Before wrenching could commence on my $600 Jeep XJ, which I plan to take to this year’s Easter Jeep Safari, I had to cobble together a lift kit. And it had to be cheap. Like, really cheap.
When I went to last year’s Easter Jeep Safari, all I saw were really expensive rigs, most of which were new Jeep Wranglers. That made me sad, because off-roading is for everybody. Not just folks with expensive Dana 60 axles or ARB air lockers (as awesome as those things are).
So the point of my $600 Moab XJ project is to demonstrate just how little money one can spend and still have a hell of a time in the glorious off-road world that is Moab, Utah.
Needless to say, I’ve been really thrifty when it comes to buying parts for this thing, so I’ve had to cobble together a lift-kit instead of buying one off the shelf.
The point of the lift is to improve my approach, departure and breakover angles, and to distance my precious aluminum transfer case from those evil rocks (low-hanging underbody parts are called “rock bait” for a reason).
The lift kit for my Moab build consists of Chevy S10 leaf springs, Jeep Wrangler JK shocks and BDS aftermarket 3-inch coil springs—all obtained via either Craigslist or internet forums.
The Bastard Pack: $50
The lift I’ve chosen for the rear of the Jeep is known in the XJ community as the “S10 Bastard Pack.” It’s basically comprised of two S10 leaf packs with their spring eyes cut off shoved underneath the XJ’s main leaf.
To put the Bastard Pack together, I’m going to use an angle grinder to slice off the S10 pack’s spring eyes, after which I will remove all leaves from the XJ sans the main leaf. This last bit is important, since the main leaf on the XJ is bolted to the body, and the sleeve is in all likelihood seized in place. Not having to remove the main leaf from the Jeep is a godsend.
Once only the main XJ leaf is left, I’ll remove the center pin and retaining clamps from the S10 pack and bolt it under the XJ’s main leaf, melding the two packs together into one glorious leaf spring which, hopefully, will net me about three inches of lift.
New Springs: $40
I scored some BDS three-inch coil springs from a Jeep Facebook group. The guy was parting out an entire XJ, and even sold me a spare rear axle (whose shafts I will store in the back of my XJ just in case).
Note that the new springs are really not much longer than the old ones, but the coils themselves are thicker, giving it a stiffer spring rate. That’s what’s going to give me the lift I need.
JK Shocks: $0
The current generation Jeep Wrangler is called the JK, and its shocks are slightly longer than the XJs, making them ideal for XJ lift kits. I got this set through an old coworker at FCA, whose roommate had these just sitting in his garage. I offered him a case of beer for the shocks, but he wouldn’t even take that. What a gentleman.
The Wrangler shocks aren’t direct bolt-ins, though. The rears need to have the metal sleeves pushed out of the bushings, and the fronts either need new bar pins or bar pin eliminators.
I’m using the rear sway bar brackets as bar pin eliminators for the front shocks (yes, I’m removing the rear sway bar). Not only does that prevent me from having to shove a bar pin into the bushing (an annoying job), but it also gives me about an inch more shock length, which is good, as the JK shocks are only about an inch longer than the XJ’s.
New Hardware: $28
One of the hardest pills to swallow was the $28 bill I had after buying hardware. Just when you think you’re getting great deals, you have to spend more on hardware than you did on an entire leaf pack.
Still, re-using U-Bolts (they connect your axle to your leaf springs) or center pins (they connect the leaves within a leaf pack) is highly frowned upon. Proper tension in these bolts can be the difference between making the 3,000-mile journey to Moab and back, or an axle flying off on the highway. It’s not worth the risk.
May the Wrenching Begin
There are still plenty of problems to solve. I still need a longer rear brake hose to accommodate the lift kit, I haven’t figured out if I need longer front sway bar links, my radiator is leaking and I have the world’s rustiest rear brake line.
Still, I’ve got plenty of parts in, and now my friends and I are ready to start turning this junky pile of AMC parts into an off-road beast.