1998 Jeep TJ - Rocky Road Wrangler
When Everything's Replaced, Is It The Same Jeep?
Theseus’ Paradox: You inherit grandpa’s axe. It’s well-worn but still useful. Finally, the handle breaks, so you replace it. Years later, the head’s worn out and has to be replaced with a new, improved head. The old axe works better than new, but is it still grandpa’s axe? This ’98 TJ Wrangler, “Rocky Road,” is a study in Theseus’ paradox.
In 1998, Ray Currie purchased a ’98 Wrangler that became the Rocky Road Wrangler and Currie Enterprises’ new TJ testbed. Over the years, it was used as a competition Jeep during rockcrawling’s formative period, finally being retired after a spectacular endo that twisted the frame and body into junk.
Kevin Hawkins inherited the remains and set to work restoring Rocky Road to its former glory, using the high-end parts that were still usable. The project went slowly. So slowly, that many of the parts from Rocky Road found their way into other projects, such as Kevin’s flatfender buggy. As Rocky Road’s body and frame were junk, Kevin found a ’01 TJ Wrangler Sport and purchased it as a parts mule. The Sport’s yellow body and frame were clean, perfect to breathe new life into Rocky Road. They joined the rest of the (diminishing) parts pile and gathered dust in Kevin’s shop.
A couple of years ago, we asked Kevin what he was going to do with the TJ. After some discussion, he sold the dusty remains to us, agreeing to put it together and “Kevinizing” the vehicle as he went. You see, Kevin is one of the best vehicle builders and fabricators we know.
The original Currie High Pinion 9-inch hybrid 1-ton front end was now in Kevin’s buggy, so we had Currie Enterprises build a brand-new one. Currie installed new JK calipers and rotors on the frontend, a change from the Rocky Road’s old F350 brakes. The rearend is a Currie High Pinion 9-inch with Wilwood disc brakes, while 4.56 gears and Eaton Detroit Lockers are in both the front and rear.
The Rocky Road used Currie’s J-Arm rear suspension, which worked well for the time period. Technology has advanced and Currie no longer offers the J-Arms, so Kevin went to work designing a custom triangulated long arm rear suspension. Up front, Kevin built reinforced Johnny Joint control arms that utilize OE frame bracketry. It took a lot of figuring and work, but the suspension geometry is perfect. Walker Evans Racing compression adjuster reservoir shocks offer 14 different compression settings. The rebound valving works in this application, too. The Rocky Road’s original 4-inch Currie TJ coils were retained. They’re better than today’s “progressive” coils everyone is making for TJ and JK Wranglers. The coils and flat Xenon flares provide clearance for 37x12.50R17LT Falken WildPeak M/T tires mounted on 17x8.5 Trailready HD Series beadlock wheels.
Savvy Offroad’s aluminum bumpers and armor protect the new Rocky Road. The front bumper holds a Warn 9.5xp winch and four Baja Designs Squadron LED lights. Savvy aluminum and steel two-piece rocker guards protect the sides and the aluminum rear bumper provides lightweight protection in the back. The aluminum Savvy gas tank skid allowed the tank to be moved up 1 inch. Kevin cut the body mounts and moved them up 1 inch for better clearance. A new Atlas two-speed, 3.0 transfer case was clocked so a flat crossmember could be used for good breakover clearance. Tom Wood’s front and rear CV driveshafts are strong and trouble-free.
Very little of the Rocky Road Wrangler is original. Does that make it a different Jeep? We’ve never driven a TJ Wrangler that works better and that includes the old Rocky Road. So, while it’s legally the old ’98 TJ, it’s really a brand-new Jeep. A Jeep that drives better than it ever did.
Vehicle: ’98 Jeep TJ Wrangler
Engine: Jeep 4.0L inline-six
Transmission: Jeep 32RH three-speed automatic with Skyjacker deep transmission pan
Transfer case(s)/ratio(s): Atlas/3.0:1
Front Axle: Currie High Pinion 9-inch 1-ton hybrid
Rear Axle: Currie High Pinion 9-inch
Suspension (front/rear): Custom Kevin Hawkins front/triangulated long arm rear
Steering: PSC hydraulic ram assist system with PSC HD box, pump, and ram
Tires: 37x12.50R17LT Falken WildPeak M/T
Wheels: 17x8.5 Trailready HD Series Beadlock
Armor: Savvy Offroad aluminum bumpers, gas tank, and rocker protection
Cool Extras: Currie AntiRock sway bars; Warn 9.5xp winch; Baja Designs Squadron LED lights; Walker Evans Racing reservoir compression adjuster shocks; flat aluminum crossmember