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Jeep YJ Wrangler Wheels Rausch Creek Off Road

Aaron Bauer’s 1988 Wrangler has one-tons, 37s, and lots of cool.

Jered KorfhageAuthor, Photography

Aaron Bauer was casually discussing how Jeeps hold their value, the difficulty of finding one that wasn't rusted out, and whose owner wasn't asking an exorbitant amount, when a friend overheard and invited him to check out his recently purchased 1988 YJ. Despite its broken seats, 2.5L inline-four, and damaged soft top, Aaron loved it, ended up purchasing the Jeep, and drove it happily around the Georgia beaches in its stock form.

Plans of upgrading the Jeep with friends in the driveway were halted when Aaron left the country on his second deployment. The Jeep build continued on with the help of Happy Trails 4x4 in Atlantic Beach, Florida. With a mindset of "do it once and do it right," Aaron and Happy Trails 4x4 worked together to make the Jeep YJ into a bigger, more capable trail machine.

We met Aaron at Rausch Creek Off Road Park and watched him and the Jeep YJ take on some of the more difficult obstacles within the 3,000-acre park. Here's a look at Aaron's Jeep and some of the action from the trails.

Engine
Although it's a couple cylinders short of what he wants, the YJ's 2.5L inline-four has just enough oomph to get Aaron through the trails. Another way to look at the four-banger is "I don't have enough motor to do serious damage to my Jeep." Additional upgrades include an Optima Yellow Top battery and a custom-built intake with a Spectra filter.

Transmission and Transfer Case
Power from the I-4 is dumped into the Jeep's AX-5 manual transmission and the NP231 with a slip-yoke eliminator kit. Fabtech is the name on the skidplate keeping the underbelly safe from the rocks.

Wheels and Tires
Falken mud-terrain 37-inch tires and 17-inch Black Rock Series 997 Type 8 wheels handle relations with the ground beneath the YJ Jeep.

Axles
Up front, Aaron's Jeep relies on a Dana 60 from a 2005 Ford to split the power between his front tires. Extra strength from the Artec truss keeps the one-ton axle safe, while a 7/8-inch Heim steering kit from RuffStuff Specialties helps aim the tires. The rear axle is a Sterling 10.5-inch with an ARB Air Locker. Both differentials have 4.56:1 gears behind their Motobilt covers.

Bumper and Winch
Recovery needs are met by the Ramsey REP 8000 winch with a Factor 55 Ultra Hook mounted to Aaron's Poison Spyder RockBrawler front bumper. Flush-mount LED pods and a lightbar from Pro Comp are also on hand to brighten the trail ahead of the Jeep.

Front Suspension
A custom-built three-link design with King 14-inch coilovers and King bumpstops handles articulation in the front. Other components include custom-built shock hoops, a Currie AntiRock sway bar and Trail-Gear limit straps. Tube fenders from MetalCloak make space for the big tires to do their work.

Rear Suspension
Leaf springs are mounted under the axle while Rubicon Express greaseable Boomerang shackles attach them to the Jeep's frame. Rubicon Express shocks are in charge of damping duties. The Jeep sports a custom-built rear bumper with recovery points.