Chevy-Pow­ered LJWran­gler

This Jeep wheels like a buggy

Jp Magazine - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Jake Headlee jped­i­tor@jp­ Pho­tog­ra­phy: Jake Headlee

Af­ter wheel­ing a 4x4 buggy for sev­eral years, Chris Knaf­fle and his wife, Brenda, de­cided

they wanted some­thing they could use to con­tinue tack­ling dif­fi­cult trails with their bud­dies. It had to be street le­gal and have all the road trip crea­ture com­forts such as air con­di­tion­ing, heat, wind­shield, stereo, and ex­tra stor­age space for multi-night ad­ven­tures.

The search was on, and to speed up the process Chris looked for some­thing that was ready to wheel. Af­ter con­tact­ing the owner of a built Jeep LJ in Michi­gan, he made the trek from his home in Fort My­ers, Florida, in Fe­bru­ary to check out the Jeep. Due to weather con­di­tions, Chris was un­able to drive it, but ev­ery­thing seemed right at the time, so he pur­chased it.

A weld­ing engi­neer who trav­els quite a bit for work, Chris wasn’t able to drive his newly pur­chased 2005 Jeep Wran­gler Un­lim­ited LJ un­til the fol­low­ing May. “I was ter­ri­bly dis­ap­pointed,” Chris said of the first ex­pe­ri­ence driv­ing it. “It didn’t run right, didn’t shift right, had over­heat­ing prob­lems, didn’t steer in the rocks, was scary to drive on the high­way, and the sus­pen­sion was ter­ri­ble.” Af­ter that, Chris and his wife knew they had two op­tions: sell it or fix it. “If ev­ery­thing on the LJ would work right, it looked like a per­fect rig for us. It’s rare to find one with 40,000 miles with no salt ex­po­sure and a body and in­te­rior in such great shape, so we de­cided to keep it and build it right.”

Work trav­els brought him to the South­west for a few months, and the Jeep came with Chris. He had heard good

things about Trick Toys Fab­ri­ca­tion in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and fol­low­ing a visit with owner Rick Mooney­ham and his crew, left the Jeep in their ca­pa­ble hands. With a wish list from Chris, Trick Toys be­gan the re­build.


Un­der the hood of the Jeep sits a 6.2L V-8 from a Cadil­lac Es­calade. With the help of a 1-inch body lift, the mo­tor was re­mounted 5 inches higher to pro­vide more sus­pen­sion clearance. The air in­take and in­jec­tors were re­placed, and the old wiring looms were re­placed with a No­vak wiring har­ness. The team worked through over­heat­ing is­sues, plumbed and wired the air con­di­tion­ing, and re­placed the gas­kets for the San­der­son head­ers and a cus­tom TIG-welded 3-inch stain­less steel ex­haust sys­tem built with a Borla muf­fler. Cun­ning­ham Mo­tor­sports in Mur­ri­eta, Cal­i­for­nia, per­formed a dyno-tune and tweaked the pow­er­plant’s out­put up to 450 horse­power.

Back­ing the V-8 is a GM 6L90E, tricked-out al­tered shift pa­ram­e­ters, and a shifter from a 2011 Chevro­let Mal­ibu. A new cus­tom mount moved the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion for­ward 2 inches, giv­ing the Jeep a bit more belly clearance. Hang­ing off the back of the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion is an Ad­vance Adapters At­las 3.8 twin-stick.


Trick Toys Fab­ri­ca­tion stripped the sus­pen­sion and built a com­pletely new chas­sis us­ing a cus­tom three-link front and four-link rear that fea­tures heat-treated 4130 steel lower con­trol arms, DOM steel for up­per con­trol arms, and FK Rod Ends. Each cor­ner of the Jeep ben­e­fits from a Fox 2.0 Coilover shock and a 2.0 Triple By­pass shock. The en­tire un­der­belly has cus­tom-built skid­plates that cover from oil pan to fuel tank.

The pair of Rock­Jock 60s from Cur­rie En­ter­prises were hung un­der the chas­sis, and the sus­pen­sion link mounts were re­placed when the sus­pen­sion was re­built. Each axle fea­tures 5.38 ARB Air Lock­ers and 4340 steel axle­shafts. Trac­tion is pro­vided by 40-inch Nitto Trail Grap­plers on 17-inch Race­line Forged Lib­er­a­tor bead­locks. Be­cause the steer­ing sys­tem was ter­ri­ble, the shop re­placed it en­tirely with a cus­tom dou­ble-shear pit­man arm, PSC Mo­tor­sports pow­eras­sist ram/pump/reser­voir sys­tem, and a Derale cooler.

It’s rare to find one with 40,000 miles with no salt ex­po­sure and a body and in­te­rior in such great shape, so we de­cided to keep it and build it right


The body fea­tures a ton of solid ar­mor to keep the Jeep look­ing good as it goes down the trail or road. Up front is a GenRight Off Road Trail Stinger Bumper hold­ing a Warn 9.5 XP with a syn­thetic rope and Fac­tor 55 ProLink.

The rear bumper is a Mo­to­bilt Rock Crawler bumper, and the sides of the Jeep are pro­tected by JcrOf­froad Crusader

Rock Slid­ers. GenRight cor­ner ar­mor and Hi-Fen­der flares fin­ish off the body pro­tec­tion. An AEV Hi-Line Hood was in­stalled to give the fen­der flares enough room.


To pro­tect oc­cu­pants, a Poison Spy­der 1.75-inch DOM cage was in­stalled and then tied to the frame in six places. PRP Daily Driver seats and five-point har­nesses keep oc­cu­pants firmly planted. The in­te­rior also sports an in­stru­ment clus­ter by 12 Volt Un­lim­ited with an Auto Me­ter Sport Comp GPS speedome­ter, tachome­ter, coolant tem­per­a­ture, trans­mis­sion tem­per­a­ture, volt­age, and oil pres­sure gauge. There is an Auto Me­ter Sport Comp fuel level gauge in the set too, and that is hooked up to the GenRight Comp Crawler tank.

Quite a bit of work had to go into a ve­hi­cle that should have been ready to go right out of the gate. How­ever, with the help of some tal­ented peo­ple, Chris and his wife now have a rig that checks off ev­ery item on the list they made. The re­sult was a pow­er­ful Jeep LJ that can take on any­thing its new own­ers want to tackle, and it looks good do­ing it.

The GenRight Off Road Trail Stinger Bumper sup­ports a Warn 9.5 XP winch along with Baja De­signs XL80 fog­lights. The stock head­lights were swapped for KC HiLites Grav­ity LED units. Trac­tion in any ter­rain is pro­vided by 40x13.50R17 Nitto Trail Grap­plers on Race­line Forged Lib­er­a­tor bead­locks.

A Cur­rie En­ter­prises Rock­Jock 60 pro­vides bul­let­proof strength up front. A full cus­tom steer­ing sys­tem was built, and it uti­lizes a PSC Mo­tor­sports power-as­sist ram to keep ev­ery­thing turn­ing cor­rectly, no mat­ter the ob­sta­cle.

Lack of horse­power is not a prob­lem for this tricked-out LJ thanks to a Cadil­lac 6.2L V-8. A No­vak LS Swap Ra­di­a­tor and 16-inch Spal fan keep it run­ning cool.

Trick Toys Fab­ri­ca­tion built cus­tom mounts for the Fox Rac­ing 2.0 Coilovers and Triple By­pass shocks. A Cur­rie An­tirock helps keep sway un­der con­trol while al­low­ing for nearly unim­peded axle ar­tic­u­la­tion.

The Mo­to­bilt Rock Crawler rear bumper han­dles tow points and an alu­minum GenRight body-mounted tire car­rier keeps a full­size Nitto spare along for the ride at all times. The rollcage is from Poison Spy­der and is tied to the frame in mul­ti­ple spots for ul­ti­mate strength.

In­side the Jeep is a full set of PRP Daily

Driver seats, PRP har­nesses, and Auto Me­ter gauges to show the driver all the in­for­ma­tion needed.

For ex­tra low range grunt, an At­las 3.8 twin­stick trans­fer case was in­stalled. Cus­tom skid­plates keep the pow­er­train pro­tected.

A Cur­rie Rock­Jock 60 rear axle, loaded with a 5.38 ARB Air Locker, hangs off a cus­tom-built tri­an­gu­lated four-link sys­tem.

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