The Total Jeep
There will never be another Wrangler like the Jeep TJ. It’s a sad fact that we must all accept. Launched in 1997, the TJ would usher in the age of multilink suspension, a jump back to round headlights, and eventually introduce the world to the most capable Wrangler model ever produced—the Rubicon. From Viper engine swaps to full-buggy conversions, we’ve seen the 1997 to 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ modified in just about every way imaginable.
The compact build platform makes for an incredibly nimble off-roader right out of the box. However, like the Wrangler YJ that came before it and the generations that have come after, a little aftermarket support can go a long way into greatly improving the Jeep overall. With so many excellent takes on the TJ platform, we would be remiss to say that there’s one perfect way to build it. However, we think Susan Cox’s 2005 Wrangler is pretty close to the ideal dual-sport TJ.
Built for the beautiful country backroads and trails of South Carolina, this Clemson Wrangler has a great balance of upgrades and features to make it fun to drive anywhere she wants to go. To get it where it is today, Cox gives credit to Cole Conner, an expert Jeep builder that is known for crafting builds such as this LS-powered JK’s and one of nicest LJ’s we’ve come across. So, what makes this TJ so special? Read on to find out.
4.0 To Go
It’s a favorite among Jeep enthusiasts and one of the longest running inline engines in the Jeep portfolio—the 4.0L inline-six. While the TJ would be its final application, the classic inline engine is known for it’s low-end grunt and reliability. Aside from the K&N cold-air intake and Optima YellowTop battery, everything under the hood of the Jeep has been mostly untouched.
Protecting the factory automatic transmission and NP231 transfer case is a belly pan from TeraFlex. This large skidplate system also doubles as the pivot points for the TeraFlex long arm links. The rear uses a triangulated four-link configuration, while the front utilizes four independent arms with a track bar to keep the axle centered. Connected to the T-case’s slip-yoke eliminator is a 1350 CV series rear driveline, with the front using a 1310 CV driveline.
While you could get a standard or Rubicon series Dana 44 rear axle in the TJ, Cox’s X model got a leap into the future with her husband’s take-out JK Rubicon axles (find out about his JK build here). This axle set would not only be significantly wider but have the benefit of already being outfitted with the Tru-Lok differential lockers and 5.13 gears.
Like the rear, the front axle is from her husband’s JK Rubicon. It required a good bit of metal work to fit these axles under the TJ. This included a custom draglink and track bar along with a Barnes 4WD aluminum tie-rod kit, which was paired with Reid Racing steering knuckles. The Artec JK to TJ axle truss kit makes the conversion a little easier and provided a spot for the Currie Antirock sway bar to attach. To add a little more beef to the front axle, RCV Performance axleshafts were installed.
While the long arms come from TeraFlex, the suspension is using Fox 2.0 shocks at each corner. The front springs are 3.5 lift coils from Metal Cloak, while the rears are 2-inch ones from Synergy. Builder Cole Conner said this was done to level out the Jeep as the originally planned 3.5 rear springs simply raised the rear too much for the owners liking.
We’ve seen JK’s get away with running 37-inch-tall treads on stock Rubicon axles for years. So, putting them under a much lighter TJ should be a recipe for success on the trail. To make sure the Jeep had plenty of off-road performance, a set of 37x12.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers were wrapped around 17-inch Trail Ready beadlocks. This combo allows Cox to safely get into single digits on the trail and have something that can roll smoothly on the street. Given the JK axles are much wider than what originally came under the TJ, Cox opted for 4 inches of backspacing on the beadlock wheels.
To increase the approach angle of the Jeep and make a home for the Warn winch, a GenRight stubby front bumper was bolted in place. Helping to provide a lighting boost are a set of KC headlights with LED bulbs. Rounding out the front end is a steering gearbox skid from GenRight.
TJ’s are fairly nimble and light from the factory. While Cox wanted to add a bit of armor and open up the wheelwells, she did so wisely with lightweight components from GenRight. What couldn’t be purchased in aluminum, was picked up in steel and coated with a semi-gloss black finish.
The inside of this ’05 Wrangler is in incredible shape. While the stock seats are staying put for now, a cage from Rock Hard 4x4 was dropped in place. The custom grab handle you see comes from Carolina Metal Masters. Keeping occupants out of the weather is a Bestop replace-a-top soft top.
The small boost in suspension and modest 1-inch body lift from Daystar keeps the short wheelbase Jeep fairly stable on the trails. Given the GenRight 3-inch-wide flares do cover a good bit of the Trail Grapplers, it’s hard to tell just how much wider this TJ is over stock.
Previous to the TJ, Jeep built the first Wrangler (YJ) from 1987 to 1995. It went on to launch the first Jeep Wrangler TJ as a 1997 model year. This means, technically, there was never a “new” 1996 Wrangler.
More From Driving Line
- Want more TJ inspiration? Check out this V-8 powered one!