It seems that we all want to have our cake and eat it too. We want our competition Jeep that can tackle any terrain, but we also want to throw on a top and a back seat and take the family camping for the weekend. It's a fine line between trail rig and trailer queen. While most of us want capable Jeeps, there are still plenty of people who want to grab the weekend wheeler and take it to the supermarket to pick up some milk. Who says you can't have a capable trail rig that you can take to the store? And who says you can't take the family camping and also run competitions?
Tommy McElmeel's '93 YJ does just that. Tommy has competed in five CRCA events with his Jeep, winning one competition and finishing in the top four in the rest. He also still puts on his soft top to head to the Sierra Nevadas for annual week-long camping trips.
For the thin line between a street rig and a trailer queen, Tommy has found a pretty good median.
Chassis and Drivetrain
Sitting under the hood of Tommy's rig is the factory 4.0L H.O. motor. Although there's nothing exceptional about the Jeep 4.0L, it's a strong workhorse that puts out good torque and has proven to be a very reliable powerplant. The engine compartment is dressed up with all kinds of goodies. A York air compressor with stainless steel braided lines provides air for tools, the lockers, the tires, and whatever else you can think of. Against the passenger-side firewall are a couple of Odyssey PC-1200 batteries. Tommy claims that he ran his Jeep's stereo for a week while working on a project and it still fired right up. Next to his home-built dual-battery tray sits a Mobi-Weld power welder, which he uses to weld other people's broken junk. Tommy has welded half a dozen AMC 20 rear axles, a few frames, suspension parts, and at least a dozen driveshafts. The motor also sports an aftermarket header and a 3-inch exhaust system routed in front of the oil sump for clearance.
Behind the 4.0L sits the factory AX-15 five-speed manual tranny. We can't say much about the tranny other than that it is relatively light and has yet to fail. For the die-hard manual guys, it's not a bad tranny, although it's no bombproof NV4500. At only 3.07:1, the First gear is not amazing for rockcrawling.
Mated to the AX-15 is an Advance Adapters Atlas II T-case with a 5.0 low range. It sports huge 32-spline front and rear output shafts. A pair of 1330 CV joints link up the T-case to the driveshafts. A 1350 U-joint is used at the rear axle end for bashability. Tommy's front driveshaft features a 24-inch slip joint made from PTO equipment, just in case his axle decides to droop 10 feet away from the Jeep. The underside of the Jeep is protected with a custom flat-bottom skidplate/crossmember.
A Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 with 35-spline shafts, 4.88 gears, 11-inch disc brakes, and an ARB Air Locker handles the rear. Up front is a custom-built, high-pinion Dana 44 axle sporting another ARB, like gears, Warn shafts and hubs, CTM U-joints, 11-inch disc brakes, and GM flat-top knuckles with high-steer arms. Tommy also threw in a Ford E350 brake master cylinder, an adjustable proportioning valve, line locks, and CNC-cutting brakes (which he absolutely loves for making tight corners).
The front of the Jeep runs a simple spring-over lift using custom mix-and-match springs with a garage-built shackle-reversal system. Rancho 9000 shocks hang from custom shock hoops to control the rebound.
Tommy's rear suspension is a work of art. He spent weeks at his computer drawing his link suspension in Auto CAD and calculating his roll axis, antisquat, and link dimensions in order to get a system that made him happy. His suspension links run Currie Johnny Joints at all ends. The lower links are 1 1/2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM sleeved with 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM. Since the upper arms see only compression and tension, they were made from 1 1/2-inch, 0.250-wall DOM. The links may be overkill but that's the idea. Holding up the Jeep is a pair of 12-inch Fox coilovers running dual 400-pound Eibach springs.
With all the Jeeps getting cut up and tubed in, Tommy opted to go a different route and kept the stock gas tank and body tub. Even though he runs coilovers that go into the tub, he is still able to put in the factory back seat.
Body and Interior
Inside this '93 YJ is a stout cage, which Tommy built in his garage. Made from 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-wall DOM, the cage was designed with one thing in mind - to protect the passengers. He still sports the original carpet and center console. To make room for more camping gear, he built himself a rack that sits between the rear wheelwells, and to hold it up, he has a nifty air shock purchased out of a scrap bin at a metal supply store. Like pretty much everything else on his Jeep, he overbuilt the spare-tire carrier strong enough to hold a fullsize 38.5-inch tire and bead lock. Tube fenders can be found up front along with a stubby bumper, a Warn winch, and a Hi-Lift jack. The steel-plate rocker guards feature side tubing for more protection and slideability, and the rear wheelwells were liberally cut for tire clearance.
Wheels and Tires
While all the comp buggies are going with narrow tires and rims, you can't sell that to everyone. The 15x10 Champion bead locks and 38.5x14.5 TSL SXs give the Jeep stable footing.
Good, Bad, & What's It For?
With all the poor fabrication out there these days, it's refreshing to see a Jeep as clean as Tommy's home-built YJ. From the handmade high-clearance body mounts to the four-link rear, the Jeep is well built and built to last. While it doesn't see the road very often, in a matter of a few minutes the windshield can be put on so Tommy can drive to the mall. The suspension is a bit soft, but this could be solved with the help of a sway bar. The shackle reversal is nice for speed on the road and in desert washes, but it can make it easier to bend springs when the front axle wants to walk away from the Jeep on hillclimbs. Tommy plans to fix the front suspension by linking it up and sliding some coilovers up there as well. As for the soft suspension, Tommy likes it and it sure does ride nice.
What We Think
We've run a ton of trails with Tommy over the years. He's a hell of a pilot and his Jeep is built to last. A sway bar in the rear and a pair of nice, comfy seats wouldn't hurt though. Better make it 2 1/2 seats, as Tommy and his wife just had a baby boy. Tommy's Jeep is an awesome rockcrawler and a great camping rig. In the world of Jeeping, what more could you ask for?
Vehicle: '93 YJ
Engine: '93 4.0L
Transfer Case: Atlas II 5.0:1
Suspension: Leaf-spring, 2 inches of lift plus spring-over (front); garage-built four-link with Fox coilovers (rear)
Axles: Dana 44, high-pinion, high-steer, Warn Alloy shafts, CTM joints, ARB Air Locker, and 4.88 gears (front); Dynatrac Pro Rock 60, 35-spline shafts, ARB Air Locker, and 4.88 gears (rear)
Wheels: 15x10 American Racing Bajas with Champion bead locks
Tires: 38.5x14.5-15 Super Swamper TSL SXs
Built For: Taking the family camping and "Guys' day out" rockcrawling