LJae Spartacus

Jae Spartacus

Aug 2, 2021
Baltimore, MD
Jeeps are rad. I followed other hobbies for a while, but I found my way back along with a dream LJ in the summer of '21. I flew across the country to LA, road-tripped it back to Baltimore, and here I am catching myself up on what I've done with the time since then—and where we're going. The plan, roughly, is to keep everything as stock as possible and upgrade with future-proof and high quality stuff for a renaissance-man-of-a-rig meant for camping, wheeling, goin skiing, built in two phases:
  1. Armor, disconnects, hardtop, interior/sound, seats, lighting/electrical, maintenance, use it.
  2. Axle swap, longarms, coilover front / spring & shock rear, and 38" on beadlocks ... and use it.
As found in the California desert in the summer of 2021: rust-free with only 97k miles and stock.

Made it back home in one piece, and a check engine light (huzzah)! All cleaned up.

As she currently sits (fall 2023) - stock suspension other than JKS disconnects, armored up, and 33s:

Phase 1 —
As of fall 2023, we’re currently here: keep the suspension completely stock, armor up, and use it. Complete the supporting mods needed for the next phase, which focuses on the suspension.
  • Drivetrain:
    • Stock 4.0L inline six (other than the intake needed due to flat fenders)
    • NSG370 6-speed manual transmission
      • B&M shifter - [planning]
    • NV231 transfer case
    • Dana 30/Dana 44 axles, open, 3.45 gearing
  • Armor:
    • GenRight aluminum 4" flat fenders, corners, steel mini-boat side rockers - [done]
    • GenRight aluminum swing-out tire carrier - [done]
    • Motobilt steel bumpers front and rear with Warn winch - [done]
  • Tires:
    • 33" TreadWright Guard Dog MT on Rough Country 16" steelies until Phase 2 - [done]
  • Electrical:
    • Custom J-Pod aux. power module with switch panel - [done]
  • Interior:
    • Corbeau seats, heated with adj. lumbar support - [done]
    • Remove rear seat and build out for dogs and camping storage - [done]
    • Sound system with CarPlay and rear camera - [need to install rear camera]
      • Custom center console with subwoofer - [in progress]
    • Sound deaden tub and hard top [planning]
  • Lighting:
    • Truck-Lite heated LED headlights [done]
    • Baja Designs aux. lighting:
      • Squadron SAE fogs, amber [done] - LINK
      • XL80 or LP4 combos on the A-pillars, amber
      • S1 wide cornering backups, clear [done]
      • Rock lights of some sort


Phase 2 —
Planned for fall 2024 (or whenever I can afford it):
axles swapped from a JK Rubicon with a custom long arm suspension and steering to support 38” tires.
  • Axle swap: JK Rubicon D44s front and rear
    • Artec trusses, brackets, and towers
  • PSC hydro-assist steering
  • Rock Krawler 4.5" long arm system with coilovers
  • 38" Milestar Patagonia M/T-02s
    • Trail Ready beadlocks

Looks like I've got some catching up to do on the build! Stay tuned.


History —
I've been a Jeep guy since high school with an '85 XJ with the 2.8L GM LR2 V6 and Chrysler A904 three-speed automatic ... she didn't go fast, or sometimes go at all, but we always got up to the mountain in the snow, so I never looked back. I drove around a '99 deep amethyst pearlcoat TJ Sport with the 4.0L and five-speed after the XJ, lifted on 33s. I sold that for a '12 JK Rubicon, lifted it on 37s. Sold that one for a house. Shouldn't have. I putted around in an A4 Avant and Mazda3 for a while, messed around with motorcycles—Buell XB9R/1125CR, Yamaha FJ-09, Aprilia Tuono V4—for a bit, but now I'm back into taking life in slower.

Before I landed on the LJ, I was thinking about getting into older Land Cruisers, and the TJs and newer two-door JKs are too small to comfortably travel in for me with my partner and three dogs in tow. The hunt for LJs in good condition was getting harder and harder, so pressure to find a rust-free example was rising by the week: it didn't matter how far away it was or what trim since the plan is to make it a Rubi killer anyway.
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Nice with some Nice parts...I think you'll be a bit disappointed with 38's on JK axles though. I wheel with a bunch of people who drive JKU's on 37s and factory axles...and they break them, A LOT.
Nice with some Nice parts...I think you'll be a bit disappointed with 38's on JK axles though. I wheel with a bunch of people who drive JKU's on 37s and factory axles...and they break them, A LOT.

I'm hoping they stay together for me—built JK44s under a much lighter LJ, stock drivetrain, and conservative driver are in my favor!
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Sound System - Part I & Corbeau Trailcat Seats

Really happy daily driving the LJ for the past two years. The GenRight armor is holding up well and the tire carrier is noise- and rattle-free. Keeping the suspension completely stock (other than the front disconnects) has kept steering death-wobble free. Can’t wait to lift and regear to get cruising power back, though.


I needed to spruce up the interior a bit since I spend so much time in it—I'm also a sound guy and in a band on the side, so music is important. I added a new headunit from Joying with a 9" screen. I've wanted Apple CarPlay for a while, and it's been great so far. I'm looking forward to using it with the rear view camera I got to install on the carrier. Visibility with the top down is surprisingly great. The touchscreen is snappy like a new cell phone (it's an Android-based OS) with a 1280x800p screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 6125 processor, and the DSP sounds good.


The screen is large but I think it looks better than the wonky aspect ratio their 8.8" forces, and the 9" has a actual volume knob. The larger 10.1"+ screens would block the HVAC controls and air vents too much, IMO. See the new Peak Design magnetic phone mount/charger, too.

The stereo has been revitalized by adding a small four channel amp by Soundstream (ST4.1200D) that I fit on the factory satellite radio module bracket under the steering wheel. All four speakers were replaced with 5.25" component speakers by Hertz (Dieci series DSK130.3). All the factory speaker wiring was removed and replaced with good 12 awg copper wire. I'll eventually make a subwoofer for the console, but that's down the road.

Here's the Soundstream amp mounted to the factory satellite radio module bracket under the steering wheel, behind the knee kick panel. Zip ties worked great, if they break I'll think of something better.



I got some speaker pods for the front, and I polyfilled and sealed both the front pods and rollbar speaker pods. I also added small pieces of Dynamat in the pods to kill resonance. In the future, I'll drill holes in the front pods to make them aperiodic because having them completely sealed killed the bass.


To finish the rear sound pods off, I really need to CNC some speaker rings and try to find some OEM speaker grills. They are hard to find.


Crossovers are hardwired to separate the tweeter and woofer signals: for the fronts, the crossovers are stuck with 3M pads to the backside of the knee kick panel on each side. The rollbar speaker pods have their crossovers inside the pods.

Tweeters are mounted in the corners of the windshield: you want to keep the distance that the front speakers in the pods are to the tweeters to keep them time-aligned somewhat (voice coil center to voice coil center), but this is a dang Jeep and I just wanted to get the highs up to ear level so I could hear them with the doors off. Sounds really good to me. I have basically a low pass at 5k Hz on the rear sound pod speakers because the tweeters are really hot right over your head.



I upgraded the seats to the Corbeau Trailcats. They are absolutely fantastic and I think they're a great value for under $1500 for the pair with adjustable lumbar support (it's little air bladder hand pump that hangs under the seat) and heated inserts ready to be wired up. I opted to cut off the stock switch and used some nice Contura V three-way switches in a future custom switch panel build.


For anyone who thinks heated seats are just a luxury: get them. Especially if you're 35+ and have back problems. Game changer, and the partner agrees.

With these in the TJ/LJ, you have two options:
  • Full replacement brackets - replace the entire stock bracket, which means you lose the tilt/tumble feature to get into the rear easier. The benefit, and why I chose this method, is because it retains the stock seat height. I'm tall.

  • Adapter brackets - adapts the new seats to the stock brackets. You keep the tilt/tumble, but now you're sitting 2" higher than stock. Wouldn't work for me, I can't see traffic signals as it is.
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The J-Pod - Auxiliary Power Fuse/Relay Box and Switch Panel


Note the new hood lift from RC … probably the only thing from them I’d throw on.

This next addition is a backbone mod that the entire aux electrical system is built off—I had parts sitting on my dining room table for weeks as I planned and assembled it. With the addition of the Corbeau seat heaters and winter approaching, I needed to make decisions on how I wanted to handle power for all the various doodads I'm going to add. I needed an auxiliary power module with fuses and relays with a switch panel in the cab. Initially for the seat heaters, but also for the lockers, then four sets of lights with room to expand.

I decided when I got this LJ that I would take my time and do my best to do things right with components that matched what I needed out of them. Compared to my TJ and JK in the past, I plan on keeping this LJ forever and want it done once and correct, future-proofing where I can.



I looked at all the out-of-the-box power solutions from sPod, Auxbeam, Nilight, Auxpower, and some others. Some seem great, most seem like lower price-point crap that can't be troubleshot in the field or bypassed by jumping a wire. That was my decision factor against solid state solutions: I wanted to be able to bypass and troubleshoot if needed. Others were too expensive to justify, and I didn't want a soft-touch control surface—I wanted to use quality toggle switches.

OTR to the rescue

For control, I didn’t want wireless or anything like that, and I didn't want any network cable used. Just oversized awg wire that can take the electrical load all day in desert heat if needed. That means:
  • 8 awg main power and ground to the battery and chassis
  • 12 awg power and ground distribution to 60A Bosch relays
  • 14 awg trigger wire to signal relays and wire switches
  • Carling switches
  • Everything crimped, heat shrunk, and labeled
  • Deutsch connectors where needed
The build itself is basic as beans: everything's over-built and meant to last and be easily overhauled:

With the wiring schematic and plan complete, the actual wiring begins!


I cut a piece of strap aluminum and used it to bridge everything together. To mount the relay module to the brackets (and the whole assembly to the Jeep's fender), I used four long threaded standoffs from McMaster. If I need to rewire anything or troubleshoot, I just zip out four machine screws and it's clear of the standoffs. The standoffs are held to the top of the inner fender using machine screws from below, through spacers to account for the nuts used to hold the terminal strips to the brackets.


Switch panel—I took a multimeter to the switches that came with the Corbeau seat heater kit and swapped them out for their Contura switch counterparts. Turned out really slick.




Still wondering what’s going on? Here’s the rundown:
  • Main power from the Yellow Top battery connects to the main power lug on the red buss strip.
  • Power gets distributed individually to each of the 15 fuses from the red power buss.
  • The 60A relays get their power from 10 of those fuses.
  • Terminal strip on the right is for relay triggers: I'll wire all switches in the cab to this point to control the relays. One output here provides fused power to the switch panel in the cab.
  • Terminal strip on the left is the power output side: all the various lights and stuff can wire directly here for the 5 fused and 10 relayed outputs. All prewired, ready to go when I add them. I'd just need to pop a fuse and relay in J-Pod and I'm rolling.
  • All grounds are handled by the black buss, and runs to chassis from the main lug.
It’s been a few months and everything works flawlessly. Excited to hook some more stuff to it.



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Desert Does It - Seat Jackers

Well the targeted ad fairy got me again … I swear I’m going to start covering my iPhone’s mic. First, it was the Peak Designs magnetic/charging phone holder (which has been perfect by the way).

Now, it’s the Desert Does It booster blocks to angle the driver’s seat back: these are 1” aluminum blocks that slide under the front mounting bolts for the driver’s seat.


At 6’2” tall and a 32” inseam, stock seat or Corbeau, the seat bottom didn’t support my thighs. I always felt like I was sliding towards the front of the Jeep.

These change the angle of the seat so it leans back, giving my legs more room and move naturally while shifting—without compensating for the seat angle/my height.

Repetitive use and compensation seriously impacts daily driving comfort, and I’m pretty stoked that for $80 I’ve made a big dent in the LJ’s daily drivability for this nearly-40 year old.

I can already tell my scapula/shoulders/neck as well as my sciatica and lower back tightness has eased after commuting to work a few times. I pop right out of that sucker now.

I’d put this under the “cheap mods/gifts” for under $100 that would make any tall Jeeper first question your gift giving ability (aluminum blocks?), but after installing them they’d make sure you’re always their secret Santa.


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Looks great. Did you paint or powder coat your Motobilt bumpers?

I'm shit at painting and not having it rust, so I had everything powder-coated satin black at a local shop. I spent a good amount of time knocking down the edges and softening some rough finishing before taking it over, especially the insides of the D-ring mounts (would have cut right through my soft shackles).
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Baja Designs - SAE Squadron Fog Lights (amber)

I’ve had the new Squadron SAE fog lights in amber from Baja Designs for a few months now, and I really like them. Great contrast and visibility increase in cruddy weather. I use them as DRLs, too. I angled them out slightly on the Motobilt bumper to get some spread lighting: they're quite bright. I've read online that these don't quite meet the ECE standard for "selective yellow," but I don't really care. They provide great light that's very well contained and aimed.


Along with the heated Trucklight headlights (and Metalcloak taillights), I’ve got all road-legal LED lighting that is super effective. Happy to add some LP4s or XL80s on the A-pillars at some point.




This is only the Squadron fog lights on, out into an open field. I took this right after I installed them, before I splayed them outwards a bit to get some more illumination out to the sides. I’d say the beam pattern overlaps by 80% now in the middle, which seems perfect to me.

Fogs only

Fogs with Trucklite low beam
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Been enjoying the LJ immensely this spring: the frame-down plan is on hold until after a future house move, so it’s really just maintain and enjoy.

Building and testing a few sub enclosures to replace the center console: sealed 10” first, then a ported 8”. It’s been fun so far making it work.

I modeled a Dayton LS10-44 10” low-profile sub in the .66 cu ft sealed box and it shows excellent results, with an F3 of 38 hz and a .7 Q.



Trace of the stock console (with rear cup holders), and theoretical profile of the box for maximum internal volume while still comfortable and not taking up too much space.

So many test cuts.

Almost there with the parking bracket angle (this was also the smaller of the designs that didn't provide enough internal volume).



Coming together!

Using 1/4"-20 threaded inserts (super glued for good measure) for the driver hardware.

This will probably leak like a seive but it'll have to do for now. Sure looks nice. FInished enclosures will be all glued since there won't be a need to swap the speaker baffle out for anything once the design is solid.

Good looking driver, one of the few Dayton drivers with a 2Ω impedance since it has DVC that can be wired in parallel.

Ran out of my good wood screws, so Kreg pocket hole screws for now (snapped a head off, can you find it?) Speaker terminals where they won't get buggered.




Good arm height, can't wait to hear it!


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The subwoofer project kicks major butt. I needed to EQ the sub down a bit even to be balanced with the speakers.

When I decided to add the sub, I knew I didn’t want a separate amp—I wanted it clean, and with a single 5-channel amp stable to 2Ω.

Old: Soundstream ST4.1200D (100W x 4)
New: Soundstream DPA5.2000 (75W x 4 + 400W x 1)

New amp fits perfectly on the same stock satellite radio bracket—happy camper.

Tracked down a rattle which I thought was the sub bottoming out—it was just the seatbelt buckler vibrating against the enclosure. A little added felt and now the system is rattle-free and audible at 70 mph, doors off top down.

Next and final step is some sound deadening on the floor and pad/wrap the sub enclosure.