We first ran into Matt Wells at the Rough Country 4 Wheeler's annual Snow Bash ("Snow Bash," May 2006), and he was blasting through snow that only super-modified Jeeps were able to make it through. When he did get stuck, we could swear he was having as much fun being stuck as he was getting stuck.
Matt was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Air Force at Ramstein Air Base with a two-wheel drive pickup. He was looking at heading back stateside to Wyoming, needed a four-wheel drive for the snow, wanted a Jeep, and picked up the first one he could, which happened to be a '97 TJ with a four-popper. The Air Force shipped the Jeep back to the East Coast, Matt picked it up in Maryland, and by the time he had driven it to Wyoming, he was sick of the four-cylinder.
It wasn't long after being stationed at F.E. Warren in Wyoming that he was able to find this '04 Sport TJ and sell the squirrel-powered Jeep. However, just a month after picking up his new six-cylinder Jeep, Matt got shipped to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Before leaving the country, Matt dropped his Jeep off at T&T Customs for some much-needed attention. He used his tax-free regular and imminent-threat pay from his time overseas to pay for the work and came back to a new Jeep.
We ran into him again in Moab at the 40th Annual Easter Jeep Safari tackling every trail he could and loving every minute of it. His enthusiasm for wheeling was so infectious we followed him around for a day to shoot the breeze and this feature.
Chassis and Driveline
The inline-six was modified with an Airaid intake, Magnaflow high-flow after-cat exhaust and perched on 1-inch lift M.O.R.E. motor-mounts. The stock NV3550 was left alone. The NV231 got a P.O.R.C. slip-yoke eliminator while a Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts heavy-duty shaft and heavy-duty pinion yoke get the power to the rear Dana 44. The front driveshaft was lengthened and the straps were replaced with Tom Wood's U-bolt conversion kits.
The front Dana 30 got a T&T Customs truss, heavy-duty track bar, steering-stabilizer mount, and 4.56 gears along with an ARB Air Locker. The rear Dana 44 similarly got a T&T Customs truss with four-link mounts, 4.56 gears, and an ARB Air Locker. Both the front and rear ARBs have the air lines run through the axle vent lines for protection and avoidance of leaks.
Elevation comes in the form of a T&T Customs Y-link 511/42-inch suspension kit. The suspension includes a triangulated four-link rear, which allows the removal of the rear track bar. Damping the coil springs are a quartet of Rancho RS 9000 shocks that can be dialed in for a full trail load of tools or just a daypack for two-footed excursions.
Body and Interior
Outside, T&T Customs front and rear tubular fenders combine with a 1-inch body lift to provide plenty of clearance for the tires, even at full stuff, while a set of Rock Sliderz from the same company protect the rockers.
Up front, a Superwinch EPI 9.0 resides on a T&T Customs front bumper, while the stock rear bumper still "protects" the back. Matt's imminent-danger stipend while in Iraq didn't quite cover a rear bumper, but he's hoping to get one on there soon.
Inside, a T&T Customs sport cage protects the occupants, and a Sony CDX-F7715X pumps the tunes through Alpine Type-S rear and Infinity front speakers. While a Power Tank provides air for trail repairs, a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit stand by for any emergencies, and a Craftsman tool kit helps fix anything that might arise miles from anywhere.
Tire and Wheels
Pro-Comp MTs in a 35x12.50R15 flavor put the power to the ground, whether it be in snow, rock, or mud and are wrapped around a set of simple black steel rims
Good, Bad, & What's it for
This Jeep is a daily driver, weekend romper, and anything in between. The selectable lockers allow it to be driven in the deep Wyoming snow while still allowing all the traction that might be necessary when rockcrawling. The T&T Customs lift provides plenty of clearance, and the rear four-link setup just plain works
Matt decided to build the Jeep all in one shot because he didn't want to be forever tinkering with it. He wanted something he could wheel and drive to work without all the harried weekends of wrenching to attempt to make it into work on Monday.
What we think
The ARB air lines running through the axle vent tubes is a great idea and has posed no problems for Matt at all. The lack of a rear bumper and rear tow points is a problem, and we wouldn't have taken half the lines Matt did without something back there.
Between the high-clearance fenders, 5 1/2- inch lift, and 1-inch body lift, this Jeep is too tall for mere 35s. If it were a dedicated trail rig, we'd say throw some 37s on it and beat it. But then, of course, it would need new axles and so on.
We really think that some 3.5-inch coils should be swapped in to bring the Jeep down and make it more stable on the road, not to mention the trail. Then we'd put an oil pan skid and steering box skid on it and wheel it.
We tend to do all our own work, and while Matt did have the cage, suspension, gears, and lockers done, he did the rest of the work on the Jeep himself. Basically, he only farmed out what he couldn't do while he was overseas for our country, and we sure can't fault him for that.
'04 Jeep Wrangler Sport
5 1/2-inch T&T Customs Y-Link
Dana 30 with T&T Customs truss, 4.56 gears, and ARB Air Locker (front);
Dana 44 with T&T Customs truss, 4.56 gears, and ARB Air Locker (rear)
15x8 steel Rock Crawlers
35x12.50R15 Pro Comp MT
Daily driving and wheeling just about everywhere