Three-day (plus one) - 1999 Jeep TJ WranglerPosted in Vehicle Reviews on November 10, 2004 0) (
The plan was simple: We had a 5-year-old Jeep TJ, a three-day weekend, and we were gonna build an ultra-capable little Jeep. This weekend wrenchfest wouldn't necessarily be dirt-cheap, but working on our own vehicle is 50 percent of our 4x4 hobby. By hiring a shop to build their rigs for them, lots of folks miss out on the thrill of busted knuckles, hanging out with pals in the shop, and learning to wrench on their own trucks. Of course, we are all for supporting your local 4x4 shops, but we also love doing the work ourselves, so we convinced our friend that we could have her '99 Jeep Wrangler TJ ready to wheel in one long weekend.
The recipe was easy enough--install some body armor from Currie Enterprises and Poison Spyder Customs, and mount a Warn winch for extraction duty up front and a Teraflex S/T sway bar to help keep the tires on the ground. We wanted the Jeep to clear 33-inch Yokohama Geolandars, but not so tall that our friend would need a ramp to get in.
Plus we like our rig's center of gravity as low as possible with big tires, so we used a 2-inch suspension lift from Old Man Emu (OME), and a 1-inch body lift from Currie. We have always been impressed with the research that OME puts into its suspension kits, and are pleased to say that the Jeep now rides better than stock. The interior is also better with the help of Bestop, which carries a full line of replacement soft-top parts and interior seating components such as the new seat covers that gave the old cracked vinyl seats a new life.
The final day of the buildup was spent at Leonard's Off-Road, where we let the experts set the new gears and ARB Air Lockers from West Coast Differential in the front and rear pumpkins. Thus after a three-day weekend and one business day, we had built this stealth Jeep "Black Bessie" into a capable trail machine and comfortable daily driver.
We started with the most basic '99 Jeep Wrangler TJ you can buy. With a four-cylinder engine, a five-speed tranny, and 4.10 gears in the front Dana 30 and rear Dana 35, it wasn't much of a monster, but it was a great base for a trail rig.
Monday, 11:15 a.m.
To help clear the 33-inch tires and to give the front corners some extra protection, we contacted Poison Spyder Customs about a set of its TJ tube fenders. These fenders are super burly, made of 1/8-inch steel plate and 0.125-wall tubing, but they come in raw metal. To make our install go quickly we had them sent out to Portland Powder Coating for a gloss black finish. The stock fenders are trimmed back to fit under the new fenders, which is easy since the kit includes a stencil. We found that a Matco straight die grinder with a cut-off wheel made short work of the job.
The install of the ARB Air Lockers and 4.88 gears from West Coast Differential could fill a whole story in itself, so we'll just touch on the fact that if you haven't done a gear install before, then we recommend either having a shop do it for you or working closely with an experienced gear installer. You will need to drill and tap your housing for the air lines, but once installed, the ARBs will give you the selectability to have either open differentials or full lockers, so that even with just one tire getting traction, you can pull yourself out of slippery situations. The 4.88 gears, when matched with the 285/75R16 Yokohama tires, resulted in the speedometer being within half a mile per hour off stock, so no speedo gear was necessary.