Project Built to Cruise

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Say hello to the summer wheeling toy.  The rig will serve as a daily driver for two days a week, as a second car the rest of the week and as an air conditioned wheeler during the summer months.  I have been thinking about getting something like this for quite a while since I missed wheeling all the trails that are not practical in a buggy (Crown King, Charelou Gap, etc).

I began my search after selling my daily driver: a 99 BMW 328i with nearly 150k miles on it.  That car felt ready to go another 100k but I was having a hard time justifying owning two daily drivers after buying my wife a low mileage used Acura.  The way our two work schedules are setup allows us to share a fuel efficient daily driver and requires a 2nd vehicle that can make the long commute only twice a week.  The rest of the week it is used at home for errands and I was hoping for something to use on the weekends over the summer.

So the search was on. I had a budget of around 10-14k and quickly narrowed my searching down to TJ's for the following reasons: small size (good for tight, brushy trails and canyons), coil suspension for ride comfort, ample supply, excellent aftermarket support, ability to go convertible & door less and lastly easy to work on.

My ideal candidate was a lower mileage 97-00 TJ with a D44 rear, 33" tall tires, hardtop and at least one locker.  After a few weeks of looking I wasn't really finding what I was after.  Either the rig was bone stock and overpriced or it had a lot of mods but was very well used.  I did find a few semi built rigs but price always became the sticking point.  To make matters worse I threw another variable into the mix after I drove an LJ which is basically a stretched TJ.  The stretch gives you enough room in the back to actually pack a cooler inside, slightly more leg room for the rear passengers, better road handling (thanks to the longer wheelbase) and disc brakes all around (which is not very common on the short wheelbase TJ's).

After more test drives than you could shake a stick at I finally found this very well cared for LJ.  The interior looked like it just came off the showroom floor which made my wife happy and the exterior had all sorts of goodies that made me happy.  This rig was a bit above my budget but the feature list made it a great deal.

4 Wheeler Supply Bumpers F/R
D44 rear axle with 4.88's & Detroit Locker
D30 Front with 4.88's and an ARB locker
RE 4" Lift
Currie Anti-Rock Swaybar (no need to disconnect for the trail )
Motor lift & Teraflex belly up kit (flat belly)
CV Rear Driveshaft
Brand new never-been-used hi-lift jack
35" MTR's
M8000 Winch
Intake, Throttle Body Spacer and Banks Exhaust

The previous owner told me he put all the mods in with road comfort in mind. and I would say the rig rides very nice on the road but there are a few things I can see changing.  The first step is to clean up the steering which while not bad does exhibit the typical lifted TJ bobble when hitting bumps on the road due to the drag link angle.  I can see adding a crossover steering setup like the one Teraflex makes.  I may also change out the Rancho 5000 shocks for some Bilstein gas charged shocks.  They made a very noticeable difference in ride on my Suzuki back in the day.

A reliable source of onboard air would also be nice.  The existing ARB compressor really doesn't work so great when asked to fill big tires since it's duty cycle is short.  I'll have to weigh getting a viair compressor or some sort of power tank setup. Lastly the rig could use a few more skid plates to better protect the gas tank and motor.

I am really happy with the motor, it pulls strong and the gearing feels great.  The Jeep cruises along effortlessly at 65mph with the tach showing about 2200 rpms.  My initial plan had some sort of forced induction upgrade for the motor but I may hold off for a while as power is better than I expected.

So not a whole lot of fabrication projects to do with this rig but after two weeks at my new job I think that's a good thing, I have been getting home between 6 and 7pm lately so spare time is non-existent right now. This should be the perfect stress reliever, just load up Friday night and head out Sat morning. 


Update - 3-25-08 - Found a hardtop on Craigslist that was used for one day by the original owner and then put into storage  Besides a nice layer of dust the top was perfect after I cleaned it up.  The hard top is much quieter on the road and I am hoping to see a small improvement in gas mileage.  Speaking of which the first couple of tanks with mixed driving netted me 15 mpg, not bad considering the lift and 35" tires.  I think the 4.88 gears in the differentials are main reason for the good (for a Jeep) gas mileage. I also swapped out the black steel wheels with something a little nicer.  The Dick Cepek DC1's are a very affordable aluminum wheel and they look really nice to boot.

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