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Evolution of a ‘97 TJ Sport

lowranger

TJ Expert
Supporting Member
Ride of the Month Winner
Feb 6, 2017
4,401
Kelseyville, CA, United States
Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm really liking how it's turned out too.

It had been on my mind to do things to it for years. And I definitely hadn't made the best use over the years, which was a bit of a waste. So now it's a new era and it's been great.

It's fun having had a bunch of history with it, and now changing it up. I actually ran across a video that had my Jeep in it from 2000. Good times!

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It's like part of the family! :)
 
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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Off-road excursion #1

Today offered me the first chance to test out all the upgrades off-road. It's Colorado in November, so there was snow in a lot of places. I ended up driving on some mellow logging/mining roads. I kept it mellow and didn't take any unnecessary risks. All the while, I listened for any weird noises and kept a close on on how it all felt. All in all, no issues. Such a huge difference from the past old creaky suspension and old tires.

Below are the trails I went on -- about 25 miles total. On the bottom two trails, I turned around at that spot due to snow.

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Attached are a bunch of other pictures.

Looking forward to my next adventure. Perhaps next time with some friends.

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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Off-roading with Mom

Part of why we have these Jeeps is to not just build them, but to also build experiences. Even though they can be finicky and expensive and break, they provide an amazing means to build memories and see things that would be near impossible to see otherwise.

I had one such experience this weekend with my 78 year old Mom, who was visiting from Connecticut for the holidays. She had never been off-roading in her life. So I convinced her to do a short off-roading trip with me in the mountains near Idaho Springs.

We went on a ~6 mile trail that was basically a dirt mining road, and wound through the mountains and had ~1500ft elevation gain. Once we "survived" the 500+ft dropoffs with no guardrails and got to the end, she was so happy and excited to have done it. Hard to put a price tag on any of that. :)

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Squatch

Master Thread Derailer
Supporting Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,807
Everett, Wash, United States
Off-roading with Mom

Part of why we have these Jeeps is to not just build them, but to also build experiences. Even though they can be finicky and expensive and break, they provide an amazing means to build memories and see things that would be near impossible to see otherwise.

I had one such experience this weekend with my 78 year old Mom, who was visiting from Connecticut for the holidays. She had never been off-roading in her life. So I convinced her to do a short off-roading trip with me in the mountains near Idaho Springs.

We went on a ~6 mile trail that was basically a dirt mining road, and wound through the mountains and had ~1500ft elevation gain. Once we "survived" the 500+ft dropoffs with no guardrails and got to the end, she was so happy and excited to have done it. Hard to put a price tag on any of that. :)

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Your rig looks great! Love the history behind it, and what lies ahead for you. The story of your trip with your mom riding shotgun is the best. Hope you have a Happy New Year!
 
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Adalynn

New Member
Nov 24, 2018
20
North Idaho
Your build series has been interesting to read, totally enjoying it. I agree that the family memories and exploring are a huge part as to why I love my Jeep. My youngest daughter always reminds me that someday when I’m too old, she’ll be the one taking me into the woods in the Jeep.
 
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Chris

Administrator
Staff Member
Sep 28, 2015
38,789
Salem, Oregon
That had to have been fun for your Mom! When my Mom gets to be that age, I'll have to remember to take her on an adventure like that as well.
 
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Rich1961

Member
Supporting Member
Dec 23, 2018
79
Colfax California
I just finished reading this build from the beginning. Great job and I've enjoyed watching the transformation up to this point. The lift you've installed is of particular interest to me and is also the one I'm planning on installing. It's helpful to see what changes in height I'll see when doing mine. Love the story of taking your Mom out to experience off roading.

Rich
 
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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Off-roading Trips #3 and #4

A few weeks back, I took a few easy off-roading trips near where I live. It's tricky in Colorado in the winter since the snow covers and closes most of the trails. But I found one that had a little snow, but was completely passable. It's a pretty easy trail, about 10 miles long, and has some very nice views. One day, just my wife and I went. A few days later, my whole family went. They all hung in there for the 1.5 hours it took. Definitely fun to do that with them.

One interesting part was running into some elk on the trail. They seemed perfectly fine sharing the trail. I'm sure ours was not the first Jeep they had seen.

Attached are some pictures of the adventures.

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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
I'm thinking of a number...

As discussed previously, after the upgrades I had done, I was left with 3.55 gears and 33" tires. Some people try to convince themselves that's ok, but it's really not. My TJ was super gutless going up hills. At one point, I was driving up I-70 into the mountains near Idaho Springs, and I had to shift into 3rd gear just to keep up with traffic. Plus, I really missed my friend named "5th Gear". :)

So, I took the plunge and got my TJ regeared to 4.56 gears with my existing Dana 30 and Dana 35. Some would probably argue I shouldn't have invested anything in those axles (especially the Dana 35). But, to do anything more (e.g. put in a rear Dana 44) would have cost me twice the price, which didn't make sense for me, and how I use my Jeep. Perhaps some day in the far future when I need more, I'll get more...

I took it to a local shop nearby called Black Label Off-road. They offered a reasonable price for the work (not the lowest, but not the highest). More than that, I was very impressed with the responsiveness of the owner, Tim, via email. He answered my wide array of questions and seemed to have good breadth of experience. He also didn't try to sell me on things I didn't need. When I took my TJ in, I spent 45 minutes touring his shop, and hearing a bunch of stories and seeing pictures of other Jeeps (and other types of vehicles) he had built out. I left feeling satisfied my TJ was in good hands.

It took a few days, and there were no issues found along the way. He said my TJ was in great shape overall, and no surprises. Here's a list of the gear that was installed: G2 4.56 gears, G2 master install kit, Timken bearings, front gear carrier is a Spicer case assembly, rear is an Eaton TrueTrac.

Now that I have it back, I'm very happy with how it drives now. Back to how it felt before bigger tires, plus a bit more. I'm still breaking in the gears, so I haven't pushed it too hard yet. But my guess is that I'll end up around 2500 RPM at 65 MPH, which works for me. Another 400 miles and it will be all broken in, then I can push it a bit more. Looking forward to some fun new adventures. And no longer being passed on the highway by Chevy Sprints. :)

Attached are a few pictures he took during the work.

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Chris

Administrator
Staff Member
Sep 28, 2015
38,789
Salem, Oregon
The feeling of having the right gears is a great thing!

I don't think you're stupid for sticking with the D30 / D35 axle combo. It's a widely known fact that the Dana 35 can be turned into a Super 35 very easily and will easily handle 35s in the toughest terrain without any issues at at all. At that point it is as strong as a Dana 44, the only real difference being that the ring and pinion isn't as big as the D44.

As for the D30, there's nothing to worry about with it either.

People started that whole rumor about the Dana 35 being a shitty axle a long time ago, and all the parrots on the internet went and started repeating it with no real world data to back it up.

I would have done the exact same thing if it were my rig. Wasting money on a Dana 44 is stupid, unless you're getting it for dirt cheap (which rarely ever happens).

If I was going to go through the hassle of swapping in axles, I'd just put a RockJock D60 in the rear at that point. Of course that would require way more work than I'd want to do, so it's out of the question altogether.
 
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tworley

TJ Addict
Supporting Member
Ride of the Month Winner
May 23, 2018
2,366
Morrison, CO
Ive never worried about my d30, I know plenty of folks running one on 35s. 33s and 4.56 is the perfect combo, I really loved that setup.

Are those they patterns they sent? They look a bit shallow, though hard to tell on the photo.
 
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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
@tworley I don’t know if that was the final adjustment he had on it or not. I had only asked him to take some pictures while he was working on it. I can ask him.

Looking forward to getting more road time on the new setup.
 
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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Speed is no longer relative...

I'm about 300 or so miles into my gear break in. So far, so good. One little noise I'm hearing (a bit of a harmonic from the front axle, but pretty minor), but when I took it to the shop he heard it a little but said it didn't sound gear related. When I take it in for the 500 mile checkup they are going to check to make sure the driveshaft was balanced and the drive shaft u-joints were all fine. Besides that, no additional bad vibrations so far.

I installed a new 39 tooth speedometer gear today (replacing the 33 tooth one). Quick and easy job. Put in a new o-ring on that as well. Did a test against a GPS app, and it was right on. No more wondering if I'm 5-10MPH over.

I drove it at 65MPH in 5th gear and the RPMs were at 2500, which seems fine to me.

One thing I saw in a video about replacing the speedometer gear was about making sure the outer gear holder (sorry, don't know the right word), was rotated the right way based on the number of teeth. I followed the instructions and made sure the 39 tooth side was facing towards the ground.

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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Ready to roll

I had my 500 mile service after my re-gear. Overall, the re-gear got a clean bill of health.

While they had my TJ, they did a little investigating into a few noises in the overall drivetrain. He drove it about 20-30 miles, and from what he could tell from driving and listening, he said it sounded like my clutch throwout bearing was getting a bit tired. He said that there was a little bit of movement in my rear drive shaft at the yoke from the transfer case. He said the transfer case chain was a bit noisy and likely needs to be repaired at some point.

Overall, he felt none of these things seemed severe, and he felt it would be no problem in the foreseeable future. Assuming he's right, I'm all set to go for the summer. And I'll take care of things (e.g. SYE, new transfer case chain, new clutch) in the fall/winter.

Also, he was able to get the broken bolt out. It was a bit messed up so they had to re-tap it (was 7/16", now M12), so now I can finally put on my tow hitch.

Now, all I need is a few weeks of warm days to melt all that snow in the Colorado hills so I can get out there. :)
 
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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
Getting ready...

My broken bolt saga that began last August is finally over. The new tow hitch is on (see picture). I was holding my breath when I was tightening all the bolts, but they all held firm.

Also, spring is finally here, so it was time to take off the hard top, hang it in the rafters in my garage, and put the soft top on (see pictures)

All in all, a good day. :)

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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
What's that sound?

Back in 2001, I had a sound system installed--head unit, amp, sub, speakers. It was decent stuff at the time and cost ~$1500-2000 to get done back in the day. In 2007, the head unit died, so I replaced that. That's what I've been listening to ever since. It still sounded ok, until it didn't...

I knew I would have to replace it at some point, but I wanted to let it die naturally before replacing it. This spring, it started to do just that. It would play music about 50% of the time. Didn't matter if it was radio, aux input, whatever. We'll that's no way to live, so I decided to upgrade the whole system with something more modern.

I spent some quality time reading posts on this forum, as well as chatting with some support folks at Crutchfield.com. I didn't want to over-spend and get more than I needed, but I also wanted something that sounded good--even with the top off. I had an internal debate about whether I wanted to go with something a little fancier like a double-DIN radio with Apple CarPlay. Or something more practical (and low key to thieves) and waterproof. I ultimately chose the latter option and pulled together a good system for <$700 total.

Here were the key components:
Out with the old, in with the new

First things first, I had to remove the old system. I had an 8" Bazooka tube in the trunk which took up half of the trunk (see attached pic). I also had a huge old Alpine V12 5 channel amp under the back seat (see attached pic). One thing that is amazing is how the tech has advanced. See the attached pic of the old amp vs the new amp. I had 4x6" Polk speakers in the front and 5.25" Polk speakers in the rear (see attached pic). I removed all of that as well as the head unit (see attached pic), but left the RCA cables and the speaker cables since those looked to still be in fine shape.

I began by arranging the subs under the back seat and getting them all wired up with distribution blocks for the ground and power and RCA and speaker wires. I had to run a new 4 gauge power cable from the battery to power both amps. This was my initial layout, and I still have a little work to do to hide some of the wiring under the carpet. But it is functional and easy to debug if needed (see attached pic).

Next was the rear speakers. For some reason, the shop that had installed the old system had taken out the factory wiring connectors, so when I removed the old speakers, I had to put in new connectors. I filled the sound bar with polyfill and installed the new speakers (see attached pics).

Next was the front speakers. I opted for Sound Pods to give them a closed space, and put in 5.25" speakers to balance the rear speakers. Since my TJ is a '97, I had to snip the metal cross-bar to fit the sound pods in there. Factory connectors were still in the front, so those were easy to connect. It's a tight fit, but it fits (see attached pics).

Next was on to the head unit. I lucked out here because it had had an aftermarket head unit before, so all I had to do was wire 5 wires - red, yellow, blue (remote) and black (ground), and antenna cable extender (see attached pics). I also connected the Bluetooth mic and picked a spot for that. Interestingly enough, when I took the old head unit out, the black ground wasn't connected at all. Hmmm...

Testing 1...2...3...

After I completed all the work, then it was time to test it out. I hooked up the battery and started it up. Success the first time! I did a little testing and had a few RCA cables reversed, but that was a simple fix. I tuned the levels and set the crossover frequencies on the head unit. Much easier to do it there than via the dials on the amps, and allowed me to experiment a bit. I ultimately set the LPF and HPF to 70hz, which seemed to sound good. Bluetooth worked well, and the mic worked too, so my TJ instantly felt much more modern.

And the sound? It was very good. Plenty of loudness and clarity overall. And definitely a step up from the previous system I had in there. On sounds with good bass, it vibrates my front seat. So all in all, I'm quite happy.

A few caveats...

This was the first time I had installed a stereo, so it took me a while to do it all. Slow and steady and with as few hacks as possible. I think I did a decent job on it, though I am admittedly uncalibrated in this opinion. :)

I chose the sub I chose so it could fit under the back seat. And, well, it technically fits, but it's super tight--i.e. the bottom of the seat pushes right against the top of the sub case. It's the soft part of the seat, and it's not the metal cross bar, so it seems ok physically. But, I'll have to keep an eye on it to see if I have any heat issues.

I tried to raise the back seat up a bit, but in a '97, it's tricky to raise the back seat up. It has mounts in the front you could put spacers/blocks under, but the back fasteners connect to the side of the tub. I'm reluctant to do a bunch of messing around with the tub, so I think I'm going to live with it unless someone has any good tricks that don't require drilling and reinforcing the tub. (I started a thread on the forum if anyone has any ideas to share.)

The only other pending issue is that I have a little alternator whine coming through the speakers. When I wired the subs, I re-used the existing ground point, so I thought that would be good. I'm going to disconnect it, scuff it up a bit and make sure the connection is solid. However, I suspect the issue might be coming from the front where I connected the black wire to the silver strap that was hooked to the frame. I may re-wire that and connect directly to the frame. I'm open to suggestions if anyone has tried and true points that work well.

All in all, I'm happy. The price was right. It's low-key with a removable faceplate to hopefully deter anyone who gets curious when the soft top is on. And the results were good--in fact, better than I expected.

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Creakydoor

Creakydoor

TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Jul 17, 2018
213
Arvada, Colorado
A bit of flexing

I took my son on a trail near where we live. It was pretty mellow, and we ultimately stopped after about 3.5 miles due to snow. We were solo, and I don't have a winch, so I'm super cautious. Some good views (see attached pics). I also had purchased a new bikini top (an Alien Sunshade) and got to test that out too--so far so good.

At one point on the trail, I found a rock that seemed reasonable to do a little flex test on. I, admittedly had never done so, so I gave it a try. Pretty remarkable how flexible these Jeep suspensions are--and mine is only a ~2.5" lift. The good news is that for the rear which was compressed, I still had about 1" before the tire hit the tub or flare, and the bump stop was touching. So all good there. Will have to try the front some other time to see how that looks too. See attached pics.

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