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Jeep Modifications The American Way - Tax Dollars At Work

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 1, 2008 Comment (0)
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Contributors: Christian HazelPete Trasborg
Photographers: Courtesy of JeepJP Staff

It's that time of year again-when Uncle Sam reaches into your pocket to take even more of your Jeep money. Or if you're like most Americans, he reaches into his bottomless britches and pays you instead! Last year the average tax refund was $2,183. It was surely meant to upgrade your Jeep! If we had the opportunity to steal your wallet and your Jeep for a couple days, here's how each of the Jp editors would spend your money modifying it.

Cappa-Built JK

It wouldn't really matter whether I were starting with a two- or a four-door; the mods I would make would pretty much remain the same. First on the list would be a set of rocker guards. Not some cheesy ones that bolt to the stock location, though. I'd spend the extra money to get something that mounted solidly in several locations. Look for rockers that attach to the side of the body and body mounts or directly to the frame. I prefer a small, round, tube style or something that protrudes from the body at least an inch or two for better door and fender-flare protection.

Next, I'd add a stubby-style front bumper so the front tires would be free to roll over obstacles. It should have a built-in winch mount as well. A Superwinch EPi 9.0 is a great buy and would be added along with a winch-accessory kit, complete with tow strap. To compensate for the additional weight of the winch and bumper and to level out the suspension, I'd add a 13/4-inch spacer kit to the front suspension. A Poly Performance steering-stabilizer relocation bracket would finish off the otherwise factory-original suspension. I'd add 11/2-inch wheel spacers all around to push out the original 32-inch tires for more fender flare and body protection. The interior would receive a Daystar upper dashpanel and a set of carpeted Nifty Catch-All floor liners.

rocker guards: $500
13/4-inch coil-spacer leveling kit: $122
Poly Performance stabilizer relocation bracket: $30
Stubby front bumper: $400
Nifty Catch-All floor mats: $75
Daystar dash panel: $59
11/2-inch wheel spacers: $199
Superwinch EPi 9.0: $599
Complete winch accessory bag: $199

Hazel-Built JK

If some cosmic miracle happened that actually allowed me to purchase a brand-new '08 four-door JK Jeep, I don't think I'd be too quick to do anything that would void the lifetime warranty. Instead, I think I'd lean on the Mopar Performance Web site ( to upgrade the stripped-out Wrangler X model that's sure to be the only one I could "afford." After adding some decent tunes and navigation for family road trips and off-road exploration down dusty desert roads, the piggy bank would be pretty much empty until next year.

MyGig nav/radio kit: $1,950
Front-seat covers: $205
Gas: $28

Trasborg-Built JK

Well, assuming I'd actually have the cash laying around to get a JK-I'd pinch the pennies till they screamed-I'd pick up a four-door Rubicon model. I'm with Christian, in that the lifetime warranty is something I'd really not like to mess with. I'd get the soft-top, steel-half-door version just because of my aversion to full-steel doors on a canvas-topped Jeep. I'd really want to lift it and put on bigger tires, but there would go the budget. So the lift and tires would end up coming in piecemeal, and I'd bolt-on-accessorize the snot out of it, with many of the things I purchased focusing on securing that soft-top, soft-door, occasionally doorless and topless Jeep.

Raingler net set (to keep the bulldog in): $219
Rugged Ridge mirror relocation brackets: $50
Xenon flat-flare kit (painted to match): $520
Tuffy Security rear storage cubby: $128
Tuffy Security console insert: $170
Tuffy Security glovebox : $125
Pure Jeep front winch bumper: $430
Pure Jeep rear bumper w/o tire carrier: $490
Custom-fit Superman cape: $51

Cappa-Built TJ/LJ

I'd prefer to start with a regular ol' shorty Wrangler TJ Sport, but my list of tax-return mods would work on most '97-'06 Wranglers. Once again, my first mod would be the rocker guards. I cannot stress enough how useful they are in attacking and pivoting around obstacles while protecting your Jeep. I'd opt for the plate-style rockers that bolt directly to the body and body mounts. They should also have an added round, tubular slider bar along the length of the rocker for even more protection. In the past I put a lot of miles on the Rancho 21/2-inch standard Rockcrawler lift and was really happy with the completeness and performance. The only bummer was the goofy-looking bridge-like control arms. If you can't get past that then there are other lift kits that will work almost as well. Next, I'd slap five 32x11.50R15 mud tires on the factory aluminum TJ Sport wheels, toss on a replacement synthetic-media air filter, and call my tax-return spending done, knowing I'd be able to drive this Jeep daily and traverse even famous trails like the Rubicon with no problem.

Rocker guards: $399
21/2-inch Rancho Rockcrawler lift: $1,008
Five 32x11.50R15 mud tires: $732
AEM Dryflow filter: $44

Hazel-Built TJ

It's gotta be a '98-'99 4.0L Wrangler TJ with a manual five-speed. I'm not making the mistake of going with an auto in a TJ again. My stock Jeep would be just that-stock. I wouldn't touch any of the drivetrain for the time being. Instead, I'd focus my efforts on fitting 33s to the stock 15x8 aluminum rims and making the suspension flex. You can do quite a bit in a TJ without lockers. I'd eventually regear the front axle, add a Truetrac, and replace the Dana 35 rear with something more substantial. But for this tax season, that's how I'd go from stocker to a fun weekend rig. Sure, it would be a little frustrating on the street with 33s and stock gearing, but if I lucked into a 3.73-geared TJ, I probably wouldn't even regear the axles. I'd just wait until the rear broke and upgrade then.

Currie Currectlync HD steering: $399
Superlift Superide 4-inch suspension (w/o replacement arms): $668
Adjustable front and rear control-arm cam bolts: $70
Advance Adapters slip-yoke eliminator kit: $270
JE Reel CV rear driveshaft: $350
Five TreadWright (formerly High Tech Retread) 33x12.50-15 mud terrains: $400
'Bout 7 gallons of fuel: $26

Trasborg-Built TJ

With the TJ/LJ, my knee-jerk would again be to start with a Rubicon model, but I'd be tossing the 4.10 axle gears; I'd probably ditch the 241OR transfer case, too, since I just don't do that much under-5-mph crawling. That would basically leave me with air lockers and an imposter Dana 44 front axle, and I'm not sure they are such a great base to start with anyway. But it would get me lockers on a budget, and I could swap out the t-case to someone who could use it later, so I'd start with a six-speed-manual Unlimited Rubicon model with a soft top and go from there. Many of the things I'd do to the suspension would be simply to get bigger tires under the Jeep. I'd then upgrade components as I went along. For example, the coil spacers would give way to Rubicon Express coils, the stock tinfoil control arms would get ditched for either a long-arm kit or at least adjustable tubular arms. But that would be over time. The goal with the tax-return nest egg is to get some elevation under the Jeep using parts that could be reused later. OK, it's not the end all, be all Jeep lift, but for two grand it puts more clearance under the Jeep with a decent ride and a good start to adding parts as money allows.

Steel half-doors from eBay: $425
Front ACOS adjustable spring spacer: $247
Rear ACOS adjustable spring spacer: $247
Four Rancho RS9000X shocks: $360
Four 255/85R16 BFG Mud-{{{Terrain}}} tires: $644
Spidertrax wheel spacers: ${{{200}}}
Eel-skin Speedo: $60

Cappa-Built Cherokee/Comanche

I'd rather start with a pickup or the two-door Cherokee, but my tax mods of choice would be the same for the four-door Cherokee as well. Rocker guards. Seeing a theme here? Not only will they protect the body of the Jeep but they will help stiffen the chassis as well. I'd look for something solid and stylish like the sliders from Warn or Kevin's Off-Road. I'd add a pair of Currie frame stiffeners to help keep the doors inline and a simple 3-inch lift to clear the 31x10.50R15 mud-terrain tires mounted on a set of used aluminum Wrangler Sport wheels. I'd have just enough tax cash left to purchase a performance intake kit with synthetic-media filter.

Rockers: $400
Frame stiffeners: $299
3-inch lift: $510
Five 31x10.50R15 mud tires: $650
Used aluminum {{{TJ Sport}}} wheels: ${{{100}}}
Air-intake kit: $224

Hazel-Built Cherokee

It's gotta be a '99 4.0L Cherokee Sport model because I wouldn't own anything else in an XJ. I really enjoyed JR when it was sporting a small 2-inch Rubicon Express lift and stock-sized tires. It had a lot of get up and go, could go places a two-wheel-drive couldn't, and got 20 mpg on the freeway if I kept my foot out of it. I should have left it like that and just changed the oil. Below is a list of what I'd do if I were starting back at stock. The slight lift gives a little more height without the need for steering or drivetrain corrections. The aftermarket speed parts give lots of power and even up the mileage some. The resulting Jeep would be comfortable and quiet to drive, would do well off-road, and would haul ass away from stoplights and pass slowpokes.

Rubicon Express 2-inch budget boost w/ add-a-leaf rear: $234
Four 30x9.50R15 BFG All-{{{Terrain}}} tires: $472
K&N FIPK kit: $270
Gibson Performance stainless header: $425
Gibson Performance exhaust: $366
Bitchin' Sirius Satellite/iPod interface-ready sound system: $416

Trasborg-Built Cherokee

The other guys might be able to cookie-cut an XJ and MJ and bundle them altogether, but I can't. One of the first things I think I'd do with a stock or stockish one of these this time around would be some unibody supports, bumpers, and rock rails. I didn't brace my Comanche before I started taking it in the desert, so now when it goes up on a lift, the doors have to be either closed or opened, because once it is on the lift you can't open or close the doors-the thing is really that tweaked.

If you look at the items I've chosen, the AJ's bumpers will work well not only off-road but around town to fend off inattentive drivers, plus I really prefer that bent-plate style of boxiness. The T&T components I picked will really stiffen up the Jeep from rocker panel to rocker panel. Unfortunately, the only part here that would be a bolt-on for an MJ would be the front bumper. The 1-inch lift shackles I threw in because there was about that much money left over, and many used XJs could use a rearend lift, especially once you start adding gear or groceries in the back.

AJ's Off Road SlikRok front: $525
AJ's Off Road rear bumper: $750
T&T Customs tubular sliders: $370
T&T Customs unibody stiffeners: $170
T&T Customs heavy-duty bellypan: $280
T&T Customs 1-inch lift shackles: $73
Go nuts at Burger King: $15

Hazel-Built YJ

Believe it or not, I really enjoyed my little '95 four-cylinder YJ before I went and messed it all up with aftermarket performance parts and a lift. It got close to 20 mpg on the freeway and was quiet, comfortable, and peppy. It wasn't until the factory catalytic-converter brick dislodged and turned sideways in the exhaust that I had any real problems. And once I took off the little 225/75R15 tires for 33x12.50s it was all over. I think now I'd just make the engine perform well with stock-replacement parts, upgrade the crappy factory cat, add good tires, and replace the interior and top to make it comfortable and waterproof again. The result would be a cool daily driver that got great gas mileage, could get out of its own way on the street, and would be a fun weekend desert runner on mild trails. The next year's tax return would go toward aluminum rocker protection and a selectable locker for the rear. And maybe a cheap winch if there was enough left over.

Crown Automotive tune-up kit: $56
Random Technology catalytic converter: $216
Rugged Ridge replacement top: ${{{300}}}
Smittybilt front seats: $230/pair
Smittybilt fold-and-tumble rear bench seat: $195
Tuffy Security center console: $230
Used five-spoke 15x7 aluminum XJ wheels: ${{{200}}}
Four Mickey Thompson 225/75R15 MTX tires: $460
Stereo and speakers: $296

Trasborg-Built YJ

Of all the Jeeps I've owned over the years, I've been in YJs the most, with around 300,000 miles of seat time in the various ones I've had. So when Cappa asked how I'd spend two grand on different Jeeps, the YJ was almost a no-brainer for me. Granted, I can't say I've ever had two grand laying around to dump on a YJ; usually if I've got a thousand bucks, I'll get yet another Jeep. But that doesn't mean I don't have my pipe dreams, too.

Now, don't get me wrong here-I'm not setting out to build the ultimate rockcrawling machine. This YJ would be like all the other ones I've had: dual-purpose daily driver and weekend warrior. I would start with a '91-'95 six-cylinder or an '89 or '90 that had been converted to fuel injection. It would be a soft-top, steel-half-door model with the AX-15 manual transmission. I would ditch the Dana 35 and CAD front low-pinion Dana 30 at my earliest convenience, so I wouldn't even spend a cent here. Likewise, you'll notice I didn't add tires either. With the stock 3.07 gearing, bigger tires would take a lot of the fun out of the Jeep. With the TJ flares and OME lift, I could fit 34s or 35s with some rubbing or 33s with no problems at all. If the Jeep needed tires anyway, that would be another story. But my fictional Jeep doesn't need tires just yet. Also, you'll notice I spent money on yokes, even if not needed. I can't tell you the number of times I've been under one of my YJs or driving it in front-wheel drive because one of those stupid U-joint straps busted.

Old Man Emu medium 21/2-inch lift: $764
{{{M}}}.O.R.E shackle reversal: $297
Cut off the stock track bars: $0
JB Conversions Super Short SYE: $299
TJ flares: $120
CV rear driveshaft: $370
U-bolt-style yokes: $180
JKS Quicker Disconnects: $153

Cappa-Built YJ

I kinda prefer the later-model four-popper YJs, but I'd spend my tax money the same way on most any YJ in good running condition. Much like with the TJ/LJ, I'd slap on plate-style rockers with a round tubular slider bar. To fit the 31x10.50R15 mud tires cleanly, with plenty of room for articulation, I'd need a lift. A 21/2-incher would make room and it's low enough that a slip-yoke eliminator wouldn't be as necessary as with a 4-inch lift. I'd also yank the track bars and sway bar to get the suspension moving more freely. I'd pick up a pair of spare used axleshafts for my Dana 35 rearend and strap them inside. Rather than pony-up for a front-axle vacuum-actuator eliminator, I'd look for a '96-and-later nondisconnect XJ high-pinion Dana 30 frontend that had a gear ratio matching my YJ's. I'd cut off the four-link brackets and weld on the perches from my YJ's axle. I'd get rid of the factory axle vacuum-disconnect and have larger U-joints in the shafts all in one swoop. Then I'd toss a tow strap under the seat. An intake kit featuring a synthetic-media filter would touch up the otherwise stock engine compartment on my tax-refund YJ.

Rocker guards: $299
21/2-inch lift: $630
Five 31x10.50R15 mud tires: $650
Used aluminum {{{TJ Sport}}} wheels: ${{{100}}}
Used Dana 35 shafts: $40
Used TJ/XJ front axle: ${{{200}}}
Performance air intake: $230
Tow strap: $34

Cappa-Built Grand Cherokee

I'd start with a ZJ. I like the look of the older Grand Cherokee better than the newer rounded WJ. But most of my mods would work on both. As you might have guessed, just like with my other $2,183 Uncle Sam-built Jeeps, the ZJ Grand Cherokee would get a set of rocker guards. I'd look for something that mounted solidly to the unibody. Warn and Kevin's Off-Road offer good examples that protect the Jeep and provide increased rigidity to the chassis. A small 3-inch lift would clear 31x10.50R15 tires on used Wrangler Sport aluminum wheels. I'd then trim the bottom skirt off the front bumper for more clearance and add a Kevin's Off-Road radiator support. Under the hood you'd find an air-intake kit with a synthetic-media filter.

Rockers: $400
3-inch lift: $699
Used TJ Sport aluminum wheels: $100
Five 31x10.50R15 mud tires: $650
Air-intake kit: ${{{240}}}
Kevin's Off-Road radiator support: $99

Hazel-Built Grand Cherokee

Chances are I will have paid more than $10K for my preferred '01 Grand Cherokee Overland with a 4.7L H.O. V-8, so I won't be too eager to mess it up. I'm of the opinion that the WJ is the most ergonomically perfect and comfortable Jeep ever made. It just fits me. So you'll understand why I wouldn't want to mess up a good thing by modifying the snot out of it and changing all the factory engineering. An '01 would be getting up there in mileage by now, so I'd probably have a few mechanical issues to address and the interior would probably be showing signs of age.

Here's how I'd put my tax return to work:

Reupholstered leather seats: $1,000 (est.)
K&N Series 77 high-flow air intake: $243
Four 235/65R17 tires: $850
Crown Automotive rear upper ball joint: $34.70
Fill the fuel tank: $56.30

Trasborg-Built Grand Cherokee

If money were no object, I'd get an '07 or '08 Grand with the CRD diesel, then lift it a bit, add armor and bumpers, tweak the engine for a little more power, and call it done. But if it were a Grand Cherokee, I'd go for a '96-'98 ZJ with the 5.2L V-8 (because the people with the 5.9L Grands are on crack when it comes to resale value).

With the premium to buy in to a 5.9L Grand, you could get a 5.2L, put in a 5.9L engine, do some work inside the transmission to help it live, use whatever t-case you were planning on swapping in anyway, and still be under the 5.9L buy-in price.

But I digress-that is outside our $2,183 budget. For my money, I'd kick as many horses out of that 5.2L V-8 with bolt-on parts, knowing they would all swap over to the 5.9L whenever I got around to it. If there was anything leftover, I'd look at handling and maybe a rear locker.

Doug Thorley headers: $538
Kolak 3-inch exhaust kit: $380
PaceSetter metal-core 3-inch catalytic converter: $157
Custom Y-pipe at muffler shop: ${{{80}}}
AEM Brute Force intake kit: $336
Four Edelbrock IAS shocks: $308
Holley high-flow throttle body: $380
7-Eleven sunglasses: $4


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