We have a love-hate relationship with '97-'06 TJ Wranglers. On one hand, we commend Jeep for building such a simple, capable vehicle that responds so well to aftermarket modifications. On the other hand, we get a little tired of seeing every Joe Schmoe with 33-inch-tall tires and six-months of seat time thinking that he is the greatest wheeler to come along since Hazel had a full head of hair. That's why we like Dave Trappett.
Dave has owned his '98 TJ since it was new, but despite years of wheeling experience he is still humble and courteous on the trail. Like most of us, he started out with 31-inch tires, then 32s, then 35s and a Rubicon Express long arm suspension. Dave wheeled his Wrangler all over New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah in this configuration before he took the plunge and decided to modify his Wrangler far beyond the "average" TJ.
Chassis And Driveline
The stock 4.0L engine and TF999 three-speed automatic transmission are still in the same spot as when they left Toledo. However, they have been mated to an Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case with a 4.3 Low-range. When Dave decided to take his Jeep to the next level he started with a pair of Dana 60 axles from a '79 Ford F-350. The front high-pinion Dana 60 was fitted with an ARB Air Locker, 5.38 Yukon gears, Alloy USA 35-spline chromoly inner and outer axles, Longfield 300m U-joints, Warn drive flanges, and the first set of Dedenbear (now Reid Racing) knuckles for a Ford application. The rear axle was similarly decked out with 5.38 Superior gears, an ARB Air Locker, Yukon full-floating 35-spline chromoly axles, and disc brakes using Ruff Stuff Specialties brackets. The ARB air lines and the brake lines are all plumbed with steel braided hose and AN fittings. "Once you know how to make the lines yourself they are very reasonably priced" Trappett commented. The 1-ton axles allow Dave to run 42-inch Super Swamper TSLs on 15x10 TrailReady beadlock wheels without leaving a trail of broken drivetrain parts in his wake.
In order to fit the tires, the front axle was pushed forward 4 inches. This would have created interference between the steering components, but the stock steering box was ditched for a PSC orbital valve and double-ended hydraulic ram that connects to ATOR steering arms. The front suspension cycles through 16-inch-travel 2-inch-diameter remote reservoir Sway-A-Way RaceRunner coilovers fitted with Eibach and Hypercoil springs which are mounted on Blue Torch Fab frame mounts. The coilovers work in conjunction with a three-link suspension with 2-inch solid 7075-T6 aluminum lower links capped with 1.25-inch QA1 rod ends. Trick billet aluminum clamps from KRC hold spare stub shafts where they are easily accessible should they be needed. The upper link is constructed from 1 1/2-inch, 0.375-wall DOM tubing and 1 1/4-inch Evolution Machine rod ends. It connects to a modified Rubicon Express belly pan at the frame end and then to a Blue Torch Fab truss on the middle of the axle.
The rear suspension also uses a three-link design and pushes the rear axle 7 inches back. The rear third of the frame was replaced with Blue Torch Fab frame rails to allow more uptravel with the relocated axle location. The lower links are 35-inches long and constructed of the same material as the front lowers. The upper link connects to a crossmember on the frame and a Blue Torch truss on top of the Dana 60. The rear axle is damped by 14-inch-travel, 2-inch-diameter remote reservoir Sway-A-Way RaceRunner coilovers and Hypercoil 185 lb/in over Eibach 400 lb/in coil springs mounted on custom shock hoops.
Body And Interior
Drastic body modifications were necessary in order to accommodate the 105-inch wheelbase and 42-inch tires. The stock front fenders and hood were replaced with a Campbell Enterprises fiberglass hood with integrated fenders. Ditching the stock fenders required new turn signals, so amber Peterson LED marker lights were added to the grille. In front of the grille a Hanson Enterprise front bumper is topped with Warn SDB-160 dual-beam spot and driving lights and a trusty Warn 8274 winch wrapped in 125 feet of 3/8-inch Master-Pull Superline XD synthetic cable. Moving back, the rockers are protected by Durango 4x4 rocker guards and the rear "comp cut" corners from Blue Torch Fab allow the rear tires to be pushed all the way to the back of the Wrangler.
Moving the rear axle required the fuel tank to be relocated, so the stock tank was tossed in favor of a 15-gallon aluminum fuel cell from RCI that sits between the rear fenders. The cell feeds a Carter high-volume electric fuel pump that sits on the framerail at the rear of the Jeep which in turn feeds a Ford E-2000 pump that pushes pressurized fuel up to the 4.0L fuel rail. A full cage made by Dave protects the fuel cell, as well as the occupants. Mastercraft Rubicon seats and five point harnesses keep the people in the Jeep.
Good, Bad, And What's It For
Dave lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, smack dab between Las Cruces and Farmington, with Moab only a few extra hours away. Mud and rust aren't a concern for this Wrangler, but undercut rock ledges and huge dry waterfalls are encountered on the trails almost as often as other TJs. The extra wheelbase and width add stability to make the big climbs, but the ride height could be several inches lower and still accommodate the 42-inch Swampers. Also, even though the factory engine and tranny only have 50,000 miles on them, they have been hard miles. Turning 42s takes it toll, so Dave's next scheduled modification is to swap in a Gen III Chevy V-8 engine and matching transmission in front of the current Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case.
Vehicle: '98 Jeep Wrangler
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Suspension: Custom three link with coilovers (front and rear)
Axles: '79 Ford F350 Dana 60 (front and rear)
Wheels: 15x10 steel TrailReady beadlocks
Tires: 15/42-15 Super Swamper TSL
Built For: Big Rocks
Estimated Cost: $35,000
Why I Featured It
Normally I like sleepers that have trick running gear but require you to take a second look to notice it. With 42s and full-width axles that is definitely not the case with Dave's Wrangler, but it is so big-overbuilt that it is hard to resist. While coilovers and Dana 60s on a Wrangler aren't necessarily unique, they aren't commonplace either. Add a guy who throws out the parts catalog to build his own parts and you have a wolf instead of a sheep driving just another TJ.-Harry Wagner