Tricked-Out 2005 Jeep Wrangler LJ Drives Like a Buggy

    Drives Like a Buggy

    Jake HeadleePhotographer, Writer

    After wheeling an Ultra4 buggy for several years, Chris Knaffle and his wife, Brenda, decided they wanted something they could use to continue tackling difficult trails with their buddies. It had to be street legal and have all the road trip creature comforts such as air conditioning, heat, windshield, stereo, and extra storage space for multi-night adventures.

    The search was on, and to speed up the process Chris looked for something that was ready to wheel. After contacting the owner of a built Jeep LJ in Michigan, he made the trek from his home in Fort Myers, Florida, in February to check out the Jeep. Due to weather conditions, Chris was unable to drive it, but everything seemed right at the time, so he purchased it.

    A welding engineer who travels quite a bit for work, Chris wasn’t able to drive his newly purchased 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ until the following May. “I was terribly disappointed,” Chris said of the first experience driving it. “It didn't run right, didn't shift right, had overheating problems, didn't steer in the rocks, was scary to drive on the highway, and the suspension was terrible.” After that, Chris and his wife knew they had two options: sell it or fix it. “If everything on the LJ would work right, it looked like a perfect rig for us. It's rare to find one with 40K miles with no salt exposure and a body and interior in such great shape, so we decided to keep it and build it right.”

    Work travels brought him to the Southwest for a few months, and the Jeep came with Chris. He had heard good things about Trick Toys Fabrication in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and following a visit with owner Rick Mooneyham and his crew, left the Jeep in their capable hands. With a wish list from Chris, Trick Toys began the rebuild.

    Powerplant
    Under the hood of the Jeep sits a 6.2L V-8 from a Cadillac Escalade. With the help of a 1-inch body lift, the motor was remounted 5 inches higher to provide more suspension clearance. The air intake and injectors were replaced, and the old wiring looms were replaced with a Novak wiring harness. The team worked through overheating issues, plumbed and wired the air conditioning, and replaced the gaskets for the Sanderson headers and a custom TIG-welded 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system built with a Borla muffler. Cunningham Motorsports in Murrieta, California, performed a dyno-tune and tweaked the powerplant’s output up to 450 horsepower.

    Backing the V-8 is a GM 6L90E, tricked-out altered shift parameters, and a shifter from a 2011 Chevrolet Malibu. A new custom mount moved the automatic transmission forward 2 inches, giving the Jeep a bit more belly clearance. Hanging off the back of the automatic transmission is an Advance Adapters Atlas 3.8 twin-stick.

    Suspension
    Trick Toys Fabrication stripped the suspension and built a completely new chassis using a custom three-link front and four-link rear that features heat-treated 4130 steel lower control arms, DOM steel for upper control arms, and FK Rod Ends. Each corner of the Jeep benefits from a Fox 2.0 Coilover shock and a 2.0 Triple Bypass shock. The entire underbelly has custom-built skidplates that cover from oil pan to fuel tank.

    The pair of RockJock 60s from Currie Enterprises were solid internally. Suspension link mounts were replaced when the suspension was rebuilt. Each differential features 5.38 ARB Air Lockers and 4340 steel axleshafts. Traction is provided by 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers on 17-inch Raceline Forged Liberator beadlocks. Because the steering system was terrible, the shop replaced it entirely with a custom double-shear pitman arm, PSC Motorsports power-assist ram/pump/reservoir system, and a Derale cooler.

    Exterior
    The body features a ton of solid armor to keep the Jeep looking good as it goes down the trail or road. Up front is a GenRight Off Road Trail Stinger Bumper holding a Warn 9.5 XP with a synthetic rope and Factor 55 ProLink. The rear bumper is a Motobilt Rock Crawler bumper, and the sides of the Jeep are protected by JcrOffroad Crusader Rock Sliders. GenRight corner armor and Hi-Fender flares finish off the body protection. An AEV Hi-Line Hood was installed to give the fender flares enough room.

    Interior
    To protect occupants, a Poison Spyder 1.75-inch DOM cage was installed and then tied to the frame in six places. PRP Daily Driver seats and five-point harnesses keep occupants firmly planted. The interior also sports an instrument cluster by 12 Volt Unlimited with an Auto Meter Sport Comp GPS Speedometer, tachometer, coolant temperature, transmission temperature, voltage, and oil pressure gauge. There is an Auto Meter Sport Comp fuel level gauge in the set too, and that is hooked up to the GenRight Comp Crawler tank.

    Quite a bit of work had to go into a vehicle that should have been ready to go right out of the gate. However, with the help of some talented people, Chris and his wife now have a rig that checks off every item on the list they made. The result was a powerful Jeep LJ that can take on anything its new owners want to tackle, and it looks good doing it.

    Why This Jeep?
    With very little exception, we love all Jeeps. Big, little, old, new, camo, purple, properly done home-built, well-done shop-built. This one falls into the category of well done (but not overdone), and is an example of how the world’s most famous automotive brand (that would be Jeep, in case you were wondering) can be crafted by its enthusiasts to provide such an immensely broad scope of recreational uses.

    Hard Facts
    Vehicle: 2005 Jeep Wrangler LJ
    Engine: 6.2L (L92) V-8 from Cadillac Escalade
    Transmission: GM 6L90E 4-speed automatic
    Transfer Case: Atlas 3.8 twin-stick
    Suspension: Custom 3-link front and 4-link rear, Fox 2.0 coilovers and Fox 2.0 reservoirs
    Axles: Currie RockJock 60 with 5.38 ARB Air Locker front and rear
    Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grappler
    Wheels: 17x8.5 Raceline RT180 Forged Liberator beadlocks

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