Jack of All Trades, Master of None: LJ Build

PNW_LJ

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Well here goes my first Jeep build thread.

A little backstory:

I've been very fortunate to have built a couple rigs in the past:

My first rig, a 2000 Montero. Built it up to perform reliably 35s and threw the entire overland catalog at it:

montero1.jpeg


Though I loved that rig (and still believe gen 2 Monteros are one of the most underrated 4x4s out there), I quickly realized the pitfalls of a torsion bar IFS. After several close calls, I started looking into a SAS or getting a different rig entirely.

montero2.jpeg



That's when this 2016 JK Rubicon Hard Rock came up for sale at my local Jeep dealership:

jk.jpeg


I wheeled the heck out of that thing, and with the factory lockers, 35s, and a basic 3" lift it performed outstandingly on the rocks.

However, that purchase turned out to be a mistake for a couple reasons:

1. First off, I wasn't in a position to truly afford the monthly payments on my college kid budget.
2. I never developed a bond with the rig, the way I did with my Montero. It just felt more like a car, than a Jeep.
3. It was disastrously unreliable under my ownership. Several thermostats, cooling issues, electrical issues, transmission shifting errors and etc.


So after less than a year of ownership, I began looking at other options.


The new rig would be used mainly as:

1. Daily driver. 90% of my driving is highway/city between work, college, and home.
2. PNW Trails. This is where the majority of my wheeling will be done.
3. A couple of annual trips to Moab, Rubicon, Fordyce, etc.


My requirements were:

1. Solid axles. This was an absolute must for me. While there are absolutely people out there that wheel hard on IFS (ppl way more experienced than me), I'm not interested in lifting tires on every minor obstacle.

2. Good daily driver. Must be semi-reliable and roadworthy to get me to and from work, school, and home. This took out doing a SAS, or anything too old (80s Toyotas, broncos etc).

3. Have decent interior space. I often take my sisters to school so need to have decent backseats and cargo space simultaneously. I also want to sleep inside my rig on overland trips. Not a huge fan of roof tents and ground tents.



After comparing all the options, my gaze landed between building up an 80 series Land Cruiser or an LJ:

article-image-blackhills-2.jpg


hero-2.png




Ultimately, the LJ won because I wanted to build something relatively nimble for our tight PNW trails. I was also not a fan of the "Toyota-tax" on parts prices. Despite Toyota's reputation for reliability, any 20-year-old rig is going to need maintenance, and with the TJ/LJ's cheap parts, I would have more money in my pocket for mods!
 
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I was looking for any LJ that was in my budget, but I would prefer a hardtop and an auto.

After months of stalking my local craigslist/offerup/FB Marketplace, I stumbled upon this absolute steal on an '04 LJ, very minor surface rust, hardtop, auto with 160k miles:

1681937958224.png


Yes, that's it next to a JT on 40s. Looks so tiny, but we're going to fix that!

1681938023467.png


First order of business, the brush guard had to go. Much better:

1681938043010.png


Less than a week after purchase, I was wheeling it with some buddies on the local trails:

1681938179876.png


lj5.jpeg


My tcase skid aka "the shovel" with a tcase drop kit, definitely wasn't doing me any favors.

1681938602711.png
 
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I'm an overthinker at heart, so I spent many hours reading through the wealth of knowledge on this forum, and badgering some very helpful folks in their PMs.

Some build considerations that I have nailed down at this point:

  • Build light. I've done the "shtick" of plastering every mod possible on the rig, and it ended up turning it into a top-heavy pig. For this build, I am going to try and avoid unnecessary weight where possible. Go with aluminum armor where I can.

  • Build it right the first time. My very first Montero build went 31s-33s-35s over a short span of time. I ended up overpaying to redo things, and I still was not happy with the end result. With this build, I'm going to pick a tire size to build for and stick to it (not sure if the latter is possible, but we'll try).

  • Avoid cheap parts. I'm willing to save an extra month or two for a higher-quality part. Going with cheap parts most of the time just means spending extra later to redo things the right way.
 
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My first major purchases were the Savvy Midarm kit, Under Armor system, BL/MML, and engine skid. This blew my remaining budget for mods out of the water, but knowing that Savvy parts often go out of stock for months on end, I picked everything up while it was available.


IMG-3998 (1).jpg


It'll be quite a while before I get to install these, but just looking at them sitting in my room is enough to get me excited.

IMG-4009.jpg
 
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Another benefit of randomly browsing FB Marketplace is being the first to jump on deals. Picked up this TJ Rubi 44 housing and some TJ knuckles for just $40! Score!

1681940178275.png


It may or may not have a slight bend on the long tube:

1681940209456.png



I was planning on going with the much cheaper HP30 out of an XJ, since most Rubi 44s go for ~$1500 in my area. But I couldn't pass up this deal. What's a little bend, when you can get those coveted 5.38s 😁


Once my work/school schedule calms down, I plan to try to bend the housing back with @mrblaine's method using some chains and a bottle jack.
 
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That brings up the build to date. It might be a while before there are any major updates, as I'm saving up for the next pieces of the build.

Good start on things. Having already experienced wheeling a rig with 31-33-35" tires I won't recommend doing this in stages. I always try to recommend people learn to wheel at one stage before upgrading. Seen to many people build a rig beyond their skill level.
Great score on the Dana 44.

Keep at it and you'll be enjoying your LJ a lot.
 
Good start on things. Having already experienced wheeling a rig with 31-33-35" tires I won't recommend doing this in stages. I always try to recommend people learn to wheel at one stage before upgrading. Seen to many people build a rig beyond their skill level.
Great score on the Dana 44.

Keep at it and you'll be enjoying your LJ a lot.

Thank you!

I'm sure with lockers and the midarm, the LJ is still going to be wayyy more capable than my skills currently are. "Re-learning" to wheel on 31s in the meantime will help with that.
 
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Thank you!

I'm sure with lockers and the midarm, the LJ is still going to be wayyy more capable than my skills currently are. "Re-learning" to wheel on 31s in the meantime will help with that.

Just take your time and you'll remember. While each rig is different you've got the basics down already.
 
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Another benefit of randomly browsing FB Marketplace is being the first to jump on deals. Picked up this TJ Rubi 44 housing and some TJ knuckles for just $40! Score!

View attachment 417890

It may or may not have a slight bend on the long tube:

View attachment 417891


I was planning on going with the much cheaper HP30 out of an XJ, since most Rubi 44s go for ~$1500 in my area. But I couldn't pass up this deal. What's a little bend, when you can get those coveted 5.38s 😁


Once my work/school schedule calms down, I plan to try to bend the housing back with @mrblaine's method using some chains and a bottle jack.

Noice!! Good find. I believe @NashvilleTJ hsd a good post on straightening with weld beads also.

I’m planning to take my buddy with a locked fj80 out to Walker soon. You should come with I think you will find the LJ was the right choice for PNW. The fj is HUIUGE. But also cool.
 
My first major purchases were the Savvy Midarm kit, Under Armor system, BL/MML, and engine skid. This blew my remaining budget for mods out of the water, but knowing that Savvy parts often go out of stock for months on end, I picked everything up while it was available.


View attachment 417886

It'll be quite a while before I get to install these, but just looking at them sitting in my room is enough to get me excited.

View attachment 417887

You’re already doing way better than I did with doing it right the first time. I guess give yourself some grace to redo because some things you just can’t do without garage, welder and lots of time.
 
Another benefit of randomly browsing FB Marketplace is being the first to jump on deals. Picked up this TJ Rubi 44 housing and some TJ knuckles for just $40! Score!

View attachment 417890

It may or may not have a slight bend on the long tube:

View attachment 417891


I was planning on going with the much cheaper HP30 out of an XJ, since most Rubi 44s go for ~$1500 in my area. But I couldn't pass up this deal. What's a little bend, when you can get those coveted 5.38s 😁


Once my work/school schedule calms down, I plan to try to bend the housing back with @mrblaine's method using some chains and a bottle jack.

Did you get the bearing caps as well in the 44?
 
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Noice!! Good find. I believe @NashvilleTJ hsd a good post on straightening with weld beads also.
Thanks! Wildman also pointed that method out to me. Problem is I believe that there are brackets in the way of where most of the bend is, so I want to try the chain method first.

I’m planning to take my buddy with a locked fj80 out to Walker soon. You should come with I think you will find the LJ was the right choice for PNW. The fj is HUIUGE. But also cool.

Heck yeah! I’m a bit swamped with school/work at the moment, but I’m absolutely down to go wheeling sometime!
 
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You’re already doing way better than I did with doing it right the first time. I guess give yourself some grace to redo because some things you just can’t do without garage, welder and lots of time.

At least that amount of time you spent under your rig translated into one badass rig, as well as you knowing every bolt, nook and cranny!
 
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Yup, I made sure to check.

Funny thing is when I came, the guy had the axle in his driveway with only one bearing cap. He forgot the other one in the bed of his pickup that was full of junk he was taking to the dump next day.

Glad you got both bearing caps. Make sure to check orientation for left and right caps. There should be a stamped marking showing which goes to each side.
 
Glad you got both bearing caps. Make sure to check orientation for left and right caps. There should be a stamped marking showing which goes to each side.

I'm gonna have to take a look. I don't recall any specific markings for left/right, but one of the bearings caps had a large indent in the middle.
 
Good start on things. Having already experienced wheeling a rig with 31-33-35" tires I won't recommend doing this in stages.

Exactly! Jump straight to Tons and Fodeez!

I always try to recommend people learn to wheel at one stage before upgrading. Seen to many people like NashvilleTJ build a rig beyond their skill level.

I'm sure glad you Ninja Edited that part out, Rick...

:)

Glad you started a build thread, PNW_LJ. I'm looking forward to following along.

Jeff
 
I'm gonna have to take a look. I don't recall any specific markings for left/right, but one of the bearings caps had a large indent in the middle.

Normally will have a triangle 🔺️ shape or a #1 with one pointing up and the other sideways. And there will be a corresponding mark on the cover surface.
 
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