Project Redneck, our Jeep Wrangler project vehicle, has been a slow but steady evolution. Over the years, it’s gotten some remarkable upgrades to bolster not just its looks, but also its functionality. The Jeep is finally on the final stretch of its modifications, and to help us get there, we partnered with ORI Struts and Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts.
To recap on Project Redneck, it’s a 1997 Wrangler TJ with the 2.5-liter inline-four engine and a manual transmission. It started life colored in Chili Pepper Red Pearl (hence the nickname), but its owner and Off Road Xtreme’s head shop technician, Dean Jigamian, repainted it gloss black a few years ago. Since that time, it’s received beadlock wheels, Dick Cepek Extreme Country tires, Optic Armor windshield, Currie 44 front and rear axles, and a whole lot more.
The Jeep is still getting worked on, with issues relating to wiring and fuel delivery, but we wanted to provide one more update as things inch toward the finish line. With that in mind, let’s explore what we’re dealing with.
Driveshafts And Struts
Our quest for this chapter of Project Redneck was to give the Jeep a stronger drivetrain and refined suspension. Tom Wood’s Custom Driveshafts and ORI Struts filled these roles perfectly, and we’re going to talk about how and why.
Starting with the driveshafts, we needed units that were going to pair with the Currie axles and stock NP231 transfer case, as well as deliver strong and consistent power. With our measurements and other notes in hand, we reached out and spoke with manager Shawn Wood, son of Tom Wood, and figured out what we needed.
“Anytime we’re building driveshafts, we have to consider what the vehicle will be doing,” he said. “For a rock-crawling application like Redneck, we’re looking at a vehicle that runs on 35-inch tires and uses 5.38:1 gearing. We’re going to go with a 1310 U-joint size on the front driveshaft, and a 1350 on the rear.”
“Anytime we do 1350 rears, I prefer to use a flat flange,” he continued. “The flat flange is what will make the driveshaft work with a Ford-style axle. It’s similar to what you’d find in a 8.8 Ford axle. They’re made with billet steel, so they’re pretty indestructible. The front will be two-inch-diameter with .120-inch wall thickness, so it will be just as tough as the rear.”
In the end, Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts took care of our needs. For the front, we received a 41.125-inch-long driveshaft using 1310 U-joints. The rear was 23.5 inches and used 1350 U-joints. Both were made with DOM tubing and .120-inch wall thickness, and were balanced at 3,300 rpm on a state-of-the-art Axiline balancing machine.
As for the struts, these were the classic STX struts that we’ve showcased before. By using nitrogen and oil in separate chambers to charge the strut, the STX combines the functions of a spring, shock absorber, bump stop, and limit strap into one unit. Tuning the STX was thus a matter of determining the proper ratio of oil to nitrogen.
To begin, ORI’s Mark Jensen suggested we start with 100 psi of nitrogen. “The struts come with the right amount of oil in the chambers,” he said. “We charge the lower chamber first, the one down by the piston shaft. We have the struts completely collapsed. I would put 100 psi in each bottom chamber at this point. That would be a starting point for tuning.”
Taking Care Of Business
In the interest of social distancing, the Jeep owner and our head shop technician, Dean Jigamian, handled all of the installation at his house. As evidenced in our previous article, he’d already test-fitted the struts and gotten the measurements for his driveshafts. Now it was time to get to work.
Dean started with the struts. Having already welded on the strut mounts and done his test fitting, he reinstalled the struts and let them compress fully. He then used a nitrogen tank to charge them. He went with the recommended 100 psi on the lower chambers to start off, and then charged the upper chambers. This set the ride height enough to accommodate the tires and still have adequate suspension travel.
Per the instructions, Dean rocked the vehicle back and forth to settle the suspension and rechecked the height on all four corners. This was to see that all four struts were at the same height, and would make tuning that much easier, knowing they were all uniform so far.
Going back to the lower chambers, Dean realized that he needed some more pressure. “With my driving style, I think I’ll get more use out of a stiffer ride,” he commented. “I set the lower chambers all to 150 psi, which will still give it a good balance on and off-road.”
With his suspension dialed in for the time being, Dean got underneath the Jeep and took care of the driveshafts. Thankfully, since he’d taken such careful measurements, there weren’t any issues with mating the ends together.
Dean took care of the front first. Since he was already down there, he took the opportunity to grease up zerk fittings on the driveshafts and U-joints. He put the U-joints together and made sure to use thread sealant on the hardware. “Thread sealant will make it harder for the bolts to back out,” he commented. “I always use this stuff on hardware that gets exposed to a lot of vibration.”
On the rear, Dean removed the yoke on the axle side to make way for the flange. It slid right over the same splines and was mated with the new driveshaft. Once again, Dean used thread sealant to hold the hardware in place.
So concluded this phase of Project Redneck’s upgrades. The Jeep’s new equipment would come in handy once the world returns to normal. In the meantime, Dean says he has to take care of some other issues relating to fuel delivery and wiring, but he hopes to have his trusty TJ back up and running soon. Be sure to stay tuned for more updates on Project Redneck, and don’t forget to check out more from Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts and ORI Struts on their websites.