Hemi-Powered LJ Wrangler
An understated build that works so well
Jeepers who live in states with strict emissions laws can appreciate the difficulty of
doing an engine swap and making it legal. However, in most states the process is pretty straightforward and reasonable. In California, however, only those that really want a legal engine transplant will persevere, and the process only gets more difficult as the vehicle in question is newer. There are hundreds of hoops to jump through, multiple referees to contend with, and mounds of paperwork. It’s not a coincidence that getting a smog certification for an engine swap is often referred to as a golden ticket. Bob Besch is one such holder of a golden ticket, and the 5.7L Hemi breathing under the hood of his 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited does so with the full knowledge and blessing of the state.
When you ask Bob about how difficult obtaining the golden ticket was, he develops the thousand-yard stare of someone who spent a lot of time in the trenches and changes the subject. We managed to get out of him that even the part numbers for the charcoal canister and catalytic converters were scrutinized and cross-referenced during the referee process. But nevertheless, the torque of the Hemi is a welcome addition under the hood. Not surprisingly, the engine looks like it came from the factory between the LJ fenders. While it’s easy to focus on what’s under the hood, there’s a lot more cool stuff worth checking out on Bob’s Jeep.
King coilovers peeking out from the fenderwells grabbed our attention first. The TJ has a very conservative stance; it’s low, wide, and stable, which is exactly what we like to see. The stance is courtesy of a GenRight Legend suspension system, while the 2-inch Kings at all four corners
handle the spring and damping duties.
The Jeep rolls on 37x12.50-17 Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires wrapped around a set of Walker Evans beadlock wheels. The extra clearance for the tires comes from a full complement of GenRight aluminum fenders and armor. Underneath is a TMR skidplate keeping the drivetrain well protected and tucked up out of harm’s way.
The Hemi torque passes through a Dodge 545RFE transmission on its way to an Atlas 4-Speed transfer case. From there, it’s split to a pair of Dynatrac ProRock 60s filled with 5.38 gears and ARB Air Lockers.
Though Bob’s LJ may have been overkill for the relatively mild-mannered trails of the 2018 Jp Dirt ’N Drive presented by Jeep, it had clearly been well sorted out and didn’t have the typical bugs and quirks that come with such a highly custom build. To our knowledge he never needed to spin a wrench during the trip, and the LJ kept Bob and his wife warm and dry thanks to the fully functioning HVAC system. The Jeep is clearly built for hard trails, but is equally at home on the street as it is on the thousands of miles of dirt roads all over the Southwest.