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How To Build Your Own 2006 Mega-Jeep Wrangler TJ

Unstoppable Universal Mudder

Chris HamiltonPhotographer, Writer

We have something a little special for you in this issue of Mud Life. Over the next 12 pages we will walk you through the process of transforming a normal everyday Jeep into a monster mega mudder on 2½-ton axles. A complete four-link suspension on nitrogen-charged shocks and tractor tires is the right way to build a mega truck, so that is exactly what we did, thanks to The Custom Truck Shop in Port St. Lucie, Florida. We will go through the entire process in this issue so you can get to work on your rig. We made it simple for you by listing every single part we ordered and the companies’ contact info.

Building a mega rig is probably a lot easier than you think, and we plan on proving that with this article. Bob Gorman and his amazing crew at CTS were able to fully build our Jeep in a little less than three months, extremely impressive. The trick is to have all the parts delivered to the builder before your truck is on the lift. There is nothing worse than watching your project sit in pieces while you wait for parts and your fabricator loses his motivation. So we made some calls and placed our orders while Gorman planned out the entire build in his head.

Throughout the years we have been able to transform this originally stock Jeep TJ-L into a reliable daily driver that’s capable of crossing some pretty deep South Florida mud pits. We did this using bolt-on parts from industry-leading companies like Rancho Suspension, American Racing, Nitto Tire, and Poison Spider—just to name a few. This was a great start for our #UniversalMudder project, but now it’s time to get a little more serious. The mudding industry is full of metal welding maniacs who aren’t interested in your bolt-on body lifts or street-legal tires. Hardcore boggers want to see something unique that looks cool on a trailer and performs better than expected in the mud. A rig with 35-inch tires and independent front suspension is a pavement princess at this level of the game, so we’re going to remove it all and show you how to build a real mud rig.

We know there will be a bunch of hardcore Jeep guys who will likely cringe when they hear our plans, but once they see this massive mega Jeep creeping through the deepest muck in the South, we think they will come to accept it. The guys at CTS will never even need to open the doors during this conversion, and when it’s done you may be surprised by the simplicity of it all. Believe it or not, the factory Jeep 4.0L straight-six engine is going to be able to easily turn these nearly 700-pound axles and 55-inch-tall tires thanks to a heavy-duty 16-inch drop transfer case from SCS. The bottom half of the rig will weigh quite a bit more than the top, so there is basically no chance of rolling if you drive intelligently. The 16-inch BigShocks will help our rig ride smooth, even through the deepest spots in the park. A fully hydraulic steering kit from PSC Components will allow the driver to maintain complete control over the rig at all times and sway bars from Burtons Kreative Motorwerks will keep you in your seat through the twists and turns on the trial.

Along with listing the parts we used, we guessed what some of your questions would be based on comments we have read online. Gathering all the parts is one of the toughest stages of a build, but we recommend you never start a project before everything has arrived. We have seen too many dreams go up in flames halfway through a build due to a victim of circumstance, so keep your patience in check.

Aside from gathering parts and planning the build, the single most important factor is the shop you are trusting to build it. Everyone’s situation is different. Some mudders just don’t have the time or knowledge to build their own rig the exact way they want it. Some guys can’t find a place to do the fabrication even though they can easily handle the work.If you decide to hire a shop like we did, do some research before paying a deposit. It’s as simple as searching the web for the shop name right from your phone, just to see what comes up. Spend time browsing the forums and social media sites for comments or reviews on the shop’s past builds. When you decide to let another man build your rig you lose control over the process, so choose wisely or regret it later. There is nothing worse then telling your friends and family that your rig will be done in a few months but you still have nothing to show for it.

After we did our research, we went with an ASE-certified builder that has been in business for a little over 22 years in the same location. The shop is known for building one-of-a-kind off-road rigs and extremely reliable daily drivers. We have worked with these guys in previous issues, so we know the work is exceptional and their word is gold. A Jeep to rival all other factory drivetrain Jeeps with a few cool parts welded underneath. In the next several photos you will see the parts we had delivered to Custom Truck Shop before the Jeep went on the lift.

The Parts
The first group of parts to arrive on the scene came from Holden On Motorsports out of Zephyrhills, Florida. We ordered a set of 28-inch mega truck wheels with custom cut Mud Life beadlocks and gussets. Once they are test fitted, we will have them powdercoated black with a blue beadlocks.

We are using 16.9x28 Ironman R1 tractor tires that have been cut and grooved by Spiker Tire and Wheel. The overall height of this wheel and tire combination will be 55 inches.

In order to lift the body above the massive tractor tires, 16-inch BigShocks will be installed from BigShocks in Big Rapids, Michigan. These lightweight, aluminum, nitrogen-filled shocks are specifically designed for the mega truck industry. With the ability to adjust the internal fluid pressure as well as the ride height spring adjuster, these shocks can easily work with nearly any size build. Chromoly rod ends are supplied with the kit, as is all the billet coilover hardware you will need.

Steering this soon-to-be-mega Jeep may sound like a tough task, but we can assure you that it won’t be a problem thanks to this fully hydraulic steering kit from PSC Motorsports. The Rockwell Steering Kit is designed for 2½-ton Rockwell axles.

You may be wondering how we are going to transfer the power from the transmission down to the axles with the engine sitting that high. We will be utilizing a custom-built transfer case from SCS Gearbox of Bellevue, Ohio. This company has been engineering and fabricating gearboxes for the most hardcore off-roaders in all different industries since 1979.

The case we ordered is designed to drop the lower output shafts 12 inches, which will keep the front and rear driveshafts much straighter and stronger.

The factory gearbox will need a short yoke eliminator kit in order to link up with the new SCS gearbox. TeraFlex Suspensions sells the exact piece we needed and shipped it to us in just a few days. The extreme kit not only improves the strength of out output shaft, but it will also increase the length of our rear driveshaft by up to 7 inches. Every inch counts when you’re working on a short-wheelbase rig like this Jeep.

The four-link suspension setup has been done so many times that you can literally order a kit specifically for 2½-ton axles. These kits bolt onto the axlehousing, and your four-link brackets are added to the flat spot known as the Hi-Hats. Our four-link kit and sway bars came from Burton’s Kreative Motorwerks in Dayton, Ohio.

To attach the link bars to the axle brackets, we picked up a complete Heim joint kit from Rockwell Offroad. This kit come with all the Heims, bungs, and jam nuts you need for a 2 ½-ton conversion.

If we are feeling a little froggy out at the mud hole, we may hit some holes fast enough to bottom out, so we need quality bumpstops. Profender Suspension of Reading, Pennsylvania, has a 3-inch threaded bumpstop that will allow us to adjust it if needed. These bumpstops are factory chromed and inducted for strength during heavy-duty use on all road conditions.

Naturally with this much added weight we will want to give the engine a little less restriction, so a Banks Power Ram-Air Intake, Revolver Exhaust Manifold, and Monster Exhaust will be added. Once the rig is done we hope to add Banks’ new Sidewinder Turbo kit for the ’06-’07 Jeep—fingers crossed!

The last few miscellaneous parts, like lug nuts and bearings, were picked up from our good buddy Ernie at Loxatachee Auto Parts in Loxahatchee, Florida. These guys are known for having 2½-ton parts in stock and ready to ship any time.

The last thing on our list is a set of Baja Suspension seats from Corbeau USA. Combined with the company’s five-point harnesses, our passengers will be secure over any terrain.

Now that our parts have arrived, Keith Mahoney from CTS pulled our ’06 Jeep TJ-L into the shop and onto the lift. We had a blast with this rig at so many mud events around the South, but it’s time to go big or go home. The good thing about a build like this is that we have plenty of parts coming off the Jeep to barter with. Suspension, axles, wheels, tires, and even driveshafts can be sold or swapped to help pay for the fabrication work.

It didn’t take Mahoney more than a few hours to completely disassemble our Jeep from the frame down. After he used a cutoff wheel to remove the factory spring and shock mounts, the fully rebuilt 2½-ton military Rockwell axles can be slid under the frame for some measurements. We ordered new blue boots and seals from Rockwell Offroad for our axles, which are sold in a few colors.

The first decision Gorman had to make was to pick a ride height and raise the lift accordingly. We wanted our rig to sit just above the tires so the overall look would be proportional and correct. Once the lift is locked at an agreed-upon height, the tape measures start flying.

Measuring the length of tubing needed for the cradle is a good start, and with this particular build, Gorman is going to a little extreme. Our cradle will be nearly the entire length of the framerails, which adds structure throughout the whole rig. Tube braces every foot or so are welded in as well, and the cradle is slightly bellied for added strength. The center of the cradle is dead-center with the Jeep, which will make the front and rear four-link bars equal lengths.

We ordered all of our Heim joints and weld-in bungs from Rockwell Offroad since Rockwell makes a complete kit for this conversion. These are built from chromoly metal with a Teflon-Kevlar race. These Heim joints are built to withstand over a 70,000 pounds of radial static load. Weld-in bungs are included in the 2½-ton kit.

Probably the most important factor in this mega truck equation is mounting the new 12-inch drop SCS gearbox. This box will connect to our factory Jeep gearbox thanks to a slip-yoke eliminator kit from TeraFlex Suspensions. This kit removes our factory gearbox output shaft and replaces it with a slip-yoke shaft as well as giving us a few more inches between the gearbox and rear axle.

Gorman built this killer mockup gearbox with the exact same dimensions as the SCS transfer case. Now he can build all the gearbox mounts on the frame without the need to lift this heavy case. Gorman will sell and ship you a mockup case if you want one too. SCS Gearbox makes cases for nearly every automotive industry, including monster trucks!

With the factory axles pushed off to the corner, Mahoney hung a few plumb bobs to the frame to ensure that it was level and centered. The new 2½-ton military axles are slid into their final position, and a set of transmission jacks are placed under the front end for extra support. This is going to be one of the cleanest mega Jeeps in the off-road scene, until we bury it in the deepest mud pit we can find.

Mockup And Welding
First on the list of fabrication projects is the cradle and gearbox mount. The cradle is built out of 1¾-inch DOM with a 0.120-inch sidewall so we know it will handle the abuse. Once those are tacked in place, Gorman can move the axles to their final position and Keith can start fabricating the steering rack.

We will be installing a 2½-ton, fully hydraulic steering kit from PSC Motorsports. This dual ram kit is more than capable of directing our massive wheels through the thickest mud out there. The rack that holds the steering ram is made from ¼-inch steel and laser cut to fit. This is one of the many 2½-ton conversion brackets that The Custom Truck Shop sells and ships every day so they know it’s a perfect fit. CTS shock brackets, four-link brackets, and axle top hat brackets are also tacked into place before moving on to the four-link bars.

2-inch DOM tube with a ¼-inch sidewall will be cut and welded into eight separate link bars to form a front and rear triangulated four-link suspension. All of our link bars will have the same mounting location in the center of the frame and bolted onto the adjustable link bar brackets. Having a few different mounting locations will allow us to move the bars up and down, which will in turn affect the overall ride. Once they are bolted in, Gorman can start cutting out the really cool-looking upper shock mounts. These brackets are welded to the factory framerail and gusseted for added support. Now we can set the 16-inch BigShocks in place and step back for a better view.

BigShocks builds some of the most widely used nitrogen shocks in our industry. The popularity of the shocks is partly due to their modest price and ability to take damage. We have seen mega trucks fly through the air and land with no problems thanks to these well-designed coilover shock that Jarrod Warner from BigShocks has brought to market.

Holden Motorsport out of Zephyrhills, Florida, was enlisted to build our 28-inch wheels using 12-inch-wide tractor barrels and 1/2-inch steel centers. Guests with a custom ML logo and a Mud Life simulated beadlock are also welded to the barrels, giving these rims an extremely unique look.These guys build and sell any part you could ever need to build on of these rigs so jum on their website and check out the hand built products they sell.

Once again our good friend Rick at Action Powdercoating handled the color and Keith Mahoney at CTS slapped on the 16.9x28 Ironman tractor tires. With the wheels bolted on, the first thing everyone agreed is was that this is going to one big-ass Jeep!

With our new suspension loosely tacked into place and our wheels and tires mounted to the axles, Gorman is confident that everything lines up well. Once the final welds are all laid down it’s a real pain in the ass to change things, so be sure it’s right and true or you will regret it. Now that we have passed that point, we need to start placing our Burton’s Kreative Motorwerks sway bars in their final position.

These sway bars are made from 1 1/4-inch sprung steel and include a two-piece pillow mount that is welded to the frame. Sway bars will drastically cut down on the body roll our rig would have without them. A two-piece design allows you to unbolt the sway bars to replace them or powdercoat them.

One of the last pieces that need to be welded to the frame is a threaded sleeve for our Profender Suspension adjustable bumpstops. These 3-inch-travel bumpstops are nitrogen-charged, and they have a 46mm piston surrounded by a chrome outer body housing. They can handle anywhere from 100 to 400 psi and can be adapted to many different applications.

Disassembly and Paint
It didn’t take long before The Custom Truck Shop had this Jeep rolling about the shop on its own weight. No creeks or squeaks either; just a clean, well-built mega Jeep that is begging to hit the mud. With the Jeep cradle and suspension looking so impressive, Gorman is not about to let his crew spray puff-can paint all over his fresh clean welds. This is a job for the professionals. His dad, Larry, just so happens to own one of the only Prevost RV paint and repair shops in the whole country, called Custom Colors in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Bob Gorman’s brother is the lead painter there, and he is known to be one of the best painters in the country. This is why we feel so honored to watch them tape off the whole shop and spray some thick black paint all over the undercarriage.

Disassembly is quick and easy and Keith kept it organized by labeling all the parts and bagging all the bolts. Anything that can be unbolted is going to be coated blue and the chassis will be black. This color scheme will carry on through out the whole rig.

Be sure to follow us online at MudLifeMagazine.com because later the team at Custom Colors preforms a complete color change and a few secrets that were not giving away here.

Final assembly
Here we are at the most exciting part of any custom mega truck build. The final assembly is when everyone is on their A-game and painted parts are treated like silk. The gearbox is first to go into place using a complete bushing-style mount in order to flex slightly. Next Keith Mahoney can bolt on the new blue four-link using Grade 8 bolts with washers and nuts. Hardware is just as important as anything else, so don’t go breaking a bolt in the middle of the mud hole just because you wanted to save a few bucks.

Sway bars and Profender bumpstops are installed along with the fully charged nitrogen shocks. Everything is still loosely bolted on until all the parts are in place just to avoid any weird binding issues. Plumbing the hydraulic steering will take Mahoney a few hours, but once the orbital valve is attached to the factory steering column it starts to flow much quicker. All the hoses and fitting we need are included in the kit from PSC Motorsports, and PSC even sells the exact fluid you will want to use.

One of the final pieces to our mega truck puzzle is to build some driveshafts. The newly installed SCS gearbox has the same 1410 U-joint that the factory Rockwell axles have, so the best way to build a set of shafts is to find some used 2 1/2-ton shafts and cut them to length. These were originally designed for hardcore military trucks, so they can handle the power from our Jeep with no problem.

The Reveal
Here is the Universal Mudder in all its glory! Gorman, Mahoney, and the rest of their metal-welding wizards pulled it off and built one of the baddest Jeeps in the country. The floorboard of our rig is sitting just above 6 feet, and the smile on my face is even bigger. We will be bringing this project all around the country to show it off at events, but don’t think we wont get it muddy—we plan on testing out all these parts by going hard the first time out.

We did add a little more power to our factory 4.0L by installing a Power Adder Jeep kit from Banks Power. This setup included a Banks Ram-Air Intake, Revolver Exhaust Manifold, and Monster Exhaust, which will add around 24 hp and 40 lb-ft of torque. Watch for these great technical articles at our online home, MudLifeMagazine.com.

We are an industry of builders that, in the hopes of finding a weakness, are not afraid to break their rig. People like Bob Gorman want to build the ultimate rig, and if you’re afraid to drive it hard, you will never know how good it really is. Be sure to follow us online every day at MudLifeMagazine.com as we bury this massive Jeep into some of the nastiest mud holes out there in the effort to keep you entertained. Now that you know exactly what it takes to play with the big dogs, are you going to get off the porch?

2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ-L
Owner: Colleen and Chris Hamilton
Engine: Factory 4.0L V-6
Transmission: Stock 6-speed manual
Transfer case: SCS Gearbox 12-inch drop
Suspension: 4-link using Rockwell Offroad heims
Sway Bars: Burtons Kreative Motorwerks
Bumpstops: Profender Suspensions
Axles: 2½-ton Rockwell
Shocks: 16-inch BigShocks
Wheels: 28-inch Holden On Motorsports
Tires: 16.9x28 cut and scooped Ironman
Brakes: Custom Truck Shop Pinion Kit
Seats: Corbeau Baja