1997 Jeep Wrangler - Mayhem To Moab: Part 3Posted in Project Vehicles on September 30, 2014
In order to get ready for our annual trip to the Moab Easter Safari we stuffed 37-inch Pit Bull tires under our ’97 Jeep we affectionately call Tube Sock with only a 2-inch suspension lift. The goal is to build a strong yet simple little Jeep perfect for Moab’s red-rock trails. We figured 37’s would be adequate with just a trusty four-cylinder engine and enough gearing, but we really wanted to build this Jeep with as many off-the-shelf parts as we could find so that custom fabrication wouldn’t be required. In the end we did need to do some minor cutting and welding, but the majority of the install was still bolt-on.
The goal: build a strong simple Jeep
Last month we showed you the body armor and rollcage we added, and following that, we went to Currie Enterprise and had a set of RockJock axles built for Tube Sock to continue our adage of “over axle under engine,” but we’ll tell you more about those axles and other gearing next month. This month is all suspension. Bear with us as we showcase our BDS springs and long arm links.
Our friend Chris Durham of Chris Durham Motorsports in Pickens, South Carolina, has been showing up in Moab and on our annual Ultimate Adventure trip for years with low-slung TJ’s on big tires that work great off-road. Durham is a dynamic driver, so we can’t say that his Wranglers are the whole secret, but his recipe for building Jeeps without much lift and mucho rubber has not gone unnoticed for a great all-around vehicle. Our objective with Tube Sock is something similar to these lowly Southern Jeeps, but built with good aftermarket parts and without too much custom fabrication so it could be duplicated.
Tube Sock was rolled in the shop and instantly stripped of its Dana 30 front axle and Dana 35 rear. For years we have been screaming that although the Dana 30 can be built to handle more power and tire, the 35 is a live grenade just waiting for a big rock to strip gears and break shafts. Tube Sock may only have a four-cylinder engine, but who’s to say we won’t upgrade down the road? More engine will require more axles, so we went straight to bigger parts from the start.
To help clear 37s with very little suspension lift, we knew body modifications would be important. We started by ordering up a fiberglass front hood from Chris Durham Motorsports and had it painted to match Tube Sock white at San Luis Autobody in Atascadero, California. The hood is lighter than stock. Note how the small integrated fenders offer nearly 3 inches more tire clearance than the factory fenders.
In the back of Tube Sock we are going to upgrade from the pipsqueak Dana 35 to a bad-dude Rock Jock 60 from Currie. The bigger rear axle is almost guaranteed not to break with our puny four-banger, but it will take up more real estate when the suspension bottoms out and it wants to live where our gas tank currently resides. The solution is a GenRight Crawler EXT fuel tank.
The front of the GenRight aluminum tank has a cut out that allows clearance for the larger Dana 60 axle, and the axle can be pushed backwards for up to 5 inches of additional wheelbase stretch. The tank is 17 gallons, and the stock fuel sending unit and pump easily drop into the tank for easy installation of wiring and plumbing. The factory filler neck also attaches to the tank.
The EXT tank is made of TIG-welded 1⁄8-inch aluminum but then comes with a rock-smashing 3⁄16-inch-thick steel skidplate underneath. You will need to drill the frame for mounting, but the final installation results in a well-protected fuel system.
We decided to try a BDS long arm link kit for a TJ but with only a 2-inch lift coil. Most of the time BDS recommends the long arm with a taller lift, but we liked the idea of the long arm that reduces suspension arc of travel and a short lift spring to keep the center of gravity low. We started by cutting off the factory lower link brackets with a plasma torch and then grinding the frame clean.
Next we bolted the lower link brackets to the frame. This moves the link arm mounting point rearward to accommodate the longer links.
The upper link mount is also moved down to help keep the geometry similar to stock. The bracket ties into the frame but is located off of the old upper link mount.
Our front axle is a new Currie Rock Jock 44 (built to a 65-inch width) and Jeep JK knuckles from Ried racing. The axle has all the standard TJ suspension mounts and is packed with 5.38 gears and an ARB Air Locker to match the rear. We’ll show more of these axles next month along with how we got a 5-on-51⁄2 bolt pattern unit bearing from a Jeep military J8 axle.
Above the front 2-inch BDS coils we installed an ACOS adjustable coil spring mount from JKS. We like the adjustability of the mount and the integrated internal bumpstop.
An issue we ran into with the ACOS units was that they actually lifted the Jeep almost 13⁄8 inches just because of the adjuster collar. We didn’t need that additional lift, so we removed the collar and retained the bumpstop bracket alone. If we were to do it again, we probably wouldn’t have just used a weld-in bumpstop mount for the type of low Jeep we were trying to build.
Our front draglink and track bar created some issues to fit at full compression since we were running such a low lift and using an axle with TJ brackets. We are using a tie rod and draglink from Currie that are designed for a JK, but with the steering box inside the frame we had to shorten the draglink. Then the track bar we got from Currie was too short because it was originally designed for a JK, so we had to cut and splice in a piece of material it to make it longer. Finally we cut off both TJ track bar mounts (frame and axle) and added a Currie JK track bar mount on the axle side and a Synergy Manufacturing frame side track bar mount. In hindsight, adding JK axle mounts may have worked out better. Our front track bar to draglink geometry isn’t perfect and this step did result in our having to cut, weld, and fabricate, which wasn’t part of our plan, but this gave us the clearance needed to allow the Jeep to retain all its suspension travel.
The rear suspension also received 2-inch coils and the JKS ACOS bumpstops, and again we deleted the coil adjusters. We cut into the frame and allowed the bumpstops to sit higher up in the frame to allow more uptravel. This is a problem with a low Jeep, keeping sufficient uptravel in the suspension from ride height to make it fun to drive and so it would not constantly bottom out. Our rear bumpstop mounts had some issues when the bumpstop worked loose. We will address this and some of the new-car issues we had with Tube Sock in an upcoming issue.
With the low 2-inch BDS coils and long arm suspension we also added a set of Fox shocks. These combined with front and rear Currie Anti-rock sway bars to make the TJ work awesome as a daily driver. Yes, it’s a little pokey with only a four-cylinder engine and 35s (we’re already scheming about more ponies and cylinders under the hood), but it corners amazing with the wide axles and sway bars to keep the body level, and the shocks control the suspension remarkably both on- and off-road.
With only a 2-inch lift we thought we would need copious trimming to make our 37-inch Pit Bull rockers on 17-inch American Racing ATX Chamber Pro beadlocks (the color is custom). The rear fenders only required slight trimming at the back of the opening, and then we reinstalled the flares. The front fenders are trimmed to line up with the body line on the hood, and then we capped the corner with angle iron that we painted to match the rock sliders.