
Then we headed home to add some color to our plain white Jeep in the form of seats and custom-colored beadlock wheels. We also did a whole bunch of other work, which we’ll show you next time.
Tube Sock is actually all finished, and (spoiler alert!) we made it to Moab, as can be seen in this story’s lead photo. But we’ll be showing the build of the Jeep over the next few months.
We took Tube Sock to Poison Spyder Customs for the full-monty Moab prep. The little Jeep was due for some rock protection in the way of bumpers, rock sliders, and a safer rollcage. For giggles we weighed the Jeep with stock parts intact to see how much poundage we wouldd be adding. Stock: 3,145 pounds.
The factory cage is sufficient and not bad, but this little Jeep is going from being street driven to trail abused, so we decided to upgrade to Poison Spyder’s Lazer-Fit rollcage. These rollcages are available either in pieces or 99 percent welded. We opted for welded.
Our factory bumpers are adequate but not impressive, so they were removed, as was the front sway bar. The factory parts are mostly constructed of folded, thin sheetmetal and plastic.
The old rollcage was removed after about a dozen bolts were undone. Lucky for us, this California truck wasn’t struck by rusty fasteners, as can happen with older Jeeps in humid climates. We really like the look of the TJ without any rollcage and with the windshield folded down, but personal wellbeing tells us that a rollcage is probably a better idea.
Our cage was powdercoated before installation and dropped in with ease. Note that we opted for a slanted fastback design. We feel it looks better, and with just a four-cylinder engine we’d rather do without the back seat (and the extra passengers who might use it) to keep the weight down. Also, without a back seat we don’t need the rear hoop.
Formed steel legs drop down along the sides of the dash. The top of the front hoop also ties into the windshield frame and helps support the cage and tub together. We had no odd cage vibration during freeway driving, as can be had with older Jeeps.
Behind the front seats is a horizontal seatbelt bar. We are adding seats and harnesses from PRP and will attach the shoulder harnesses to this tube.
Our cage only bolts to the tub currently, but it uses all the factory mounting locations and then some. It is made of drawn over mandrel (DOM) 13⁄4-inch tubing and 3⁄16-inch plate. Though we may add a frame tie-in support later, in its current state we’re pretty confident that the cage will provide protection for most trail mishaps.
We replaced our front and rear bumpers with steel ones from PSC. The front is a super stubby winch bumper called the Rock Brawler. It will get a Warn winch and a steering box guard, but it doesn’t protrude out sideways in front of the tires, so we can get our bigger tires straight onto the rocks.
Out back, we added a svelte steel bumper for optimal departure angle. The rear BFH (Built for the Hammers) bumper is tight against the tub. And we added the frame supports in case we need to yank hard on the recovery points.
The spare tire carrier will never hold a 37-inch muddy, and so we ditch the whole tailgate assembly for something lighter. The PSC TrailGate is a simple piece of 0.188-inch-thick aluminum with two hinges, latches, and support cables. The weight reduction is amazing compared to the stock gate, and we can always stuff a spare in the back of the Jeep if we deem it necessary. We’ll get it painted to match the old white Tube Sock eventually.
We opted for the minimal rock sliders that PSC offers, the Rocker Knockers. PSC offers models with tubular steps also, but we just want the least we can get away with while still protecting the tub. These bolt to the tub and tie into the body mounts, so they should be substantial for no-talent magazine writers who run amuck on rock trails. We put Tube Sock back on the scales after getting new bumpers, tailgate, sliders, and cage, and came up with 3,200 pounds! Yes, all that cool new stuff only added 55 pounds over stock.
Our next upgrade was a set of PRP seats. The TJ seats were kind of crooked from 125,000 miles of use, and we’re big fans of well-built suspension seats for off-road use. We peeled back the seat covers and found that the old seats were coming undone. Yes, we could have lived with it, but we decided to spring for something better.
We perused the PRP website and came across the competition low-back seats. We ordered up a pair. Although PRP offers a variety of models and colors, we liked the tan and grey we saw on the site so much, we chose that exact model. After installing the seats we realized that they are not for everyone. If you drive your Jeep daily, we recommend getting the PRP Jeep seats and not the competition seats with the really high side bolsters that make getting in a pain. We’d also recommend the wide version because the stock seat is pretty narrow even for our 36- to 38-inch waist.
The seat brackets from PRP are attached to the factory mounts but then allow sliders for adjustability. We spaced up the front of the sliders slightly to get a little recline on the seats. On the backs of the seats we had map pockets added so we would have a place for the stuff one always needs, like tire plug kits and jumper cables and maps, as well as internal lumbar support for hours of pain-free trail riding.
The deep-suspension seats do a great job of holding you in place, but a set of quality belts works even better. The PRP harnesses keep both driver and passenger locked in place, and the padded shoulders make them comfortable enough to wear every day.
Our stock 15-inch steel wheels are cute but not nearly wide enough or tall enough for what we have in mind with Tube Sock. Plus, the bolt pattern is only 5-on-4 1⁄2.
We decided that a set of 17-inch beadlocks would give us a greater choice of tires. American Racing’s ATX line has a new Chamber Pro Beadlock in a 17x9 with 4-inch backspacing. We had a set sent to our shop with a 5-on-5 1⁄2 bolt pattern.
The polished aluminum looks is fine, but we wanted something to make the wheels stand out. We carried over the tan and black color scheme from the seats to the beadlocks by having them powdercoated at Advanced Powder Coating & Sandblasting in Paso Robles, California. Then we wrapped the rims with a set of 37-inch Pit bull Rocker tires. Want to see how we fit those tires and what we bolted them to? Come back next month to find out more.