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98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift

Old 07-02-2010, 03:09 AM
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Default 98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift

Hail folks!

So a few weekend crawls in the mountains, being chill, and testing out the "new" 98' Cherokee Sport have sold the woman on two-tracking and general off-road expeditions.

So, now that the budget is greenlight, it's time for a build thread!



What we are starting with:
  • 4.0L stock 'cept for header exhaust
  • D30 Front, Chrysler 8.25 Rear
  • Manual Transmission
  • 231J Transfer Case
  • 3" Lift kit (full coil front, Block rear, custom DS)
  • Fenders cut and flared
  • WC 32x12.5x15 M/T's on Aluminum wheels
  • Zero Armor (not even GT Skid!)
My basic goal is to solve some problems with the existing build, armor it up, and go play. Simple right? :-) There is a run to Naches WA in Sept I'd like to attend with one of the clubs in the NW, and I want to meet the requirements to attend the run as it's first real outing.

The 3" block rear is a weak point for serious wheeling, so a suspension lift to replace it is required IMHO. Add to that the rear shock bushings are blown out, throw in flat rear leaf springs. Hmm, sits level with flat rear springs, to me that means the fronts are a little weak too...

Stage I - Suspension Lift Replacement
Much research of build threads here and on the NAXJA forums plus random sites around the web led me to a few good vendors to satisfy the suspension lift replacement. In the end, after much thought, I went with Rusty's Offroad for my primary supplier for the suspension lift components.

Rusty actually answered the phone himself, and after some discussion I ended up ordering his 4.5" full spring kit, with upgraded adj. forged flex end lower control arms, upgraded stainless braid line replacements, stock shocks, upgraded the 1" TC drop spacers to the 1" drop X-member, and added in a 1.5" offset Pitman arm, and a TC Skid plate to go with the X-member. Somehow Rusty let me get off the phone without the upper control arms to match the kit so I need to order those tomorrow.

For those who care, Rusty was pleasant and helpful, I would order from him again anytime. When I told him my build schedule, he made a point of getting my order shipped out right away to hit the right window for delivery without prompting. Now that I have the gear, everything indicates top notch fabrication and parts.

Now that I have that gear in the garage...
The current driveshaft is a custom replacement of the stock setup, where they made the connecting tube longer but kept the stock slip yoke. Since my lift is going to completely change the geometry anyway I decided to use Rubicon Express' SYE Flange Kit and matching CV Shaft kit.

I called up Sean at RE with my ctr-ctr u-joint measurement and lift kit info and he helped me order the correct shaft length to meet my needs. I asked him a few questions about the sway bar link kits they offer and decided to order a set of quick-release links from them while I was on the phone. 2nd Day Fedex will put these parts in my hands right about the time I expect to be wrapping up the suspension swap. Eric was helpful and pleasant as well, and I would do business with him again.

The plan is to go to Birch Mountain for the 4th to watch the fireworks in the valley then start the suspension swap on Monday the 5th. My Dad and I both have the week off to accomplish the task, so barring any "unknown unknowns" it should be wrapped up by the following weekend even with any normal problems that may arise in this type of project.

One stumbling block right now is that my garage is not outfitted for any real work. I'll be shopping for stands and a jack this weekend, and probably throwing together a workbench of some sort. Watching craigslist for a deal on an air compressor and a set of torches, etc. Better find a vise too... :-p

Stage II will be armoring, with the primary components coming from JCR Offroad. They have their 4th of July Sale running this week and I made good use of it! Eric was very helpful at their shop, and after some discussion about the diff tween their Stage 2 and Stage 3 Rock Rails and the mounting of various components, I ordered up:

Prerunner Front Winch Bumper
Stage 4 Rear Bumper w/inset halogen lamps
Stage 3 Rock Rails
Gas Tank Skid Plate

With their current orders it looks to be several weeks before those start trickling in and turn into Stage II of the build.

I'll update in the next couple of days with pics of the current setup and links to the parts/kits for those who are interested.
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:23 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 1

Well, spent some time today putting together a workspace and arranging gear in the garage to make it more of a shop. Bought a new workbench, installed a shelf and hung a 48" flourescent fixture.

Dad brought over the jacks and a bunch of tools, including an air compressor so we could fire up the new 1/2" impact. Caught a deal at Sears and bought a new top box with BB drawer glides for my small Craftsman so I had a place for the new impact sockets etc.
Came together pretty well.

Started on the rear end teardown by pulling the old flex line bolted to the axle tube. I taped around the axle to keep the hole sealed during the work.

The new SS flex line from Rusty's is about twice as long and there are some differences on the splitter block. The OEM block is wider and longer, and has a radius machined to surface mate with the axle tube to provide a good seal. The new one is both narrower and shorter, with no radius cut for the mating surface. I included a detail shot below. I plan to use black RTV to make up for the missing radius and hoping that keeps the tube sealed from water entry.
Attached Thumbnails 98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift-iphone-xj-091.jpg   98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift-iphone-xj-090.jpg  
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Last edited by Lemans; 07-06-2010 at 02:26 AM.
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Old 07-06-2010, 02:53 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 1 cont.

I pulled the shocks next and when we let the axle down to completely relax the springs we noticed the E-brake cable was overtensioning. Looking more closely we found that the formed steel force transition box could be easily repositioned rearward to allow for proper travel with the enhanced articulation. I took a pic of the box and the available cable running up to the lever housing to show how it's set up.

When it's remounted, the rear tab that's behind the stand (in the pic). will be in front of the stand instead. In the combination of shots you can see there is sufficient slack in the front cable to support the ~3in. move.

Took a quick pic from the back with the shocks out and the brake hose gone.

Then we started on the u-bolts holding the springs on, and they were a bit of a trial to get threaded off, even though we PB Blasted, WD-40'd and wire wheeled 'em twice to clean them up!

Grabbed a quick shot of the 3" block rear lift setup I was replacing as well while working on the passenger side.
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Old 07-06-2010, 03:26 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 1 cont.

While Dad was working on the passenger side u-bolts I did some more documenting pics on the state of the current shocks and the replacements going in. You can see the additional length in the shock body for the extra 1.5" lift from the old 3" kit.

The new shocks are much stiffer than the old ones the weight difference is considerable for the size change. Overall I think the 3" kit is used up, I'm not going to resell it based on what I'm seeing on the front spring sag and the shock condition. That's a Bummer, as I had hoped to help someone else get started on a dream for next to nothing.

In the detail shot you can see where top mounts had gone steel on steel. It was getting pretty noisy!

The bolts on both ends of the spring shackles came loose with some serious elbow grease applied, with a similar experience on the front spring mount on the subframe. We dropped out the drivers side spring and I took a few snaps of the old and new spring together while we wrapped things up for the night.

The old spring looks decent considering the new spring is a 4.5" lift all on the spring set. But when it's sitting empty the springs are perfectly flat -
The new springs are a 6 leaf stack with nice nylon sliders on the two long leaves and excellent secondary spring stops, so I'm gaining 2 leaves total over the stock set. The second spring is full length on the main spring whereas the stock set stops ~4" short with the same spring, so an additional improvement in design there imho.

Still need to sort out how I'm going to make my rear spring stops, as I'm going to run 33's and want to control the max travel into the wells.

Passenger spring starts the day tomorrow, FedEx should drop by with the SYE and new CV Shaft while we're installing the new springs and shocks.
So far, so good, and having fun along the way
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Last edited by Lemans; 07-06-2010 at 03:29 AM.
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Old 07-06-2010, 03:35 AM
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Default Wheels and Tires

Anyone have any favorite or recommended vendors for BFG Tires (KM2's) and/or wheels?

Also, what wheels do you like? The woman and I like the Dick Cepek DC-2 series:
http://www.dickcepek.com/wheels.php?item=DC2Black

I'm a little concerned about tearing them up quickly with some of the rocks I'm seeing in this area. They are DC's tho which usually means well engineered, etc etc...

Still wouldn't mind looking at suggestions :-)
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Old 07-06-2010, 07:23 AM
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whoa nice build! and those rims are the same ones that ill be getting i really like them. any lemme know how that rustys lift treats ya!
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Old 07-06-2010, 09:45 PM
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I have Rusty's 4.5 lift on my xj and I love it.....Lots of flex and still has good road manners.............
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Old 07-06-2010, 11:27 PM
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got Rusty's 3.5" will be upgrading to 4.5" soon
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Old 07-08-2010, 12:29 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 2

Sorry for the delay on posting, we quit late again last night and I didn't have time to update. Tonight we quit early for a break and because things were rolling really well as I'll explain:

So, we quit the night before with the old rear suspension out of the rig and started this morning on putting in the new parts. It was time for prep work, so I wire wheeled the spring pads and shot them with fresh paint. I cleaned up all the hardware for remounting the spring set and shocks and shot those as well. The first photo is the rear axle hung clean with the pads painted, the rope is me pulling the e-brake cable out of the way for getting a wire wheel on the lower shock stud. Second is my faux paint booth for the rest of the hardware :-p

We clamped a die grinder with a twisted wire wheel on it to the bench to use for cleaning up the bolts and other small parts, impromtu bench wheel anyone? Dad is chillin' in photo 3 while I do the prettification work and document our progress - LoL

While I continued to work the paint and wheel, Dad started pre-assembling the rear spring set with the shackles and shims and doing prefit on everything. That's when we found out the new u-bolts Rusty sent wouldn't fit through the shackle plates :-\ They looked too sloppy on the tube as well so we started measuring and comparing as shown in photo 4. The new one from Rusty is on top of the one from the 3" lift kit that were removed. Measuring showed the removed parts had a 3.125" spread and the Rusty bolts were 3.25" spread.

I spoke to Rusty on the phone and he assured me that they were the correct parts and that he only stocked 2 sizes, the smaller of which would not fit around my tube at 2.75". In the end I decided to source some 3.125" u-bolts locally and ended up with a bit of a bastard set with one pair 1/2" and one pair 9/16" dia. u-bolts. Meh, whatever... It's a shame though because the u-bolts from Rusty are highly superior to the ones I ended up using.
Attached Thumbnails 98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift-img_0347.jpg   98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift-img_0349.jpg   98 XJ Build - 4.5" Lift-img_0350.jpg  
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Last edited by Lemans; 07-08-2010 at 01:57 AM.
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Old 07-08-2010, 12:50 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 2 cont.

Photo 1 is a pic of the bastard set LoL

Photo 2 is the solution to getting the "slightly too tight" 9/16" bolts to pop through the shackle plates, once that was done I painted them up to match the rest of the kit.

Photo 3 is the first spring slung up for bolting in place, followed by photo 4 with the bolts pulled up enough to snug it up but not stress anything yet. We used one jack under the rear of the diff and one centered under the pinion support casting to control roll for bringing the springs into position for slapping the pins into the mounting points.

Nothing gets final torque until it's sitting on all 4 wheels at the end. Then I will go through and final torque all of the spring mounting points, control arm mounting points, spring shackles, shocks, etc. This gives everything a neutral bias under normal loading. Easy to forget and hard on everything including noise levels if you torque under zero load, imho.

Photo 5 shows the axle hung on both new spring sets, getting ready for final assembly of the rest of the rear end.
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:43 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 2 cont.

Next up was relocating the force transition box for the e-brake cables. This was a piece of cake and gave me a ton of travel for the rear cable to deal with the articulation improvements.

Photo 1 and 2 are the before and after shots of the box > rear backing plate e-brake cable section on the drivers side of the axle assembly. The first photo is a bit fuzzy, but in the foreground you can plainly see the cable is stressed badly before the old springs were fully relaxed, while the latter shot shows there is now free cable at full spring drop on the new 4.5" spring set.

Photo 3 and photo 4 are the before and after shots of the relocation of the box itself. You can see I've moved it roughly 3 inches to the rear of the vehicle. We marked the new mounting points with a paint pen, hit them with a center punch and drilled and tapped them to use the existing bolts. Since I never expect to touch it again and it's now only bolted to the subframe wall without a backing nut, I used red threadlocker to make sure they just stay put. Be careful here not to overtighten and strip the new threads!

If you look closely in photo 4 you can see that while the front e-brake cable section to the lever housing is laying against the tunnel, it's not under tension. I will wrap it with a piece of hose later to keep it from rubbing through long term. If nec. I will create a tie off for it to keep it stabilized, but the cable changes it's geometry when under tension from the lever so I prefer to let it move freely. The cables still need to be tied back together inside the box from when we split them to get the cable relaxed enough to remove the box.

In photo 5 I have put on the new extended stainless braid rear brake hose with some clean, de-oiled threads with black RTV on them to seal it on the tube. From there I re-attached the individual wheel lines to the splitter block, there was plenty of slack to bring them in the ~1/4" to mate on the smaller block width. Nothing was stressed or had any bad bends.

In the last photo you can also see the induced angle change of 6 degrees to help point the pinion yoke at the rear of the TC to ease driveline angle. This is a geometry requirement for my SYE and Cardan CV Joint based driveshaft replacements to work correctly when it's all finished. More on this later in the week...
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Old 07-08-2010, 01:56 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 2 cont.

Here is the final assembly with everything ready for bolting on the wheels.

And a to end the evening with the wheels on the ground!
The angle of the shot belies the true rake angle of the vehicle. The rear is now 3"+ higher than the front end with all wheels on the ground - LoL

The rear end upgrade is complete minus a few minor details, tomorrow we move to the front end.
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Old 07-08-2010, 02:30 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 3

Today we started on the front end rework, and it was pretty smooth rolling from the word go, which is unusual but quite enjoyable :-)

I picked up a set of 6-ton stands on the u-bolt run yesterday and they were perfect for this application, only 3 clicks up for a good working height and the larger footprint gives better stability when torqueing on breaker bars. I wouldn't mind getting another pair but they'll have to wait, burning up budget quick on this project, as always...

Anyway, the front shocks dropped right out and we ended up with photo 1 looking at us from both sides, with photo 2 being the shot across the front from the passenger side.

We set the axle down on the smaller stands to give it stability while we removed the steering damper and started seperating the front end parts that had to drop. All of the tie rod ends feel solid and I didn't tear the boot on the pitman arm link when I dropped it so no extra parts required.

Photo 3 shows the steering damper out and the attachment cluster at that end of the axle. At this point things happened fast. We pulled the pitman arm off for the swap to the 1.5" drop pitman arm I purchased from Rusty, yanked the anti-sway bar out, and removed the lower control arms in short order. Followed up with the Trac bar removal from the axle and frame mounts.

Photo 4 is right after everything "fell out"
Anyone who lives in the Midwest > Eastern US in the snow belt knows that the salt on the roads over there makes all this type of work on a 12yr old vehicle one serious PITA for almost every bolt and connection. Frozen sleeves, threads corroded off, twist aparts, etc ad nauseum! I have lived in IL, OH, MI, CT and they all used rock salt or salt/sand combos and it was bloody hell. We have very similar weather in this part of WA ('cept the humidity) but other than a light brine they use to prevent surface freezing it's a no/low salt area. Everything on this vehicle just comes apart like a breeze compared to what I am used to from over there. It's amazing the difference it makes on many different levels.

Photo 5 shows the removed Pitman arm and the new 1.5" Drop Pitman arm for comparison. I think this had a shorter drop pitman to start with, but I still gained an additional 1" to assist with the steering geometry post lift.
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Last edited by Lemans; 07-08-2010 at 03:38 AM.
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Old 07-08-2010, 03:34 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 3 cont.

Next I took a couple shots of the old and new LCA's. I know everyone says this everytime, but I can assure you there is a reason! :

These things are so beefy compared to the stock sheet metal folded arms, it's not even a fair comparison. These bad boys will shrug off a rock hit that was twice the force required to fold the stock LCA's up like a wad of tin foil, which is about how they compare by structural integrity.

In particular, one major design decision on the Rusty's LCA's helped sway me in the direction of his kit, and that is the improved geometry of the angle built into the LCA itself. It precludes the need to use the LCA mounting point lowering bracket that the Rough Country kit recommends. YMMV of course, but that's where my money is at this point obviously

Rusty has been a straight up guy all around, I basically decided that we could just agree to disagree about the u-bolts and no harm no foul as far as I am concerned. I asked him a couple of questions, got straight answers. I will happily continue to buy parts from him, as I think his offerings are well designed and fabricated and he is knowledgeable, helpful, and easy to work with.

I sprung for the forged ends upgrade on these and the Adj. UCA's I ordered from Rusty yesterday, and now that I have them in hand I am glad I did. Over and above the fact that they allow a little twist which reduces stress to the subframe when flexing into/over an obstacle, they are highly servicable parts. I decided to pony up for the spanner wrenches for the internal tension bolt/washer based on this fact.

In Photo 3 I disassembled the ends, and put Anti-seize on the internal threads to prevent them ever giving me trouble. I expect to own these for many years to come. This shot is right after I dropped the end and outer cup back in and before put the nut/washer back in. I dialed it in, set the set-screw and they were ready to go minus grease.

I set those aside and pulled the fender brake hose retaining bolt shown missing in photo 4, hoping to gain enough slack to drop the old springs out. As it turned out it was enough to get the old ones out, but not to install the new ones as you can see in the post spring removal shot in photo 5.
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Old 07-08-2010, 04:08 AM
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Default Suspension - Day 3 cont.

A little clean-up to prepare for installation and we have photo 1, with the steering link and drag link zip-tied together keeping them cleanly out of the way. At this stage the axle is only hung on the UCA's and the jack, but before I split the brake lines. We only needed one jack on the axle at this point just put the lift plate right at the edge of the pumpkin and it lifts straight enough to finish this part.

Now we are ready to take care of a side issue, front suspension stops:
In photo 2 you can see that I cleaned the lower stop pads mounted on the axles, and drilled the center out in preparation for either a self tapping bolt or bolt-through to raise the suspension stop surface in case the RTV hockey puck stack doesn't hold up and needs to be bolted down later. This will be installed after the axle is under body weight to check the heigh needed. BTW looking for hockey pucks in the middle of summer will get you some odd looks at the sporting goods store, but everyone we met at three stores kept it fun for us at least.

With that out of the way, we compared the old 3" lift springs with the new 4.5" lift springs as seen in photo 3. There is a 4 inch height difference between the sets, further reinforcing my feeling that the old kit is pretty worn out. You can also see in that shot that the Rusty's part has a higher "Coils per inch" ratio, which indicates a higher spring rate to me. I like this because it also helps increase horizontal stability under stress, while cornering, and at highway speeds. Just my opinion of course...

Photo 4 shows the new drivers side spring installed and the fact that I had to split the brake lines to get them in... Experience wrestling with this type of crap in the past allowed us to bypass renting or buying a spring compressor, and I got the coils "threaded" onto the upper and lower mounts with only "completely reasonable" sweating and swearing - LoL

We got a visit from the Project Manager around this time, and after we met the requirements for our current milestone she visibly relaxed and let us wrap up today's tasking. I caught her in a brief moment of equanamity in photo 5, just before she rushed off to her next scheduled inspection.
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