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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Jeep Autopsy Wrangler TJ

Basic Skeleton Body
Tori Tellem | Writer
Posted October 18, 2007
Photographers: Courtesy of Jeep

Dissecting The Most Popular Wrangler

The Fact: Tow Hooks Were Originally Going To Be An Option On The Rubicon Package.

The Worthless Fact: As We Went To Press, Total TJ Sales Were 714,596 Units In North America. The Rubicon Sales Were 48,834 Units.

Where's The Jeep Beef? The Rubicon
The '03 Rubicon Dropped In The Summer Of 2002 And Was Outfitted With The 4.0L, Front And Rear Dana 44s With 4.10s And Disk Brakes All Around, A Part-Time NV241OR Transfer Case With 4.0:1 Low Range, Tru-Lok Lockers You Could Flick On And Off, Hard-Core Driveshafts, 1330 U-Joints, 31-Inch Rubber, And Diamond Plate Rocker Protection. If You've Ever Wondered Why The Rubicon Has 16-Inch Wheels, It's Because The Engineers Wanted A 31-Inch Tire, And The 245/75R16 MT/R Was Narrow Enough That It Didn't Rub On The Frame, Control Arms, Or Spring Buckets; The 31x10.5R15 Did.

At The Beginning Of Time (That's 1997), Born From The Loins Of Jeep Was The Biggest Thing To Hit The Trail (Remember?), A Super-Capable 4x4 That Was Pretty Pampering On The Street For A Short Rig (Now You Remember). And Then They Had To Go And Introduce The Crawltastic Rubicon Model. That Thing Was Almost Enough To Make Most Of Us Too Lazy To Ever Spend Another Late Night Wrenching On Or Hacking Up Another Jeep Again. Of Course, If You Did Ever Want To Redesign Your TJ, All You Had To Do Was Add Water To The Aftermarket And Watch Available Parts Grow.

With The Coming Of The Next-Generation '07 Wrangler, We Decided To Kick Off The Jeep Autopsy Series By First Taking A Look Back At The Jeep That Really Started It All (And By "All" We Mean The Late-Model Hard-Core-4x4 Wars, Co-Starring The Jeep's "Competitors," The H3 And The FJ Cruiser). We'll Recap The TJ's Mechanical Attributes And When Changes To The Lineup Happened, Hopefully Digging Up A Fact Or Two You Never Knew About This Jeep Produced From 1997-2006. The Jeep Autopsy Series Will Eventually Do The Same For Every Jeep, From The Flatfender To The J-Truck And The CJ, Plus Everything In Between.

The Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited. It Scored 13 Inches More Cargo Space Over The Stubby TJ, Plus 2 Inches Of Legroom For Backseat Drivers.

The History
When You Got Down To It, The TJ Really Was Just Another YJ - 4.0L Inline-Six, 2.5L Four-Cylinder, NP231 Transfer Case, Five-Speed Manual And Three-Speed Auto Transmissions, Dana 30/35c Axles, 93.4-Inch Wheelbase, Fold-Down Windshield, Body-On-Frame Construction, And So On. But Nearly 80 Percent Of The Old YJ Was Redesigned (To The Tune Of $260 Million) To Create This All-New Wrangler. Upgrades Included A Stiffer Ladder Frame, A New Suspension, A New (And Much Needed) Rear Axle Option, And Interior Garbage That The Mainstream Demanded But Even Die-Hard Jeepistas Quickly Became Accustomed To. This Included Dual Airbags, A Quieter Soft Top, And Cushy Seats, Thanks To Components Borrowed From The Grand Cherokee. Think Of It As Same Jeep Legacy, Now With Cupholders.

The Models/The Body
What Was Available In The Lineup Was Pretty Much A Reassignment Of Yjs: The SE Was Equal To The '95 S Strippy Model, And The Sport Was The '95 SE With Some Added Plushness. Meanwhile, The Sahara Was The Same As '95; The X Arrived In The '02 Model Year And Included Lots Of The Coveted Options - Like The 4.0L And Cloth Seats - In A More Affordable Package Than The Sport Model. In 2003 Came The Rubicon, Followed By The Stretched Wrangler Unlimited In The Middle Of The Next Year. The Very-Stretched-In-Name Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Arrived In 2005 - The Same Year The Sahara Met Its Demise.

As We Said, The TJ's Wheelbase Remained The Same As The YJ's, Although The Unlimited's Jumped To 103.4 Inches (154.9 Inches In Overall Length, To The Spare). Almost The Entire YJ Exterior Was Redone To Create The TJ, Including A6-Inches-Wider Wheelwell, Which Meant The Biggest-Yet 30x9.5-Inch Tires Could Be Offered On The Sport And Sahara. And We Could Talk A Blue Streak About The Return To Round Headlights. Let's Not.

We Totally Wished For Superhero Powers, Specifically X-Ray Vision. Voila. It's Off To The Ms. America Pageant For Editor Cappa.

The Engine
The 2.5L Four-Banger And 4.0L Power Tech Six-Cylinder Were Carried Over From The YJ Years, Although Both Were Heavily Massaged To A Very Happy Ending. They Got More Torque, Improved Fuel Economy, Became Much Smoother, And Were A Lot Quieter Than The Previous Offerings. The Lower Parts Of The Blocks Were Strengthened And Stiffened, Which Reduced The Noise That Came From Structural Vibration. The New Valvesprings And Camshaft Profile Resulted In Better Low-Speed Torque And Idle. Stamped-Steel Valve Covers, New Lightweight Cast-Aluminum Pistons, And New Piston Rings Helped With The Noise And Vibration Too; The Pistons And Rings Also Maintained Low Oil Consumption And Reduced The Chances Of Scuffing. A Direct-Mount Power-Steering Pump Was Added, And To Prevent Water Intake, The Inlet Snorkel For The Air Cleaner Was Curved Upward.

In The '99 Model Year, The 4.0L Again Was Modified, This Time For Lower Emissions And For Durability. This Included Revisions To The Block To Remove A Few Bosses From The Early Designs, And A Camshaft Washer Was Added While A Larger-Diameter Casting Was Used Between The Lobes For Stiffening The Camshaft In Bending Mode. This Brought The 4.0L To 190 Hp At 4,600 Rpm And 235 Lb-Ft Of Torque At 3,200 Rpm, And It Became The Standard Mill In The X, Sport, And Sahara By 2004. In 2003, The 2.5L Was Killed And Replaced With The 2.4L Power Tech Inline-Four Engine, Transferred Over From The Liberty Into The TJ's SE Model. This New Engine Made 147 Hp At 5,200 Rpm And 165 Lb-Ft Of Torque At 4,000 Rpm.

The Transmission
When The TJ Was Unveiled, The 2.5L Was Paired To The Unchanged AX-5 Five-Speed Manual Transmission - Aisin, Manufactured In Japan - With The Chrysler Torqueflite 904 As The Optional Three-Speed Automatic. Meanwhile, The 4.0L Was Hooked To Either The Standard AX-15 Five-Speed Or The Optional TF999 Auto. There Was Still No Overdrive For The Automatics.

In The '00 Model Year, Jeep Replaced The 4.0L's AX-15 With The More Durable But Inherently Noisy NV3550 Five-Speed Manual With Synchronized Reverse, And The 2.5L's With An NV1550; For The '03 Model Year, The 42RLE Four-Speed Automatic (With Skidplate) Became Optional For Either Engine. The '05 Model Year Brought The Awesome NSG370 Six-Speed Manual Transmission As Standard On Both The 2.4L And 4.0L. Did You Know That The First Four-Speed Automatic TJ Was Built With An AW4 (Aisin-Warner) From The Cherokee/Comanche? Yeah, We Figured Not.

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