Part 4: Locked, loaded, and cleared for launch
Running the last nut tight on a project is a beautiful thing. Thoughts of future adventures, excitement over your rig’s newfound capabilities, and a strong sense of accomplishment are all likely to ramble through one’s mind when your project finally breaks the confines of your garage. Us? After three-plus years of putting the pieces of this LJ back together, and after making due with some particularly undesirable parts from the aftermarket along the way, we had one specific thought that worked its way to the front of the line: “Holy s#!t, we can actually drive this thing now!”
That’s right, the mangled carcass of a Jeep we hauled home from the salvage yard is now ready to roll, and it’s finally time to kick back and enjoy the results of many a late-night/early-morning wrenching session.
In case you’re tuning in late, our LJ’s newfound capabilities can be chalked up to a pair of G2 Dana 44 axle assemblies loaded with 4.88 gears, ARB lockers, and sizeable chrome-moly axleshafts. Progress continued in the right direction when we axed the eminently problematic 4-inch short-arm suspension for a geometrically-superior Rubicon Express 4.5-inch Extreme Duty long-arm. To tie everything together, we installed a slip-yoke eliminator, heavy-duty Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts double-cardan driveshafts, Pro Comp’s newest rolling stock, and a few other bits ’n’ pieces to make it all work. Although a few steps of this build were fairly involved and time-consuming, nothing we accomplished required voodoo or the skillful hands of a seasoned fabricator or master technician. By simply using tried-and-true, off-the-shelf components and paying attention to the details, we created a capable, reliable, and road-worthy trail rig that most TJ pilots with a bit of know-how a good set of tools can replicate in their garage.
With a couple of months behind the wheel as of writing this, we’re happy to report that this LJ runs through the woods and down the road slicker than a greased smelt (just in case you don’t hail from the far reaches of the Northeast, that would translate to “pretty damn good.”) The suspension’s compression, rebound, and flex characteristics—and corresponding in-cab comfort levels over nasty terrain—are improved to the point where the Jeep now feels more like a trophy truck than a dual-wheeled 1-ton. On the road, the Jeep feels planted, stable, and composed. Previously, with the quirky geometry of the 4-inch short-arm, you’d be pulling over to change your shorts after surviving an inadvertent mid-corner lane change and subsequent bout of death-wobble. Installing the Rubicon Express system has served as a reminder as to just how big of a difference good suspension can make.
So far, all our mods are working in harmony, and nothing has broken, parted ways with the underside, or made anything that resembled a wounded-rabbit sound (attracts coyotes—not good). But there was a slight issue with our rear Dana 44 axleshafts having the wrong retaining plates. We somehow missed the fact that our shafts were supplied with drum-brake-style retainers, which lack the additional spacer to fill the void between the retaining-plate and axle seal on a disc-brake equipped axle. Long story short, 200-miles later our axle bearings were completely fried and the axle seals were mortally wounded and leaking profusely. As a testament to its customer service, a call to the folks at G2 Axle & Gear had the problem rectified, and the appropriate replacement parts en route quicker than Honey Boo-Boo’s mom to a plate of biscuits ’n’ gravy. No harm, no foul.
Our approach here in Part 4 isn’t to wow you with things like how well our LJ now does on an RTI ramp, but to simply take you along for a ride while doing what we do. As far as Jeeps go, this LJ’s workload is kinda comical in its variations—one day the wife will be driving topless (that’d be the Jeep, not the wife) down to the grocery store, and the next, it’ll be planted in a seemingly impossible predicament deep in topo-map territory. We built it to work well for both. As of writing this, each modification has been tested within the parameters of our own slightly-redneck extracurricular activities—and while not exactly scientific—they are real-life and representative of what many of you might do with your own Jeeps. So go ahead and put a trucker-bend in your hat’s visor, cut the sleeves off your flannel, lace up your loggin’ boots, buckle in, and enjoy the scenery.
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