V-8–Pow­ered TJ— and Notan LS Swap

Re­pow­er­ing with a 5.2L Chrysler

Jp Magazine - - Table Of Contents - By Stu­art A. Bour­don jped­i­tor@jp­magazine.com Pho­tog­ra­phy: Stu­art A. Bour­don

Even with the Poi­son Spy­der heat-re­duc­tion hood in­sert throw­ing hints your way, it’s

not easy to know that lurk­ing un­der the hood of Mike Zeko’s 1998 Jeep Wran­gler TJ is a whole lot more power than what came out of the fac­tory. Yes, we’re talk­ing about a V-8 en­gine swap, but not just an­other LS, Hemi, blah, blah, blah swap. We’re talk­ing about a 5.2L V-8 Mag­num.

Let’s not get car­ried away with that yet. We’re still talk­ing about the out­side. Mike has spent more than a hand­ful of years up­grad­ing, build­ing, and re­build­ing to get the rig where it is to­day, and he’s very happy with how it wheels and looks.


From nose to tail the Wran­gler’s body is mod­i­fied with a list of ar­mor that be­gins with a Craigslist front bumper (Mike said it was cheap and fit per­fectly); Poi­son Spy­der front XC 3-inch fend­ers; and GenRight front panel guards, mini boat sides, and 4-inch stretch rear cor­ners. A Hanson rear bumper and highly cus­tom­ized swing-out spare tire car­rier (that’s very in­ter­est­ing) bring up the tail. Tucked un­der that tail is a GenRight 32-gal­lon stretch tank. We es­pe­cially like the slid­ing hard up­per doors and the tire car­rier.

When on the trail or high­way, Mike and his pas­sen­ger ride in the sup­port­ive com­fort of Smit­ty­bilt XRC seats and are sur­rounded by an OR-Fab bolt-in rollcage. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and nav­i­ga­tion are ap­par­ently well han­dled too, con­sid­er­ing an 80-watt 2-me­ter ham ra­dio, Co­bra CB ra­dio, and Lowrance GPS unit are mounted within easy reach. Night driv­ing is eas­ier with a 50-inch light­bar se­cured to the top of the wind­shield through a Mo­to­bilt light­bar mount.


Mike re­ally went to town on the un­der­car­riage, or maybe we should say he went to the boonies. A Ford 8.8 rear axle from a 1998 Ford Ex­plorer was picked and gone through for the tail of the TJ, and a front Dana 44 axle out of a 1977 Ford F-150 was re­built and slung un­der the nose of Mike’s ’98 Jeep Wran­gler build. Both are easy to find parts for and fit nicely un­der the TJ. An Un­der Cover Fab­works truss sup­ports the front axle, an Artec truss beefs up the rear, and both carry 4.88 ARB Air Lock­ers spin­ning chro­moly shafts. The rear axle fea­tures 9-inch out­ers and a Black Magic park­ing brake f lip kit that swaps the back­ing plates. The f lip kit moved the calipers to the front side of the axle, free­ing up room for out­board shock mounts and in­creas­ing park­ing brake hold­ing power.

The frame was notched out to ac­com­mo­date the GenRight rear shock mounts. Then us­ing a cus­tom blend of sus­pen­sion builder parts from Artec, Barnes 4WD, Ruff Stuff, and Syn­ergy Man­u­fac­tur­ing, Mike con­structed a 100-inch wheel­base sus­pen­sion damped by 14-inch ORI struts up front and 12-inch ORI struts in the rear. A ported fac­tory steer­ing box, pump, and hy­draulic ram help man­age the mas­sive Maxxis 37x12.50R17LT Trepadors mounted to 17-inch Race­line Mon­ster bead­locks. That thing you see perched atop the winch is a power steer­ing cooler.


The en­gine, trans­mis­sion, and trans­fer case are all from a 1998 Dodge 1500. Mike told us that the swap was pretty straight for­ward, but he sourced out the cus­tom 2.5-inch stain­less steel ex­haust sys­tem and en­gine man­age­ment har­ness to avoid com­pli­ca­tions. Mike com­pletely re­built the 5.2L (318ci) Mag­num V-8 with new per­for­mance parts and said he learned a lot from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Mike made all the brack­ets and mounts, ex­cept for the en­gine mounts he got from Ad­vance Adapters. Any en­gine ma­chin­ing was handed to Ali’s Au­to­mo­tive Ma­chine in Sig­nal Hill, Cal­i­for­nia.

Com­ing with the 5.2L V-8 was a 46RE that was in good shape. None­the­less,

Mike had Roy’s Trans­mis­sion in Downey, Cal­i­for­nia, go through it and add

heavy-duty bands and up­graded ser­vos. In­ter­est­ing note on the trans­mis­sion: The trans­mis­sion cooler in the en­gine ra­di­a­tor feeds fluid to an­other cooler un­der the bed with a ther­mo­stat-con­trolled elec­tric fan be­fore it flows back into the trans­mis­sion. The trans­fer case is the NP231 from the 1500 pickup truck, and it was kept for its wide chain and wider in­put bear­ing. Cus­tom drive­shafts from O.C. Driv­e­line in Pla­cen­tia, Cal­i­for­nia, carry the power down to the axles.

Show ’N’ Go

Mike Zeko’s cus­tom­ized 1998 Jeep Wran­gler TJ has been stretched, re­pow­ered, and tweaked over the years to cre­ate the ul­ti­mate trail ve­hi­cle that Mike wanted for ex­plor­ing the moun­tains and deserts of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

And although a 4x4 show/swap meet is where we bumped into him and his shiny, cleaned-up and gor­geous Bright Jade Satin Metal­lic TJ, as soon as we climbed un­der­neath it to fur­ther learn of its trail qual­i­fi­ca­tions, the scars of un­counted off-road ad­ven­tures were clearly ev­i­dent.

A sim­ple twist on the V-8 swap

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