I had a few requests for a build thread, so here it goes. Unfortunately, I did not document the process for a lot of my mod's, but I will try to help answer questions the best I can. My intent it to help you make better decisions with the future mods and hopefully save a few dollars along the way. - enjoy
To start off, this is my first Jeep and it's purpose has changed a few times in the two years I have owned it. It started life off as a bone stock 99 Sahara hard top with a factory D44 rear axle a white exterior and camel interior. It was originally going to be stripped out for a hunting rig; however, I wanted to run 35's and fully bed line exterior to protect the paint from the harsh south Texas terrain. For this purpose, I purchased Metalcloak front fenders and had the paint sprayed with Superliner, a bed liner product produced in Austin, TX. They were local and very reasonably priced.
Here is ROK 1 - version 1 stripped down for hunting - stock lift.
Keep in mind, I had never been rock crawling or off roading for that matter since I was a child in my buddy's CJ5 some 30 years ago. I have had trucks and dirt bikes, but never intended to crawl. My first trip out was the dove season opener, where I realized that 35's on stock suspension was not going to work. With four of us in the Jeep, I bottomed out all weekend long, so it was time to research lift kits.
I knew I did not want to go too high, partially because I could not afford a long arm and I did not want to weld, but mostly because I wanted to stay low COG. Little did I know low COG would cost more in the long run and welding is a big part of owning a Jeep
After a bit of research, I ordered up an OME 2.5" lift with a steering stabilizer, an SYE, Currie front and rear track bars, a set of Currie upper rear control arms, a UCF no-BL needed aluminum skid, along with a Currie Anti-Rock front sway. I installed the lift myself and have a local shop do the SYE.
OK, so now I have to admit, the off roading bug started nibbling and last winter I decided to take a trip to Hidden Falls, a local off road park less than an hour away. I thought this as pretty radical at the time. Little did I know that would change as well. Rock crawling is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.
Next, I decide that I want to go for an off road excursion over the summer and pick the Lake City / Telluride area for a two week overlanding trip with my GF. Having never done a trip like that before, I decide to take the Jeep to the next level. For mods, I add a Warn M8000s winch, a UCF aluminum winch mount, 4.88 gears, ARB lockers, a spare wheel assembly, a Rancho rear bumper / tire carrier, a custom Rotopax water / fuel system, Metalcloak 6" front / rear fenders, a Smittybilt CRES and a custom aluminum safari rack. I also decided to re-purchase a set of full doors and a hard top, as I sold the original parts to fund my first round of mods. We were determined to rough it, so we left the hard top home and drove out topless. It was hotter than hell driving through west Texas and rained every day in Colorado. Should have thought that one through as well.
Loaded for bear and away we go. By far the coolest trip I have ever taken. We hit all the main trails including Black Bear and Poughkeepsie Gulch, which had a sign warning travelers that winches and lockers were highly recommended. How bad could it be? ...so we decide to traverse it at dusk in a down pour. Not one of my better decisions, but we made it out safely and decided to try going up the gulch the next day after everything dried up.
After returning, I realized my rear springs were no match for the weight we were carrying and decided to learn spring / suspension technology. After experimenting with several spring rates, I decided to remove the stock spring dampener, replacing the front with a 1.25" spacer and the rear 160# OME 942 springs with a heavier rate LJ 949's at 216# and a 1.75" spacer. This drastically improved the loaded ride height and did not affect the unloaded ride in any way whatsoever.
I also found that having a .5-.75" rake with a heavier rear spring radically improved the climbing characteristics while rock crawling. Prior to this change, the rear was loading over uphill obstacles and unloading the front, which was causing major problems over advanced terrain.
This was my first trip out to Katempcy Rocks K2, AKA, the Moab of Texas. Their easiest trails are like the hardest trails at Hidden Falls. OK, sink or swim - I'm going rock crawling...in the rain no less.
So, I learned another valuable lesson, trying to carry extra fuel, water is best left for overlanding. I didn't like the tire carrier banging into my tailgate and drug my tire in the dirt trying to get over that Bus Stop. I also banged the crap out of my stock gas tank skid and bent my lower control arms. Time to do more research.
The next phase of mod's included selling my rear bumper tire carrier and UCF low clearance skid, then ordering a full set of Rockmen LCA's, a UCF no body lift needed aluminum gas tank skid, a UCF Ultra low aluminum transfer case skid, a UCF low profile transfer case mount and a Novak shifter cable.
I chose the Rockmen LCA's because I liked the fact that they were oversized. 1.75" lower ams and 1.25" uppers with Johnny Joints on all ends. I changed out the front lower axle mounts with the Johnny Joint set up as well. Now I am JJ on every joint, I have the pinion set up well, stretched the arms back to retain stock wheelbase and take my Jeep to a suspension specialist who dials in my alignment, which removed any shimmy whatsoever from the ride quality. I am simply amazed how well this Jeep drives.
I can cruise 75-80 mph on the highway like it is nothing. I also experimented removing my rear sway bar and hated it. The handling was downright scary and there is no way I could drive on road that way. Testing on an RTI ramp proved that there was a minimal gain in stretch from removing the sway and an increased amount of body roll offroad, so back on it went.
The next set of improvements included suspension seats, outboarding my rear shocks, a full sport cage, shaving my lower LCA mounts, a 40" LED light bar, rock lights a Tuffy conceal carry storage drawer, a Tuffy oversize rear storage drawer, a custom aluminum rear storage tray, an Agate interior swap, an 03 switch panel replacement, a set of Savvy aluminum rear corners, relocated my Hi-Lift to the hood, I mounted my spare inside the cab for now and a Savage bowless soft top, which does fit over a Poly rear sport cage, just in case anyone is interested.
Here are how things stand today. Happy Jeeping
PRP Podium suspension seats
Out-boarded my rear shocks
Sport cage install
40" TWF light bar
Rock light install
99 to 03 switch panel replacement
Savvy aluminum rear corners / tailgate cover
Safari Rack and tire carrier systems
Cheap Hi-Lift hood mounts
Interior mounted spare