Better, not necessarily bigger
We've all heard the old axiom, everything's bigger in Texas. But just because it's from Texas doesn't necessarily mean it has to be bigger to be better. Think about it, would the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders be better if they were bigger? Probably to a few freakish Internet weirdos, but not to the rest of us. So in that spirit, we bring you Richard Hartgrove's better Tube-J off-road toy instead of a bigger one.
While Richard is a fully capable fabricator, he saw this '98 Wrangler in Moab shortly before embarking on a new buildup of a trail vehicle. A Colorado man by the name of Ryan Jensen had built it, including the boat-tailed and tubed rear section, the cage, and other elements. Then, three weeks later, when Richard saw the Jeep for sale on eBay, he decided it made more sense to buy this Jeep than to start his project from scratch.
|Vehicle: '98 Jeep Wrangler TJ||Axles:'78 Ford Dana 60 (front); '78 Ford Dana 60 (rear)|
|Engine: Stock 4.0L||Wheels:17x9 Trail Ready bead locks, 4.5-inch backspacing|
|Transmission: Stock Chrysler 999 auto||Tires:37x12.50-17 BFG Krawler T/A KX|
|Transfer Case: Atlas II||Built For: Fun in the San Angelo sun|
|Suspension: Rubicon Express Xtreme Duty long-arm four-link|
Chassis And Drivetrain
The factory TJ frame remains up front, but Jensen had back-halved the chassis just aft of the factory spring bucket locations as part of the rear narrowing. The rear tubework is integrated into the cage and ties the frame together into one solid, stable assembly. The suspension is mostly off-the-shelf Rubicon Express long-arm Xtreme Duty stuff, including the skidplate. Richard laid the factory coil buckets rearward and modified the rear control arms to add 10 inches of wheelbase out back and installed taller 7.5-inch front and 5.5-inch rear coils. A quartet of Pro Comp MX-6 adjustable shocks damp the axles. One key feature we really liked were the Delron front coil retainers machined by Machine Works in San Angelo, Texas. Richard says he had the parts built because, unlike limiting straps, the Delron pieces let the coils deliver their full droop without unseating and falling away. He says they also aid in stability and give a more predictable feel when off-roading.
Underneath all that suspension work lies a pair of unsuspecting eight-lug Ford Dana 60 axles out of a '78 1-ton pickup. The pumpkins spin 5.13 gears, while the high-pinion front runs a Detroit Locker and the rear is welded.
One of the things that really appeals to us about Richard's Jeep is the fact that the drivetrain was left untouched from the radiator to the back of the transmission in the interests of reliability. The stock Chrysler 999 automatic with a Mopar deep tranny pan backs the 3.8:1 Atlas II T-case, but the 4.0L is dead stock. Richard likes to be able to just turn the key and go. It's a sentiment we're beginning to appreciate as our carnage list of aftermarket parts grows.
On the doodad list are items like a tractor-supply sourced hydraulic ram for use with the West Texas Off Road-modified factory steering box for an inexpensive hydro-ram assist steering setup, a thick-walled CV rear driveshaft, and a high-flow muffler just because a stock-sized one doesn't fit anymore.