TJ Destined To Wheel-Or Else!
As I rolled into the parking lot of the Moab La Quinta for my week-long '08 Easter Jeep Safari stay, I noticed a conspicuously unloaded TJ on a trailer in the parking lot. The next morning as I unloaded the tow rig and did a few last-minute odds and ends to my M-715 in the sleet and snow that was falling, I noticed a guy quietly working away under the TJ. Lying on his back on the cold trailer deck with nothing but the occasional tink of a wrench on steel to accompany him, I absent-mindedly thought, last minute preparations, and then went about my business. But then he was still there after lunch. The crossmember was off and most of the drivetrain was lying beside him. By evening nothing was visible but driveshafts hanging off the diffs. Bummer, that dude is really broken, I thought, and then it was off to a dinner with the guys from Jeep and Mopar Performance.
The next morning, as I loaded the trail rig for the day, there he was again, quietly working away. A couple buddies were standing around the trailer, so I figured he was taken care of and headed off for a day on the trail. That night I noticed the crossmember was back in, so at least he was making progress. The next morning, as I welded up a broken motor mount on my M-715, I heard his rig fire up and drive slowly around the parking lot.
As it turns out, Rick Logan had spent a bunch of nights thrashing to 3 a.m. to get a new NV4500 and Atlas II T-case swapped into his '98 TJ before heading to Moab from his home in Dumas, Texas. He got it done, but as it turns out, the supplier sent him the wrong pressure plate. I admired his determination and dug a lot of the modifications on his Jeep, so I told him I'd like to shoot a feature on it for the magazine in a few days when the weather got better.
A few days later, I got a phone call from Rick. "Uh, Christian-I'm sorry, but I sort of totaled my Jeep." Apparently, while driving down Highway 191 in the center of Moab, one of the control arm rod ends fractured and peeled open. When this happened, the front axle rotated under the Jeep, bending the shocks, ripping off the track bar, and spiking the front driveshaft into the pavement-all of which pole-vaulted the Jeep off the road. Thankfully, Rick must be a pretty good driver, because he and his wife didn't roll and tumble into the Colorado River.
But then a few days later, I ran into Rick in the parking lot. "Well, I didn't come all this way not to wheel, so we fixed it," he said. My instant response: "Cool, let's go shoot a feature."
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It all starts under the hood, where the factory '98 4.0L engine breathes a little better with a cold air intake and a Banks header, but otherwise the engine is stock. Like you read in the intro, the Jeep now sports a newly-swapped NV4500 transmission from a '98 Dodge truck and an Atlas II T-case with 4.3:1 low. Rick used an Advance Adapters bellhousing to mate the tranny to the engine and a pair of shafts from Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts with 1330 U-joints connects the power to the axles.
Twisted Fabrications in Dumas, Texas, built the front and rear axles using Spidertrax Spider 9 housings. Heavy-duty Dana 60 knuckles were used up front and Moser cut a pair of 35-spline inner and outer shafts. A True Hi9 centersection with 5.38 gears and an ARB Air Locker rounds it all out. In the rear, another Spidertrax Spider 9 housing and True Hi9 centersection with 5.38s and an ARB got the nod. And again, a set of 35-spline shafts put the power to the tires. Both the front and rear axles run Chevy brakes for ease of availability.
As for the suspension, up front a set of Rubicon Express long-arm radius links pushes the front axle forward by about 1 inch over stock and connects to the Rubicon Express skidplate. A pair of 6-inch-lift Rubicon Express coils provides the added height.