Doing It The Hard Way - JL Steering Box and a Front Stretch

carrotman

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2022
Messages
287
Location
Florida
I figure it is time to start a build thread for my Jeep to consolidate my thoughts. I'm sure I'll have a lot of questions about things that don't really need to be their own threads.

A bit of back story, my Jeep is a '98 Sport purchased about 6 or 7 years ago after insurance totaled my '97. Here are some of the mods I did back then, though I'm sure I've forgotten some:
  • SYE NP231 off Craigslist with a driveshaft
  • OME 2.5" lift kit
  • Jeep JK Moab wheels off Craigslist, plus 4.5" to 5" adapters
  • JCR front bumper
  • Swag Offroad rear bumper
  • Removed carpets and DIY bedlined interior
  • Savvy Gas skid
  • New clutch, rebuilt AX-15 since it was off
  • Corbeau XRS seats
  • Swapped my tan dash for a black one off Craigslist
  • Rampage frameless soft top ((n))
  • Warn 8000lb winch
  • Bestop tire carrier
  • Savvy tail lights
  • Front Currie antirock
A couple years after running the above, I added in the following:
  • Savvy Mid arm (minus springs, still using OMEs)
  • Savvy body lift
  • Currie front track bar
  • DIY 1-ton Steering
  • JK axles off craigslist (came with HP Dana 30 Front with Chromoly shafts and lunchbox locker, Artec truss, stock Dana 44 rear with LSD, pluss all the brakes, hubs, etc.)
  • DIY crossmember transfer case mount (for a flat belly skid I still have not yet made)
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While this worked out ok for a while, I really didn't know what I was doing when setting up the steering/front end and the driving characteristics were pretty poor. Life got pretty busy so I kinda just dealt with the twitchy steering through a trip from Florida to Colorado, another through Moab and Vegas, and a cross country move to California and yet another move back here to Florida again. That is a lot of miles, but all of the one ton TREs are already trashed, and I'm guessing this is from excess strain due to improper setup rather than general wear and tear. At some point in California, I also upgraded to 35" mud terrains and ripped off one of my rear shocks (still haven't fixed that). That sure didn't help driveability. I also replaced my already destroyed rampage top with a Bestop one. Apparently vinyl windows can crack when frozen.

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Now that I'm back in Florida with access to my own garage, I've been acquiring parts to redo the front end "the right way", along with a few additional jobs I want to complete like outboarding the rear shocks and such.

One of my biggest issues, I think, is the 5-ish° caster angle on the stock JK Dana 30. I actually removed my front driveshaft for the cross country drive back just to squeeze some more caster angle without getting DS vibrations, and that did help some. Since it has a giant Artec truss welded to it with C gussets and everything, I opted to just get a new Dana 44 housing with 12° of caster from ECGS and start fresh rather than cutting all of that off just to rotate the C's, and still end up with a Dana 30 at the end of the day. I needed gears and wanted a locker anyways so figured the only real additional cost would be new shafts. I'll be swapping in my new front axle over the next month or two and will keep it documented here.
 
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Here is my Dana 30 coming out last week.

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I forgot to mention, I'm stretching the front a bit too. Not sure how far yet. I know this is ill-advised by most on this forum as it is way more work than just stretching the rear instead, but uh.. read the title. I'm gonna go ahead and try doing it the hard way, we'll see how it goes.

Got the track bar mount off yesterday, man that was a beast to remove. Here are some pics of how that went:

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Not pictured is the grinding dust now covering everything in my garage... whoopee. I can't believe the welds holding that bracket on were 6 inches away from these welds:

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I have a question for the collective mind (or just Blaine): Will the dual piston WJ brake caliper fit a factory JK knuckle? It seems like the JK rotor might even work fine with it too given the diameter is only 3mm different. Some random forum post elsewhere from almost a decade ago says they bolt in, but I'm yet to find a photo of it actually working. Just looking to replace my calipers and poking around at the idea as a cheap upgrade. New Raybestos JK calipers on Rockauto are like $50/ea and looks like the WJ ones are about $75/ea. Seems like it could be a decent upgrade for just an extra $50 plus new BMB pads.
 
Installed my bluetooth exhaust today for some better access to the passenger side frame rail. Kind of silly the muffler shop removed my coupler when adding in the CARB compliant cat and made the entire system one welded unit. Oh well, saw made short work of it.

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This thing is looking scabby for having been in there for about a year.

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Speaking of scabby, maybe I'll fix these nasty booger welds I did installing the Savvy brackets years ago, along with removing the rest of that factory UCA bracket finally. To my credit, my welds were no worse than factory. New axle peeking in back there too.

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Got the driver side cleaned up, could probably fill in and re-grind a couple spots still. I'll be happy to stop generating garage dust. Really glad I took my soft top off before starting too so it didn't get ruined by all the abrasive dust, I think I learned that tip off BFH Garage. Thanks @hosejockey61.

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Installed my wooden 3 inch body lift from Rough Country :LOL:

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Gave me the clearance I needed for some grinding. Went ahead and removed the rest of the exhaust too, the whole thing needs work. If anyone wants my expensive California legal cat, I may be willing to part with it for the cost of a new 49 state one.

Removed the remains of the passenger side factory UCA mount with the exhaust out of the way. Maybe that was a waste of time but glad its cleaned up now. Here is proof that Chrysler's welds are garbage. Look at that motor mount bracket!

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Wow another bracket just fell right off. What kind of glue was I supposed to use?

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In all seriousness, that's quite a bit more rust than I was expecting to see. Was fully welded all the way around the bracket and has only been installed for about 5 years or so. I'm sure my welds had some voids and let some moisture in. That factory hole in the frame probably isn't helping either, I should maybe plug that up.

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I'll try using this weldable primer on the mating surfaces before it goes back together, hopefully that helps. Any other ideas to keep this from rotting?

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Installed my wooden 3 inch body lift from Rough Country :LOL:

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Gave me the clearance I needed for some grinding. Went ahead and removed the rest of the exhaust too, the whole thing needs work. If anyone wants my expensive California legal cat, I may be willing to part with it for the cost of a new 49 state one.

Removed the remains of the passenger side factory UCA mount with the exhaust out of the way. Maybe that was a waste of time but glad its cleaned up now. Here is proof that Chrysler's welds are garbage. Look at that motor mount bracket!

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Factory not, me thinks…..
Ray Charles learning to arc weld me thinks.
 
Finally finished cleaning up the frame rails today, so I did a bit of brainstorming and mocked up the old axle with the mid arm brackets about 2.5" forward from where they were:

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With the arms threaded out a bit further than they should be, I'm at about 3" of stretch so far.

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3d print might be giving away some secret plans...

At full stuff, or maybe even more than full stuff, there are two clearance issues so far (not including of course the drag link/trackbar etc) - Upper CA mount hits the lower radiator hose, and the link itself hits the corner of the engine mount. Both of these issues seem solvable.

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I think my next step is figuring out the link brackets on the new axle. I'm thinking I'll make my own brackets that put the mounting points 1" rearward of the existing brackets. That way I can be sure the joints are threaded in far enough and I don't have to move the frame brackets into the part of the frame that starts to curve up. I'll see what 4" of stretch looks like but I'm pretty happy with 3".
 
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Designed a pair of LCA mounts that puts the bolt hole 1" rearward from stock. Borrowing Blaine's idea with the 2" weld washer.

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Printed out drawings of the model and traced them out on some steel. Cut up the 1/4" plate with a jigsaw, worked surprisingly well with the right blade. Way easier than an angle grinder at least.

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I tack welded the 4 main pieces together so they would all come out the same, cleaned up all the edges on the mini mill and bored a hole for the 9/16 bolt. Still a bit of cleanup to do but happy with them so far. Hopefully I can get them finished up tomorrow and start on the truss.

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Thanks! I don't know anything about fabrication so it was fun to figure out

I sent some parts out to sendcutsend dot com. I was amazed at how easy the process was. Just dropped my dxf files on their site and Had laser cut parts back in less than a week. Way better than me trying to cut the steel with a grinder or jigsaw.

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Only bummer is the turn around time, if you’re pressed for time
 
Nice, yeah I definitely intend to use them at some point in this project, but just didn't want to wait on shipping so I could still work this weekend.
 
Didn't get any Jeep work done today, but I did get some goodies in - Currie 4" springs front and rear. Here is a front spring next to the 2.5" OME:

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It's a good thing I've got that Savvy mid arm on there, these should go on easy 🙃
 
Life got in the way a bit last week, but had some time to make some more progress today.
Got the lower control arm brackets finished up and welded to the axle. I extrapolated what the factory LCA mounting location was supposed to be in this post. Basically, the center of the bolts should be 32.75" apart (hopefully).

I clamped a straight edge to each inner C, measured the appropriate distance from those inwards and set up the laser level. Then I put the bolt through the bracket with a sharpie line at the center of the bolt and lined it up with the laser. For the rotational position, I just needed to set the top of the bracket at 0° with the axle at the anticipated install angle (pinion 4° up). Here is that setup visualized:
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With those tacked on, got the axle mocked up under the Jeep again, this time with the Johnny joints at an appropriate stick out. I fully threaded on the JJs, then backed them all off 5 full turns. Seems like a good amount of adjustment without sticking out too far. Let me know if I'm wrong here. I won't say how long it took me to find where I put the freakin jam nuts though 🤬
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I ended up trimming the top front edge of the frame side mounts to cheat them another 3/4" of an inch or so forward.
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I checked the axle's position at the same height I checked the old axle at, and I'm at a full 3" of front stretch with this configuration. That works for me, any more would start to look weird. I think you would be extremely hard pressed to get any more front stretch without using new CAs, and I didn't want to reinvent Savvy's mid arm geometry too much, or spend the money on them.

With the LCA mounts at the axle burned in and the frame side brackets tacked back on, I'll use that to extrapolate where the upper control arm mount should go on the axle. Haven't heard back from Savvy on specific measurements on where it should go yet, but it is KOH week so maybe they're busy.

By the way, that Seymour weld through primer is working way better than I expected. It doesn't burn back hardly at all hopefully leaving nice full coverage on the inside of lap joints and protecting from rust. Doesn't seem to contaminate the weld either so no need to scratch it off. A little pricey though.
 
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Doing a little mock up and cycling to see how clearances are looking with the upper link.
Here is how high I have the axle pushed up. There is about 10" between the upper isolator and the lower spring bucket. I checked the spring spec sheet from the resources section and see that the solid length of Currie 4" springs is 8.5". I wonder what the compressed spring length others are seeing with their 6" uptravel builds. Feel free to chime in, anyone...
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Here is how things look:
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As you can see, the UCA mount hits the radiator hose pretty bad. I'll be trimming the mount quite a bit though, it is currently unnecessarily way too tall. I wonder if there are alternate radiator hoses I could swap in there that would add some extra clearance too.

The other spot is the motor mount perch. The UCA itself is about 1/4" from hitting at this height. I have no problem with trimming and plating it, but I don't really even know if that is necessary yet. This might be way more uptravel than my tires and current fenders will allow anyways.

Don't late model TJs have the AC compressor under the power steering pump, and thus have a different shape lower radiator hose? I couldn't find any decent pics. Diagrams on Rockauto look the same between the years.

I also stuck this secret orange thing in there, looks like my plan might work, clearances are looking good:
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