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1997 Jeep Wrangler - Project Steal-J Wrap-Up

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Christian Hazel
| Brand Manager, Four Wheeler
Posted April 15, 2008

A Year's Worth Of Impressions

It's been roughly a year on the calendar and 15,000 miles under the tires since we put the wraps on Jp's '97 wrangler, Project Steal-J. Part I of the build series appeared in the Jun. '06 issue and ran nearly straight through to the Aug. '07 issue. True to plan, the Jeep has served mostly as a daily driver with occasional forays to the desert and across unimproved roads. For the most part, we're pleased with the outcome. It's been an easy vehicle to live with on a daily basis, but there have been a few issues that have arisen.

For starters, while we love the look and performance of our 265/75-16 BfG at tires mounted on factory rubicon wheels, the larger tires hit the sway-bar links and lower control arms at full lock. Otherwise, the Mopar Performance Rubicon flares allow full suspension movement with no tire rub. The rest of the undercarriage has proved problem free. The 2-inch pro comp springs have broken in nicely, and the rear settled just enough to provide a level stance with our 3/4-inch front spacers. The JKs adjustable upper and lower control arms are as quiet and tight as the day they were installed. The MX-6 shocks are set on the second softest setting, and in conjunction with the Currie Antirock front and factory rear antisway bars, deliver good off-road flex and stable on-road handling.

As for the exterior accouterments, the powdercoating on the Kilby front bumper, rocker armor, gas skidplate, and steering skidplate look as good as ever. We've had zero mechanical issues with our M.O.R.E. rear bumper/tire carrier and have found its latch and release mechanism easy to live with. The spray-paint job we gave it has seen better days, but otherwise, we haven't noticed any rattling or vibration from our 32-inch spare. Our tan two-piece Bestop hardtop seems to be fading a bit, exhibiting a chalky film much like the way a factory TJ fender flare fades. It's more prevalent on horizontal surfaces than the sides, but the top's weather seals and latches all function as if they were new. Finally, while our Superwinch EP 9.0 winch has never had so much as a mechanical hiccup, we have noticed the chrome is rusting, and the plastic solenoid pack cover is fading from black to chalky gray.

Inside, we installed a pair of reclining Mastercraft Baja RS suspension seats. The seats' fabric has held up extremely well and they still offer sublime comfort. The seats are slightly wider than the factory buckets, and we've noticed some interference issues. Namely, when fully slid back for tall occupants, the steel of the lower rear seat corner will make slight contact with the rollbar. Likewise, when the seats are slid up for short occupants, the side bolsters make contact with the Misch armrests we installed. however, both are minor inconveniences that are far outweighed by the comfort and performance offered by both parts.

To add a little power to the stock 4.0L, we installed a full Edge Trail Jammer system complete with a 62mm throttle body, a cold-air intake, and an electronic module for increased fuel delivery. Our first control module tripped the check-engine light, so Edge sent us another module. After some time, the new module began tripping the check-engine light, throwing a DTC for map sensor voltage either too high or too low, so we've just been driving with the unit unplugged.

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