One day left. That’s all we had. Just a couple hours to make this TJ we had essentially gutted with exception of the engine, transmission, and wiring into a runner. As morning broke on the build team of Jason Scudellari, Christian Arriero, and Christian Hazel the driveshafts had yet to be picked up, the Kenda Klever R/T tires hadn’t yet been mounted and balanced on the Method wheels, the ProCar by Scat seats were sitting on a pallet in the corner of the Motor Trend Tech Center, the brakes hadn’t been bled, and a several pages of other punch-list items stood in the way of our planned evening trip up the road to run this 1997 Wrangler up our RTI ramp to test out the bitchin’ MetalCloak RockSport Lock-N-Load radius arm performance.
Arriero and Hazel dove in, removing the factory front driveshaft they test-fitted the day before. At first they figured it would work, but the switch from low- to high-pinion front axle meant the stock shaft had dangerously little spline travel left before bottoming and a shattered T-case isn’t something we wanted to experience, so a slightly shorter front shaft had been ordered. When the 1310 front and rear driveshafts showed up from the builder Arriero and Hazel plunked the front and then set the Jeep back down on its tires to check the pinion angles, which were just about perfect. They also did a final check on the front axle caster to make sure it was in spec. A quick adjustment of the rear track bar to center the rear axle under the Jeep at rest and then it was back up on the lift to bleed the brakes and double-check the control arm and suspension bolts had been properly torqued.
When the Kenda Klever R/T tires showed up from the tire shop, freshly mounted and balanced on the sweet 17x8.5 Method wheels, the crew did their final adjustments on the Rampage rear tire carrier, setting it up so the sidewalls just depressed into the carrier to help eliminate rattles. Then, the tire carrier was given a final assembly with high-strength red Loctite and the 35x12.50R17 Kendas were mounted to the G2 Dana 44 axles.
When the rolling stock is added that’s when things really get exciting. The Bushwacker Flat Fender Flares perfectly covered the Klever R/T tires, ensuring we stay legal no matter in which state we use this Jeep.
Then, it was simply a matter of stripping the stock seats and floor brackets out of the Jeep to install the ProCar by Scat seating. The ProCar seats feature supple vinyl that will last a long, long time in this vehicle despite our willingness to run a top and doors. And their firm side bolsters and supportive foam are a huge upgrade over the factory seating. With a TIG-welded steel frame and easy-to-adjust one-tough reclining, no matter which Four Wheeler Network staffer hops in this Jeep to cover events or just have a fun day wheeling will have no problem getting comfortable. And they go really nicely with our fun Durabak color selection, which adds a pop of color to our interior and serves as a constant reminder that off-roading isn’t something you take seriously – it’s something you do for fun and enjoyment.
With all the parts finally installed, the crew put the CoverCraft cover on for a dramatic video unveil and then hit the road, driving the TJ about 10 trouble-free miles to the Motor Trend Group warehouse to flex the suspension on our RTI ramp. We unhooked the front swaybar and first tested it with the Lock-N-Load arm locked for street use and then again with it unlocked, where it very nearly scored a perfect 1,000 on our 23-degree ramp. That’s pretty darn good for a fresh-out-of-the-box build with no break-in time. Sadly, our daylight ended before we could find any urban ‘wheeling outside of our RTI shenanigans, so you’ll have to tune into the full-length Week to Wheelin’ 4-Wheel & Off-Road TJ-edition on Motor Trend’s YouTube channel to see this sucker tackle the dirt!