Modern Jeeper - News about Jeeps, Jeeping and Jeepers
Sport, The Little TJ That Could . . . Sport, The Little TJ That Could . . .
During my years as Editor-in-Chief of a couple of 4×4 magazines, we almost always built (overbuilt?) our project vehicles to show what could be... Sport, The Little TJ That Could . . .

During my years as Editor-in-Chief of a couple of 4×4 magazines, we almost always built (overbuilt?) our project vehicles to show what could be done if the desire was there and the wallet was fat enough. One of my favorite Jeeps, though, was a 1982 CJ5 that ran 31” tires, had Detroit Lockers front and rear, and little else. That tame, reliable little Jeep went most places and did it while amazing many with what it could do.

I wanted a Jeep with smaller tires that could not only be my daily driver but could explore the backcountry and do trail riding. It wouldn’t be a “cheap” build; as to do it right you have to spend some money, even on mild Jeeps. It would NOT morph into some over-the-top unlimited budget rock crawler project. If I wanted that, I’d build a buggy.

My neighbor owned this 2004 Jeep Wrangler TJ Sport since it was new and had only put 47,000 miles on the clock. It was well-equipped with 4.0 liter six, 42RLE 4-speed automatic, cruise control, compass and temperature mirror, seven speakers including subwoofer and tweeters, the dual top group, add-a-trunk, etc.

It was in almost perfect shape except for the ubiquitous 4.0-liter rear main (crankshaft) seal leak and some undercoating the original owner had applied. I was able to talk him into selling it to me. It’s nice to be able to find the almost perfect Jeep a block away from your house.

First, the rear main seal was replaced and all fluids changed. I like to use OEM parts, so a call to Classic Motors, the Jeep dealer in Richfield, Utah, got a new Mopar transmission filter, air filter, TJ Rubicon Mopar fender flares, gas tank skid (more on that soon), and other parts coming my way.

Why not go to the local dealer? Classic Motors discounts parts so they’re much cheaper than buying local. Other journalists and industry people have discovered Classic and use them, too.

The front door panel had cracked where many TJ door panels do – under the window. I was surprised to be able to still order a new OEM khaki door panel through Classic and installed it as soon as it arrived.

I ordered a replacement radio from 1factoryradio.com. They refurbish and improve OEM radios for many models and makes. This one was an exact RBK replacement with wireless Bluetooth added. It works well and I can stream wirelessly to the OEM head unit. The original subwoofer in the console was blown (big surprise), so I replaced it with a speaker sold by Quadratec.

The gas tank skid was covered with rock hard undercoating. Some of it had chipped off and encouraged rust. The replacement Jeep skid arrived and I figured I’d drop the tank and replace it in an hour. Wrong. The previous owner had sprayed all the gas line fittings and electrical plug with undercoating.

It took me three full days (!) to get the coating chipped off enough so the fittings would release. Once installed, the new skid looked great. The undercoating is still on other electrical plugs and I’m sure they’ll have to be addressed some time.

Warn’s stubby rock crawler front TJ bumper is one of my favorites. It comes complete with a beefy winch and fairlead mount plate. Even though it’s stubby, there’s room for an Antirock sway bar to fit when I get one.

Warn’s reliable and lightweight M8000-S winch was chosen for Sport. A Warn rock crawler rear bumper without spare tire carrier has a 2” receiver so my bike rack can be carried and will provide rear protection. I had these installed in 1.5 hours in my garage with the help of a cheap Harbor Freight hydraulic lift table.

All the bolt holes lined up, something seldom seen in the TJ world. A 31” spare and two gallons of gas was all the rear door was going to carry, so I kept the OE spare carrier. TJ hinges aren’t that strong, so a set of GR8TOPS heavy duty TJ tailgate hinges and Rotopax gas can carrier was installed.

A hoist makes suspension installation much easier, so Steve and the crew at Sand Hollow Off Road were enlisted to install the 2” Teraflex coils and 9550 shocks, Metalcloak aluminum hex control arms, and Teraflex super short slip yoke eliminator kit. Tom Wood’s Custom Driveshaft supplied front and rear CV driveshafts. The Metalcloak arms feature their silent, self-centering Duroflex joints and are totally adjustable while still on the Jeep.

Steve Nantz, the owner of Sand Hollow Off Road, has years of experience setting up gears and building axles. I figured I’d keep the OEM Dana 30 front and Dana 35 rear and beef them up.

Carbon Off Road supplied a set of 4340 Chromoly Dana 30 front and 1540H Dana 35 rear axle shafts. Carbon also sent 4.10 Motive gears with master installation kits for the front and rearends. Black Magic supplied brakes. Detroit Truetrac helical gear limited slips were chosen for both the front and rear. Steve soon had the gears, axles, brakes, and Truetracs installed and the Jeep was ready for new shoes.

OMF Performance is building their forged F1 beadlock wheels. Are they necessary on this mild Jeep? Probably not, but these wheels are so cool Sport had to run them. I mounted 31×10.50R15/C BFGoodrich Tires Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 tires on the F1 wheels in my garage. Never trust a stranger to mount your beadlock wheels.

Spidertrax 1.25” TJ wheel spacers were procured, as I had ordered the F1 wheel’s backspacing to be close to the 5.5” stock backspacing spec so the stock spare carrier could be utilized.

Sport was ready to drive. Highway performance was improved from stock, as the Teraflex coils and shocks work great. I was amazed at Sport’s off-road prowess. The BFG KM3s hook up well on the rocks and those Truetracs work like full locking diffs with no noise or fuss.

You can get them to completely lock by preloading the brakes, but I didn’t need to do any preloading, even when climbing some vertical ledges diagonally. On long backcountry trails where cruising is in order, Sport cruises. It’s comfortable, dust-free, and the head unit streams good tunes.

When the trail’s washed out or obstacles encountered, Sport (pretty easily) conquers them. TJs are smaller and lighter than JK or JL Wranglers and that advantage shows off-road. Once again, just like what happened with that 1982 CJ5, people are amazed at where this little TJ will go and what it can do. It truly is, “the little TJ that could . . .”

SPECIFICATIONS

– Vehicle: 2004 Jeep TJ Wrangler

– Engine: Jeep 4.0-liter inline-six

– Induction: MPFI

– Transmission: Chrysler Jeep 42RLE 4-speed automatic with overdrive

– Transfer case/low range ratio: NV231J with 2.72:1 low range; Teraflex Super Short Slip Yoke Eliminator

– Front end: Dana 30 with Carbon 4340 Chromoly axles; Black Magic brakes

– Rear end: Dana 35 with Carbon 1540H axles; Black Magic brakes

– Ring and Pinion: 4.10 Motive Gear

– Front Differential: Detroit Truetrac

– Rear Differential: Detroit Truetrac

– Suspension: 2” Teraflex coil springs, Teraflex 9550 shocks, 4-link short arm with track bar, Metalcloak adjustable aluminum hex arms with Duroflex bushings

– Tires: BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 31×10.50R15/C

– Wheels/Backspacing: OMF Performance F1 beadlock/15×8”/ 5”; Spidertrax 1.25” spacers

– Rear Differential: Detroit Truetrac

– Suspension: 2” Teraflex coil springs, Teraflex 9550 shocks, 4-link short arm with track bar, Metalcloak adjustable aluminum hex arms with Duroflex bushings

– Tires: BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 31×10.50R15/C

– Wheels/Backspacing: OMF Performance F1 beadlock/15×8”/ 5”; Spidertrax 1.25” spacers

(NOTE: Paragraphs are split for easier reading on phones.)

 

While waiting for parts to arrive, I delved into the interior. An OEM RBK head unit from 1factoryradio.com is refurbished and upgraded. The blue button to the left of the tone sliders engages wireless Bluetooth. 1factoryradio.com sells updated OEM head units or will refurbish and update yours. I had a Mopar/Jeep TJ Trail Guide GPS system that had never been installed, so I installed it in Sport. Garmin no longer updates the street maps, but it still works great as a GPS unit. Useful for trail riding, it will drop “bread crumbs” so you can backtrack easily without getting lost. The unit can be removed from its mount and used when hiking or biking. When not in use, it lies down in the mount and a door slides over the top, hiding it from prying eyes.

 

The factory subwoofer has a foam surround that rots and makes the speaker worthless. Quadratec sells a replacement speaker with a better cone and surround that is a plug-and-play replacement for the original speaker. It’s not hard to install but you have to remove the console and the subwoofer enclosure. It took about a half hour total to do the job.

 

Sport’s interior looks almost new. Not bad for a 15-year-old Jeep.

 

The TJ OEM mechanical bottle jack works well on mildly lifted Wranglers but ours was missing. Collins Brothers Jeep had a NOS replacement that nestles rattle-free in the stock position. Collins Brothers is a great source for new, NOS, and used Jeep parts. They also sell super clean Jeeps.

 

Sport had a few small nicks and dings that needed to be addressed. I had used automotive touchup paint from automotivetouchup.com before and was impressed with their ability to match paint to the paint code. I contacted them for stone white paint and clear coat for the Wrangler. They not only sent the paint, but everything needed for small or large paint repair. Even if Sport has an encounter with a canyon wall, we’re ready.

 

TJ, LJ, and JK hoods all bounce up and down in heavy winds or at high speeds. Daystar hood wranglers are the original cure for this issue and I’ve been using them from the outset. They’re easy to install and look OEM. Daystar also sent polyurethane spacers for a budget boost lift, but they weren’t needed at this time. The spacers can also be used when you have a corner sitting lower than the rest or you want to fine tune the Jeep’s stance.

 

Steve and the crew at Sand Hollow Off Road went to work expertly installing the suspension, Carbon axles, Motive gears, and Detroit Truetracs.

 

Teraflex 2” single rate coils and 9550 gas shocks work well on the TJ Wrangler. They’re firm enough so the Jeep doesn’t flop around, yet are surprisingly supple when off-road in the rocks. Teraflex also has 2” bumpstop extensions to use with their coils. For now, Metalcloak swaybar quick disconnects are used.

 

The Dana 30 frontend has Carbon 4340 Chromoly axles that come fully assembled with heat-treated full circle clips and large Spicer 5-760X Series U-Joints. They have a 15-year warranty with no tire size limits, although Sport’s 31” tires probably won’t be stressing them much. Motive 4.10 gears came with their master installation kit that includes all bearings, seals, and shims for a successful installation. A Detroit Truetrac ensures traction to both wheels, yet makes steering in the rocks easy.

 

The Dana 35 rearend has Carbon 1540H axles, Motive 4.10 gears, and a Detroit Truetrac. The Truetrac is a helical gear automatic limited slip that has the ability to lock up completely when preloaded. While it’s quite aggressive when needed, it’s transparent when driving on the road. We’ll see how the Dana 35 holds up, even with upgrades. Check out that new, shiny OEM gas tank skid.

 

The Teraflex super short slip yoke eliminator allowed a 20” rear driveshaft. This is much longer than stock and helps driveline angles. Tom Wood’s Custom Driveshafts built the front and rear XB CV driveshafts. The XB shafts have heavy rubber boots with stainless steel banding to seal contaminates out and keep the grease in. Metalcloak arms are made from solid aircraft aluminum hex stock and feature their noiseless Duroflex self-centering joints on both ends. All eight arms can be adjusted on the Jeep, making adjustments easy. Even with only 2” of lift and a slip yoke eliminator on this Wrangler, we still experienced driveline vibration. A few minutes adjusting the arms on the vehicle and the vibration was dialed out.

 

Warn’s Rock Crawler Stubby TJ bumper provides great clearance and a sturdy mounting point for the Warn M8000-S winch. A Warn Epic winch hook was added. The M8000 has provided decades of good service and have been kept up-to-date over the years. With synthetic rope, it only weighs 55 pounds, the same as their 9.0Rc competition winch. The OEM fog lights were retained for now.

 

A set of OEM Mopar TJ Rubicon flares were ordered from Classic Motors. The Rubicon and Sahara flares are one inch wider than the Sport flares. With these installed, only the tire sidewall bulge sticks out. It was a pain getting the old flares off, as there was undercoating sprayed on the plastic liners and bolts. Why would you undercoat plastic?

 

TJ hinges aren’t strong and are prone to sagging and rust in the hinges that cause them to freeze. Sport’s weren’t sagging or frozen, but GR8TOPS TJ heavy duty hinge kit ensures there will be no future problems. The GR8TOPS hinges feature zerk fittings so they can be greased. The GR8TOPS gas can carrier allows a Rotopax can to be carried. I also have a Daystar CamCan that fits inside the spare so Sport will have adequate fluids on long backcountry exploring trips.

 

A Teraflex CB bracket bolts behind the taillight and holds the CB antenna and a whip for a flag.

 

The TJ’s engine compartment is almost stock, except for the addition of the HealTech Electronics TJ SpeedoHealer from Blue Monkey Motorsports above the brake booster. The SpeedoHealer plugs inline at the transfer case and is easily programmable so the speedometer reads correctly.

 

OMF Performance F1 beadlock wheels are forged alloy and strong. OMF included their trick machined center caps. The wheels are available in just about any size, bolt pattern, and backspacing you need and can be powder coated in the color[s] you choose. I chose raw aluminum for wheel, rim, and cap. BFGoodrich 31×10.50R15/C Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 tires provide 5% better mud traction, 8% better rock traction, and have 27% tougher sidewalls than the KM2 they replace. The tires are truly a leap forward in performance. I’ve been testing tires for decades, and the KM3s are among the very best I’ve ever used.

 

 

 

 

 

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Phil Howell Contributing Editor

As past Editor-n-Chief of 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility and Off-Road Magazines, and co-host of the Outdoor Channel's Four Wheeler TV, Phil's been participating and bringing four-wheeling action to the world for over half a century.

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