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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Jeep Autopsy Wrangler TJ

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 18, 2007
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Photographers: Courtesy of Jeep

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.

When The TJ Debuted, It Had All-New Body Panels And Exterior Hardware, But Jeep Reused The YJ Tailgate.

The Transfer Case
The Two-Speed Part-Time Transfer Case Was Also Carried Over From The YJ; The Command-Trac NV231 Featured A 2.72 Low Range. The Extension Housing Was Eliminated For The Rear Yoke, And A Lip Seal At The Rear Of The Main Housing Utilized Only Rotary Motion Of The Output Shaft. When The Rubicon Was Launched In 2003, It Had The Heavy-Duty NV241OR As The Standard T-Case, Which You Can Read More About In The Sidebar "Where's The Jeep Beef? The Rubicon."

The Suspension/The Axles
Perhaps The Biggest Thing To Hit The Jeep World Was The TJ's Use Of A Four-Corner Quadra-Coil Suspension System Instead Of Leaf Springs, Stolen Straight Out Of The Grand Cherokee. Gaining 7 Inches More Articulation, Having A 15 Percent Thicker Transfer-Case Skidplate, And Using 25 Percent Thicker Frame Side Rails Over The YJ Made Jeep's Engineers Spaz Out - But So Did Enthusiasts, Who Lost Their Marbles Over The Ride And Handling On- And Off-Road. There Were Variable-Rate Rear Coil Springs And Single-Rate Front Coil Springs, Inverted Shocks, Sway Bars At Both Ends, And Axles Located Longitudinally By Control Arms In Front And Trailing Arms In Back.

The Rubicon's Rock-Trac Transfer Case. Innards Usually Make Us Sick.

The Saginaw Box Was Also Updated, Running A Constant-Ratio 14:1 Recirculating-Ball Rather Than The Previous Variable-Ratio Gear. What Was Called Haltenberger Steering Linkage Replaced The Previous Centerlink System (Another Grand Cherokee Item). Speaking Of Steering, The Power-Steering Pump Was Mounted Right On The Intake Manifold; The Reservoir On The 4.0L Wasintegrated Within The Pump, While The 2.4L Placed It On The Fan Shroud.

Axles Were The Good News/Bad News Part Of The Equation. Returning Was The Dana 30 Front And Always-Popular Dana 35c Rear. While The YJ Dana 30 Was High-Pinion And Had An Axle Disconnect, The TJ's 30 Was Low-Pinion And Sans Disconnect. Much Like The Grand Cherokee. In Mid-'97, A Dana 44 Rear Became Available (Theoretically) On The Sport And Sahara, With 3.55s And A Trac-Loc Diff. The Axle Ratios For The '97 30 And 35c Went Unchanged From YJ Years. The 2.5L With Manual Trans Got 4.11s For The Manual Or 3.73s With The Auto, While The Stick-Equipped 4.0L Got 3.07s, Or 3.55s With The Auto. A Year Later, However, The 3.55s Were Dumped In The Rear In Favor Of 3.73s. The Axletubes Also Went From Welded To Seamless In 1997.

The Hardtop Was Also Redesigned From YJ To TJ And Included Quick-Release Latches And A Weight Loss Of Nearly 15 Pounds.
The ’97 {{{Wrangler}}} TJ4.0L six-cylinder2.5L four-cylinder
Wheelbase: 93.4 inDisplacement: 242ciDisplacement: 150ci
Overall length:
151.8 in (to the spare)
Bore x stroke: 3.88 x 3.41Bore x stroke: 3.88 x 3.19
Overall width: 66.7 inCompression ratio: 8.8:1Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Overall height: 68.9 in (hardtop)Horsepower: 181 @ 4,{{{600}}} rpmHorsepower: 120 hp @ 5,400 rpm
Curb weight: 3,229 lbsTorque: 222 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpmTorque: 140 lb-ft @3,500 rpm
Five-speed manual, standard
Five-speed manual, standard
 Transfer case: Command-TracTransfer case: Command-Trac

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