Building my Jeep

My jeep started life as a 1993 Wrangler (YJ) Sahara. In 1999, I bought it used from a friend of mine. He'd done a few little things, but from a performance standpoint, the Jeep was still stock. Here's what the jeep looked like shortly after it's first off-road adventure.

the way I bought it

My approach to building up the Jeep was relatively straightforward: anything that breaks must need upgrading. One of the first things I learned is that a stock YJ's suspension is about as flexible as a concrete wall.

Not long after I bought the Jeep, I managed to roll it. Much to my disgust, the roll was on road; Utah's roads have a reputation for poor maintenance and design, and both of those jumped out and bit me, causing the back end of my Jeep to leave the ground and not follow the front end around the curve. The relatively stiff suspension of the stock YJ contributed to the problem, and my jeep wound up with the driver's side on the ground. An incompetent tow-truck operator helped further the damage, and the final result was a broken axle shaft and the demise of my fiberglass hard-top. Fortunately, no other vehicles were involved in the accident. A few weeks later, I had a new axle shaft and a BestTop soft-top, and was back on (and off) the road.

Once I had the jeep back, the first thing I did was a no-cost mod; I pulled the track-bar off. The second mod was also designed to improve suspension travel. $60 bought me a set of stronger, longer spring shackles. Another great, inexpensive mod along these lines is sway-bar disconnects. The articulation page talks more about these mods and what they actually achieved.

While improved articulation had improved my traction considerably, there was still room for improvement. The first step involved replacing the Yokohama Geolander tires with a set of BFGoodrich 30" A/T tires. Part of the reason I chose the A/Ts over a more aggressive tire was because the Jeep was still my daily driver, and I wanted the on-road comfort and wet-road handling the A/Ts offered. The second traction improvement came in the form of a lock-rite mechanical differential locker in my rear axle. If you don't know what a locker is, see my lockers page for details on what it is and why they help.

Other modifications came in the form of beefier front and rear drive shafts, including a rear slip-yoke eliminator kit and CV-joint. These, especially the rear, were necessary to compensate for the increased load the locker created, and because the drive shafts had become the weakest link in my power-train (in other words, I broke the originals).

It was also during this period that I learned about the flaw in the factory airbox design first hand. I decided it was time to replace the original engine with a newer one which didn't have a piston-rod sticking through the oil pan. Matt, at had helped me with most of my mods to date, and located a replacement 4.0L for a good price. He put the new engine in, and I set off to find new ways to break my jeep.

As time passed, I found that I was having trouble breaking anything. The main reason for this, I surmised, was due to the fact that I didn't have the clearance to tackle any of the really hard stuff. It was obviously time to fix that problem. The solution came in the form of a set of SkyJacker SoftRide 4" lift springs and 33" BFG A/T tires on 17" American Racing wagon-wheels. I also ditched the light-weight tube bumper and stock rear bumperettes in favor of more solid bumpers that didn't get in the way as much. While this was a major improvement in performance, it also worked wonders for the image of the Jeep.

showing off the new lift
improved suspension travel

The new look is awesome, but the articulation in the new suspension blew me away. As it turns out, this also increases the likelyhood of a roll. Since my first roll-over was on the driver's side, it was obviously time to let the passenger side meet the ground.

passenger side, meet ground

In case you couldn't figure it out, the roll-over pictures were taken a few minutes before the second set of articulation pictures. The great thing about a Jeep is that it takes a lot more than a little roll to do any real damage, and with the help of a friend, I got the Jeep back on its wheels and kept on having fun.

In order to help compensate for the larger tires, I geared down the differentials with 4.56:1 ratio gears. The change in gears slowed down the jeep and improved the power to the wheels. This increased power was great for rock crawling, but it also increased the load on some of the powertrain. It was only a matter of time before I broke another axle shaft. I got the shaft replaced, but was already starting to think bigger.

In this case, bigger means a custom-built rear Dana 44 housing from with heavy duty Curry shafts, and an ARB selectable locker. The rear end of my jeep was now more than capable of taking on nearly anything I could throw at it.

With a solid powertrain, I found that what was getting damaged now was the body. With the single exception of the grill, there isn't a body panel on the Jeep that hasn't had a close encounter with a very solid rock. The other thing I noticed was that I had now rolled the jeep two more times; once on each side. The Jeep's body wasn't the only body I wanted some protection for.

The front hoop that completes my roll cage is tied in to the Jeep's frame to keep it rigid. Pounding out the banged-up rocker panels was going to be a pain, but I managed to work a deal with a friend who did the labor in exchange for my help rebuilding an engine. Rear corner guards and a Terra belly-up skid plate came a short time later.

Another friend was upgrading his body-lift kit, and sold me a used but good condition 1" body lift, including installation, for a great price. A little fender trimming and a set of Zenon double-wide TJ fender flares were all that was left before I could clear a set of 35" Goodyear MT/Rs.

the current look

That's all so far. The Jeep is a pretty decent rig, and held it's own in Pritchett Canyon, but a Jeep's never done. I already envision a shackle-reversal and a Dana 44 with an ARB up front, and a winch would definitely come in handy every now and again. It would also be nice to get some new seats with four-point harnesses. Who knows what will come after all that. I'm sure I'll think of something.