Epic adventure can sometimes come in a small box. In fact, self-reliance and capability can be built into any 4×4 platform imaginable—for example, a ’17 two-door JK Wrangler. Our goal was to take the Jeep on the Four Wheeler Overland Adventure in May 2019, and it needed to have enough overland equipment to survive multiple days off-grid, while still maintaining its highway manners and trail-crawling duties. Our plan: Revive the Wrangler’s suspension system, address the Jeep’s dim lighting situation, and outfit the rig with enough armor, auxiliary fuel, and expedition gear for extended stays in the backcountry.
Though its life only began in 2017, the JK had seen more than 50,000 rough miles, and its suspension was in need of an overhaul. The springs and shocks had long since given up their youthful vigor, the lower control arms were rock-abused, and the front differential held damaged remains of spider gears. It was time for some much-needed modification.
We talked to the folks at JKS Manufacturing and outlined our goals. Using a four-day, three-night expedition as an example, we took an inventory of our fuel, water, tools, and camping equipment and came up with a payload of roughly 300 pounds. The Jeep was also already loaded with a bumper, winch, and armor, totaling about 200 pounds. We needed a suspension system that could support that weight while maintaining a good clip through rough roads—and still articulate over obstacles. JKS recommended converting the tired coil-spring suspension on the Jeep to coilovers using the company’s mounting kit, which was designed to be compatible with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers, offering between 2 and 2.5 inches of lift height.
For the rear, JKS recommended a similar mounting kit, also compatible with Fox 2.5 DSC coilovers, that at press time was not yet for sale. To complement the articulation of the coilovers, JKS J-Flex control arms were adjustable to accommodate our desired 2.5 inches of suspension lift, and more. The kit also included an adjustable front track bar, track bar relocation brackets, brake line extension brackets, and Quicker Disconnect front sway bar links. To combat harsh bottom-outs while traveling, JKS also recommended Fox 2.0 bumpstops for the front and back of Jeep. These hydraulic bumps were adjustable and would cushion those last few inches of suspension travel that previously ended with bone-jarring impacts.
With the suspension planned out, we needed a solution to the woebegone Dana 30 frontend. Our wheeling habits and 33-inch tires had dealt the gears and axlehousing crippling blows, and we needed to upgrade without going overboard. We chose to not only beef up the metal between the JK’s wheels but also add ground clearance with Dynatrac’s ProRock 44. With overbuilt end forgings, thicker axletubes, and a rock-deflecting differential cover, this axle would give us the confidence to explore the backcountry without the constant worry of bending a housing or damaging our gears. Better yet, it came loaded with 30-spline axleshafts, 1310 U-joints, 4.10:1 gears, Dynatrac rebuildable balljoints, and an Eaton ELocker.
For handling the most intimate relations with the ground below, we chose Dick Cepek’s Trail Country EXP. The tire falls within the “Rugged Terrain” category, straddling the gap between mud-terrain and all-terrain, and it suited the needs of the Jeep perfectly. Not too aggressive of a tread pattern to make pavement travel unbearable, but enough reinforced sidewall strength, tread depth, and lug spacing to keep the adventure moving—mud, snow, or shine. After a lengthy spell with rock-rashed factory wheels, we opted for the contrast of the satin-bronze VTX Terra wheelset.
We visited our friends at South Bay Truck & 4×4 in Lawndale, California, to begin the Overland Overhaul. Read on for some highlights of the installation on our ’17 Wrangler, and stay tuned as we continue with trail armor, lighting, and expedition equipment in preparation for our 2019 Overland Adventure.
We removed the weathered factory bumpstops and ground off their mounts. We used a 2.5-inch hole saw, according to Fox’s detailed instructions, to insert the new bumpstop mounting sleeves into the frame and then welded them in place. After cleaning and painting the whole area, we threaded the bumps into the sleeves. We opted to reinforce the strike surface on the axlehousing for each bumpstop with 3/16-inch steel, which we welded directly on top of the smaller factory pads and painted with protective enamel.
Shakedown and Thoughts
Our practice run included taking a full payload of gear out for a session of rutted crawling and higher-speed trails. The JKS Quicker Disconnects made it simple to unleash the front axle and let the Fox coilovers flex and droop over rocks and ditches. When traveling a bit faster, the Fox bumpstops allowed us to carry more speed through trail irregularities that would normally result in painful metal-on-metal bottom-outs.