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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
My TJ started out as a lonely, desperate vehicle in dire need of a home. It looked so sad and forlorn on the lemon lot at Edwards AFB that I just knew my daughter would love it. We purchased it in 2003 as her first car since we lived in the mountains where we got snow, and we knew she'd love it. I had been reading Edmunds Town Hall and met a Jeep friend online prior to this, so I knew what the world of Jeeps would going to entail. Little did I know the extent.





We brought it home, and the first mods had to be:
- replace the missing front sway bar and end links.
- replace the holy top that looked more like a tattered shroud.
- get some real tires/wheels on there.

A new replace-a-top black sailcloth soft top was the first order of business. After that, came the replacement sway bar and JKS disconnects. The JKS's were cheaper than stock, beefier, and a way to potentially offroad, though that was nowhere in the plans at that time. Got a hookup on ebay for 5 Canyon wheels from a guy in Colorado and I installed 30" BFG AT's. No need for MT's in dry soCal.



After having our daughter drive it a bit, we realized that it was a BAD idea for her. She nearly flipped it over driving on the street. So the decision to sell it was upon is. By this point, I wanted a TJ for myself, and we toyed with the idea of selling the TJ to fund a Honda for our daughter. But I told my wife I'd be picking up a 6 cyl TJ to replace the 4 cyl. So the 4 cyl stayed. lol

My biggest constraint all through the build process (little did I know it was to go on from 2003 thru today and beyond at this point), has been the budget. Whenever I do or plan a mod, I have to weigh cost and benefit, and see what options I have. If it wasn't a NEED, it moved lower on the list. If something broke, I'd have to look at OEM vs aftermarket and level of effort to fix in the analysis. Tedious, I know, but hey, I'm married to a budget analyst for the .gov, so I'm used to it!

At that point, I realized wheeling was fun after riding with my friend from Edmunds while in the southeast on a business trip from California. I came out early to go to TB with him and a group before my meetings in Alabama. After driving his jeep, I knew I had plans for Kermit, the newly dubbed TJ with me in the driver seat.

Me driving his Jeep. Can't recall the spot though.


My friend and his pup!


At this point, being stock height, I opted for under side armor. Toys by Troy rock rails, Kilby gas skid, and Toys by Troy steering box skid were installed. They could grow with the TJ. It stayed pretty much like this, with the exception of replacing the interior carpet and putting on some seat covers to hide the god-awful vinyl 97 seats. Looking back, I should have skipped this and just lined the interior, but oh well. Live and learn. I also had to replace the radiator because of Jeep's WONDERFUL plastic to metal seams. A new 2 row radiator from radiatorbarn.com solved that problem. BTW, doing radiator work in the middle of winter SUCKS. :D

Since I had ordered the sway bar and disconnects from www.dpg-offroad.com, I went back to Dirk for some IPF lighting upgrades. The mountain roads are pretty dark and the TJ lighting is not that great. So the IPF H4 headlight upgrade and 2 IPF lights on the dash (both with 110w bulbs) made the road visibility SO much better. Hella would have been an option, but Dirk's pricing was in line with what I had budgeted and I liked the IPF's reflector design as both fog and driving lights.



Around this time, i took the Jeep to Bakersfield, CA for a much needed sound upgrade. Amplifier, Alpine unit, Kicker speakers, XM, and iPod integration made the rides much more tolerable!

All of this was in 2003 and early 2004. I went to Camp Jeep California and learned just how much fun even a 4 cyl TJ could be. This event mandated the CB solution of the Cobra 75 WxSt and Arizona Rocky Road antenna mount for trail communications. The Cobra has been great but I've since replaced the ARR antenna mount with a mount built into my rear bumper. It was a great mount, but became redundant later on...





Most of my mods came from west coast companies to save shipping. Toys by Troy, Arizona Rocky Road, and Kilby were all purchased from CA or AZ distributors like 4x4groupbuy. Drilling those first holes was FUN and SCARY at the same time. My mod cherry had been burst.

LOTS of idea from Camp Jeep, but nothing happened until we moved to Alabama. Fast forward to early 2005 and my TJ has made it to Alabama...

I'll be updating this post shortly with the rest of the story...

Now in late 2004, I moved to Alabama with my BMW 3 series. My wife had the Jeep transported out here about a month later since she was overseeing the house being packed up.

Got it here and I think the next weekend I went up to Turkey Bay to wheel with the ItsAJeep crew. That was when I realized that BFG AT's SUCK in the southeast mud/clay/goo. Going up First Hill, I already had racing slicks. Made for a challenging day! I have pics of that day, but I'll have to find em. I know they got some of me high centered and going through Dog Leg (it's a lot easier with a shorter, stock rig!).

During this time, I replaced the stock bumpers with Jeeperman bumpers front and rear. Since I had 30" tires, I didn't opt for the tire carrier version. Another decision that would bite me in the butt down the road. I went with the 54" bumper to protect my fenders, yet another decision that would get me! lol I had the light hoop option set up simply because I liked the look. More about that light hoop later. LOL I did opt for the frame tie-ins from Jeeperman though. I did a writeup on the bumper installations that I think Jeeperman still uses today.





A trip to Turkey Bay and a distraction by a GPS led to this: A tree jumped out and snagged my 'protected fender' one day.



Yeah, that was fun to explain to her! lol

With my rig soon to be higher and with more traction, I had to address getting myself in trouble and getting stuck. Warn was the only option that I considered. Her comments on this were plain and simple: "If you're in a pickle and you HAVE to count on something to save you and the Jeep, get something you KNOW will work." So I got a SMOKING deal on a 9.5ti (under 900, brand new from winchdepot.com).



I wish I knew where that red strap was now! Probably in the mud at Wheelin' in The Country (Summertown, TN). lol

So I wheeled it stockish for a bit longer, then in October 2005, I finally got my wife to go wheel with me! That is the day that changed Kermit's destiny. Doing Dog Leg again, I had problems. Got high centered and lost traction.

My wife's comment as I was kicking up a bunch of dust: "You need more power!"
My response: "No I need more clearance and more traction!"

I think I was finally winched out of there about 3' from the top. lol

The mods began in earnest! My plans originally were for a D44 in back locked and a beefed up D30 in front, both with ARB's and 4.88's. But she wanted me to look at alternatives, so I wrote up the spreadsheet comparing a D44, 8.8, and upgraded D35 (shafts, gears, locker) and looked to see what would be best for the budget and me. I really had to look at how I drove the TJ (very light on the gas 99% of the time) and what my plans were. At this point, my mental state was that I wanted to go big like everybody else was doing. Yeah, I felt like I had to keep up with the Joneses. I admit it. But the spreadsheet really made me think out what was best financially and for what I wanted the Jeep for in the first place.

I don't do the crazy rock stuff, the vertical walls, super deep mud (well intentionally anyway lol). I want it to do the trail rides, have some fun in the rocks and dirt, and get me places you can't go with other rigs. So the D35 upgrade was the path we chose.

For this round of mods, I went with Tennessee Offroad as I just didn't get a good vibe from the local shop here. The mods ended up being:
- Yukon 35 shafts (30 spline alloy)
- ARB locker in back and compressor underhood
- 4.88 gears
- Lockrite locker in front
- TrXuS MT's 33x12.5.x15 (x5)

It came down to money. The Yukons were cheaper than a Superior setup, and for a 2.5L I wasn't too worried about too much torque frying the rear axle in this configuration. The lockrite was a concession to the budget, and I still have hopes of making THAT an ARB at some point, possibly even doing the install myself. The TrXuS MT's were a good bargain and a better deal than anything else at that time. I'm still running that same set today. But they are a PITA to balance.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
With this, I had to address the Canyon wheels (mentioned above). The backspacing came into play here when turning or stuffing the tires, so I had to deal with THAT. The choices: piss off the wife and tell her I got the wrong wheels, or get wheel spacers to keep the lighter alloy wheels. The spacers won.

Hello SpiderTrax, again from 4x4groupbuy.com


How the rig sat after doing the mods:



With the 33's now on the rig, I contacted Jeeperman and swapped my non-carrier bumper for a version with a tire carrier. I had to pay some for it, but they were great to work with and it was a great deal. Again, another writeup on the installation to Jeeperman.

Now a bit later in 2006, I went with some corner/body armor from Toys by Troy (again) based on info from Stu Olson's website. I liked the corner armor with side rails, especially with the trees around here and nobody made anything comparable at that time. Rokmen makes some with tubes and Savvy makes a version with a rail across the top, but in 2006, only TbT offered it.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
And the rest of the story...


I got some LED taillights and they've been solid since install. But drilling those holes... EEK!







I liked the 2 piece design of them, which would work well if there was any tub irregularity. Little did I know that they'd be tested a few weeks later. With this mod, I also added some O'Reilly's cheapo fogs onto the tire carrier to serve as backup lights. They are activated by either putting it in reverse OR by using a switch on the dash. Used Light'n Boltz for the license plate illumination.



A trip to Windrock in late July/early August didn't do any damage other than a Throttle Position Sensor that crapped out after I flew through some mud holes. OOPS.

But the next weekend, we met up at WITC (my first time there). I got there late and radioed the group when I got there. They came and got me and led me up Bents and Dents. Things felt precarious so I stopped, while the Jeep ahead of me continued. That Jeep was built comparable to mine in lift and size, so I wasn't too worried, but something didn't feel right. I asked my son what was on his side and he said it is about a 1 foot dropoff. Keep in mind, I was already offcamber to the right, so I should have had the alarm bells going off. But for whatever reason, probably feeling rushed, I continued. I moved forward about 1 foot, and it started to go over to the right. My son grabbed the bar in front to keep his hands in and I just watched it happen in slow motion. Windshield cracks seemed to appear slowly and then THUD. Kermit was on his side.

\
Yeah, that's me in the red on the phone. About 20 pounds ago too. :)





Interestingly, my wife and daughter were supposed to meet us up there and ride along. I"m VERY thankful they were late. I called her and told her not to bother coming, we've got a problem. This was my first taste and real damage and real trouble on the trail, and it made me sick. I know to many, it would not be a big deal, but I have to drive this home. And my budget doesn't let me fix every little issue. But these issues were a bit bigger.







I will say here that I was SUPER proud of my son for not freaking out, keeping his hands in, and taking it all in. He got a great story out of it. But I will say, Ferrell, don't freak out when you jump on my door and demand my fire extinguisher. You encouraged us to get out VERY quickly! lol

We had it flat bedded home since glass would fly at us at any speed above 5 mph.

Total damage: Windshield, windshield frame, fender bent up more, hood looks like the moon, both hood latches, cowl.

Now I got the great idea of flat fenders and an AEV hood. Got THAT shot down real quick! Ended up pounding out the fender a bit (it actually looked better than after the tree incident) and pounding out the hood to be passable. I had to do some hinge work to get it to sit level, but it would work.

Ended up getting a windshield frame that matched my Jeep's color at a local salvage yard for $125 and a cowl from a 97 (also matching) for $10.00 So that came out better than I had hoped. But it was fun driving home in a convertible with a windshield frame sticking up from the back seat (in the rain no less).



I also vowed to never have an "If you can read this, roll me over" sticker EVER again. :D

Everything would go along smoothly until 2009... and Stony Lonesome.

I had gotten some OEM fog lights so I could put the IPF's up on the light hoop for more light and some Hellas (along with windshield brackets) from my friend in Texas. So I was all ready to light up a landing strip.



But I found out just how flimsy the light hoops can be. After winching kudzukit up a hill at SLOHV, I had to back up to get off the trail. While in reverse, it popped out and the Jeep rolled about 15' right into Lara's front end. NO damage to her TJ at all, but my light hoop was bent back, my IPF's shattered, and the bent hoop pushed into the 9.5ti winch, breaking part of it and bending the winch plate.

 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
I contacted IPF and was able to get new lights. I got two sets and removed the Hellas from the windshield. Those went to my friend in exchange for what came next. He helped me build (okay, he did most of the work) a new grille hoop and stinger setup modeled roughly on the Genright setup. But this one was NOT going to fold like a piece of paper. 1/4" plate was the base and IT was welded to the Jeeperman bumper/winch plate.













It is solid and came out quite well. I didn't have room to mount the OEM fogs I had so they sit in the garage still. One got a bit of damage from the run-in, but it is still usable.

Along the way, I've turned a jerry can holder into a CO2 tank holder for offroading, and built a rear deck frame to hold a cargo rack, but it has stayed pretty much in this configuration since the bumper was rebuilt in front.

Some minor mods that I've done along with all of this:
- Carling switches and a second bezel console for all the light switches (they match the ARB switches)
- Tuffy Security Console which holds a Kicker subwoofer
- Remote in-cab winch controller from MCE
- Jeeperman cargo nets

But the biggest mod was probably the lining of the tub. That replacement carpet from 2004 looked terrible and smelled worse. I got the Monstaliner roll-on liner from JeepForum and went to town with that. The prep work was crazy, but I knew what was going on after helping PDK prep his TJ for herculiner.









It's been great and served me well after going into a WAY too deep mudhole at Stony Lonesome back in August. Washes right out and easy to clean!

Some time back I had gotten (for free!!!) a hood and a cowl from a 2003 Rubicon, but they were bright yellow. I didn't want Kermit to become Toucan Sam, so I finally got them painted to match (more or less) Kermit's color.

Installed them.



So how Kermit sits today, with an HP-adding logo on the hood!



Feel free to ask whatever. I'm sure I've left stuff off, but I'll add if I need to do so!

I still have some things to do, like a cage, belly up, finishing the control arm replacements, and I'll be needing new tires here soon.
 

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Wow! Great evolution!

BEFORE





AFTER

 

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Discussion Starter #6
Yeah, it has taken some time, but I'm very happy with how it has ended up. Only regret it not having a 4.0. Drove my coworker's 2006 Rubi she just picked up (I'm the mechanic and doing her buildup), and GEEZ the power and acceleration it had over my 2.5L was amazing.

But I'm still happy with what I built. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Kermit's getting some new fenders. :)

These are the UnderCover Fab flat fenders that come in a kit you have to weld together. I got a hold of some donor fenders, so my (currently) good factory fenders can be sold off.







My friend and I took an interesting approach to the inner fender. We used a cutting wheel and air chisel to break the welds between inner and outer fender (from underneath). This let us save the hood mount support (for additional support and for a way to run the wires for side markers). We could have easily cut the horizontal part of the fender, but I didn't like the idea of even a small 'shelf' to hold dirt, mud, and water.

I still have to grind down my welds (my first time welding, with supervision lol) and do the passenger side fender, but I'm happy with how these are coming together. A full writeup is coming soon.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Finished up welding my UCF flat fenders. My first time welding anything. It definitely isn't pretty, but they'll hold. I'll grind them down a bit to smooth them out, but besides looking good (overall), these fenders have really taught me to appreciate a nice weld job!







Removal, final grinding to remove splatter, sanding the inner fenders, wiping down with MEK, then priming and painting scheduled for this weekend. I just hope the wind stays low.

I also have to decide if my side markers will be 3/4" LED's in the edging over the tires or use just 2" LED markers and mount them behind the front tires along the side (like you'd see on a European vehicle). I also need to do the front markers too, but I wanted the fenders back on and the wiring all in place before I did any more tearing up. LOL
 

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Finished up welding my UCF flat fenders. My first time welding anything. It definitely isn't pretty, but they'll hold. I'll grind them down a bit to smooth them out, but besides looking good (overall), these fenders have really taught me to appreciate a nice weld job!

Removal, final grinding to remove splatter, sanding the inner fenders, wiping down with MEK, then priming and painting scheduled for this weekend. I just hope the wind stays low.

I also have to decide if my side markers will be 3/4" LED's in the edging over the tires or use just 2" LED markers and mount them behind the front tires along the side (like you'd see on a European vehicle). I also need to do the front markers too, but I wanted the fenders back on and the wiring all in place before I did any more tearing up. LOL
Is that a cardinals sticker in the back window of that truck?
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Yep. I grew up in St. Louis and my sister and parents still live there. :) Still a fan, though they're not doing as well this year.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
But there is good wheeling over in Turkey Bay (Land Between the Lakes). You should check out www.itsajeep.org. LOTS of folks from Clarksville, TN, KY, etc and wheeling at Turkey Bay...

And Ft. Campbell is only about 4.5 hours from St. Louis. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Here's how the TJ is now. First pic is before installing turn signals in the grille.



Now, I have the grille lights in and working. :)



I have 2 3/4" amber LED's to install - just deciding if they'll go in the fender itself or below the fender on the side of the grille housing.

 

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Hey Paul,

Are you still on 33's? I like the way that the jeep looks. I am working on mine. I have a 2.5 OME HD lift, 1.25 BL and 1 MML that will will be installing. I picked up a HP30, that a friend is going to regear for me. I plan on running 33's on my jeep.

We just moved back to AL about a year ago to help my parents. They are in their 80's. So we made one big loop. We went to Raleigh, to Melbourne, to Destin, and back to huntsville. LOL

Take care

Mel and Mark
 
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