How to fit 35s on your stock-height Wrangler Part I
Adding a lift to your Jeep has plenty of benefits. More space between your fenders and tires means you have room for bigger tires. Bigger tires will give you a few more inches of air between your axles, transfer case (as well as other vitals), and the dangers of the trail below. Sounds good, right? Well, not exactly. Oftentimes these added benefits are weakened by the unexpected side effects that come from your new lift. You've changed the geometry of all your suspension, steering, and driveline components, not to mention making your Jeep less stable by raising the center of gravity. If left unaddressed, these changes can lead to problems like bumpsteer, loss of traction-adding antisquat in your rear suspension, and vibrations from your maxed-out rear driveshaft.
Most Jeep owners put up with these problems because, to them, the benefits of bigger tires outweigh the undesirable side effects. But the truth is, you don't have to deal with these side effects. In fact, you don't have to lift your TJ at all in order to get bigger tires on it. We were able to fit a set of 35x13.50-15 Mickey Thompson Baja Claws on an unlifted '98 TJ with stock springs, shocks, driveline, and steering. To do this we did some minor sheetmetal trimming, added in some trick mail-order parts, did a pinch of fabrication, and replaced the factory hood and front fenders. The end result is a sleeper TJ with big tires that drives almost like stock on-road and performs awesomely off-road. Here's how we took a stock TJ and tweaked it into a low-CG (center of gravity), rock-hugging Jeep. In Part I of this story we'll show you how we made room for the 35-inch tires on the front of our little TJ. In the next issue we will discuss tire choice and how we got the other pair of 35-inch meats under the rear of our Wrangler. Then we'll take it wheeling.
Starting At Stock
After bolting on a spare set of 31s we had lying around, we took the '98 Wrangler out to see how it would flex. The 31-inch tires are about the biggest we would be comfortable wheeling with on a stock TJ. Any larger and you may get wrinkled front fenders and flares lying on the side of the trail from tire contact. After a lot of measuring and excess tire spinning, we figured that there was about 4 inches of uptravel on the front suspension of our stock TJ and about 512 inches of uptravel in the rear with the sway bars in place. The 31s were practically touching the fender flares both front and rear at full flex, so we knew at the end of our testing we would need to make major changes to get some serious tires under the Jeep sans lift. Fitting 35s at this point seemed impossible.
Making Room For Meat Up Front
Getting big tires under the front of a TJ is as easy as making more room for them. The problem is that making more room for tires on the front of a TJ is not necessarily easy, but there are a few ways we've seen it done. First, we could have just flatfendered our stock TJ fenders or added some trick tube fenders for the same benefits but with added trail-bashing strength. Both of these changes may have given us a few more inches of clearance for maybe 32- or 33-inch tires on the front of the Jeep, but that wasn't big enough for us. We wanted to run 35s.
Our next idea involved dropping the stock fenders altogether: This would give us lots of room behind the tire and more room over the top of the tire. But we doubted even the most Jeep-friendly officer would let open front wheels slide by without notice, and if our measurements were correct, 35s at full flex would still probably make contact with the hood, not to mention make our Jeep look like crap. No good.