Right from the start, I knew I wanted to transform my TJ into one thing - an Overland Jeep. As such, things like a low center of gravity, enough clearance to fit 35” tires, and body armor are all on my list. It also has to be self sufficient, reliable and road worthy. Something prepared to take on any outdoor camping excursion or weekend trip to the off-road park, as this is going to be a multi-purpose vehicle. In my eyes, this is the perfect blend of off-road capability with practical day-to-day function and use.
After a lengthy search, I found a great platform to start with - a 1997 Wrangler with just over 75k miles. However, there were a few catches. While the motor itself had only turned 75k miles, the Jeep had rolled about 200k. The previous owners towed the Wrangler behind their RV and used it to get around when the RV was parked, as well as during the winter months. The manual transmission was shot, she was sporting quite a bit of rust, seats were torn, soft top was trashed, the clear coat was peeling, it idled rough, and was in desperate need of all new hard brake lines. Luckily, the seller realized all these issues and we were able to strike a deal.
In no time I sourced an AX-15 rebuild, Crown Performance Brake lines, a tune up kit, Bestop seats, and a Bestop frameless soft top. Once all that was taken care of, I then started to daily drive the Jeep and it quickly became apparent the suspension needed replacing.
I wanted to keep the Jeep as low to the ground as I could which sparked my plan of a small 2" lift with a Hi-Line Fender Kit. This should give me just enough room to hit my goal of 35” tires. Next, I had to choose a lift. After much research and some insight from previous experiences, I decided to go with an Old Man Emu 2" lift. This kit includes new shocks, coils springs and a transfer case lowering kit. Old Man Emu lifts are know for reliability and quality, while keeping the driving characteristics of a stock vehicle. Also, I ran their springs on my Wrangler YJ and they performed great. The lift installed with minimal headaches. Driving the Jeep after felt like a completely different Wrangler. From a sloppy, bouncy, swaying Jeep to firm factory handling, the difference was night and day. Overall the kit is fantastic out of the box but in order to get the Wrangler where I would be happy, some other parts need to be upgraded.
Anytime a vehicle is lifted the geometry of suspension components change, now it’s not necessary to get everything back to the original angles but I wanted to do as much as I could. This is where a Slip Yoke Eliminator (SYE) and Driveshaft, Extended control arms and a steering linkage upgrade came into play.The parts used in this video were:
When choosing a Slip Yoke Eliminator and Driveshaft the decision was easy. I went with known brands that have been producing these parts for a long time. These brands have been tested and tried for years. An Omix Slip Yoke Eliminator and Tom Woods Drive Shaft were next on the list.The parts used in this video were:
Out on the trail your steering system can take some abuse. It’s vital to have a reliable system that’s built to handle your Jeeps setup and whatever the tail throws at it. Since I’m planning on keeping a Dana 30 front I wanted a direct bolt in replacement that’s stronger and again, reliable above all else. That is why I choose Synergy Manufacturing’s HD steering kit. No reaming or drilling of the steering knuckle required, it’s a direct bolt-on kit and is modeled after the stock Y-Style steering. Keeping the Y-Style steering minimizes bump steer (compared to T-style), and by keeping the front wheels separated, helps prevent steering wobble. The added strength comes from Heavy Duty Metal on Metal Tie Rod Ends, a heat-treated 4130 Chromoly Tie Rod and a 1 /38” 1018 Solid Drag Link.The parts used in this video were:
- Synergy Manufacturing Heavy Duty Steering Kit: 16315.6576
Now that my rear driveshaft angles were ready to be corrected I needed extended control arms. For these, I looked to a race proven brand that’s not afraid to strand by their products, Rock Krawler. Know for putting their parts to the test in off road races such as King of the Hammers, I was confident these are quality parts. These larger control arms are much stronger than the factory ones and since they are adjustable we can set our caster and pinion angle where it needs to be. The quality on these arms is phenomenal and the adjustable sides feature a rebuildable spherical joint. Made from solid alloy steel they come with an Abuse Proof Lifetime warranty.The parts used in this video were:
Today was the day, I'm going to replace my radiator. I hop in the Jeep and start my drive to work. I live 15 miles from work, about 12 miles into my drive it happened. The temperature spikes, I look for a spot to pull over, then the smoke comes, so close, yet so far. Luckily, Rob was kind enough to tow me into work. We pulled the Wrangler into the shop and got to work.
The 4.0L's tend to run a little hot, when I found out I had to replace the radiator I knew I wanted to make a couple upgrades. Mishimito has a great reputation for cooling products and they make an all aluminum high performance radiator for the 97-06 Wranglers which became my choice. They also make great looking silicone hoses to top it off. Once we got everything tore down, I decided now was the time to replace the water pump, thermostat housing and thermostat for a completely new and upgraded cooling system.Look for a full write up on the radiator install coming soon. The parts used in this video were: