Hammer Time: Steve Waterman’s Go-Anywhere 1998 Jeep Wrangler TJ

The Truckhaven 4×4 training grounds is a sight to see on just about any day of the year. But every year, during Tierra Del Sol, that already magical 30 acres of off-road fun turns into a non-stop parade of rigs tackling every obstacle in sight. With so many vehicles ranging from stock trucks to monster buggies, it’s pretty easy for most vehicles to simply blend into the crowd.

That is, until you see one tackle the higher-rated difficulty obstacles with the ease of navigating a mall parking lot. Now that kind of performance wasn’t uncommon for the wilder-looking rigs, but this was a TJ. And it looked like it could pull daily driver duties.

Steve Waterman and his ’98 Wrangler, “Hammer Time”, made short work of “Little Sluice”, one of the more popular obstacles for the crowds to watch at the Truckhaven 4×4 training grounds

Now, when I say this TJ could pull DD duty, by no means is this Jeep stock. In fact, it’s the sheer amount of modifications that makes this rig work so well. In fact, that was one of the key points according to Steve Waterman, the owner and creator of this Wrangler, nicknamed “Hammer Time”.

“I really like the Jeep look,” says Steve. “I didn’t want it to look like some garage project.” It doesn’t take long to see what Steve has packed into this epic crawler build. Once you see it in action, there is just no way to hide it.

A lot of attention was paid to the final stance during the build of this TJ. It’s paid dividends, as the finished product is the ultimate blend of crazy capability and recognizable Jeep styling.

Another thing you can’t hide are those Maxxis 40-inch tires, especially on the smaller TJ body, which only exaggerates their size. Not that you would want to, because that stance is enough to draw you in and want to find out more. Luckily for us, Steve was happy to share all the details in between runs through the training grounds.

When starting off, Steve had a certain setup and look in mind. Big tires and coilovers on all four corners was always the plan, he tells me. But like most builds, there were a few stepping stones along the way. 37s, a four-inch Currie lift and Rockjock 60s were all part of that initial setup. One more of those stepping stones was beefing up the steering in the form of a PSC eight-inch hydraulic ram. But with a tire size upgrade in mind, it was time to rethink the mods and some of the early parts choices. While some of the original build parts found their way into the final plan, most would end up on Craigslist in the near future.

The flare-less rear and narrow front tube fenders accentuate the 40-inch Maxxis tires. They also stay clear of the body throughout the cycling range of the suspension.

Now for the Jeep faithful crowd, you already know that going with larger tires on a TJ is a fast way to get a lesson in roll bar efficiency. So, when the time came to take everything to the next level and bring that coilover plan into reality, Steve knew just who to call – GenRight Offroad. Steve also got some help from a local builder, Richard Garret, who used to work for GenRight.

After a few calls, Richard’s garage quickly turned into the operating room for the Jeep. “He was the expert, I was just there to learn and help,” Steve recalls. Steve and Richard spent many late nights working in Richard’s garage. The process was an extensive one, one that includes about 45 pages worth of instructions and diagrams. Still, with a little time and know-how, the pair worked through the conversion.

With the additional wheelbase and width built into this Jeep, stability and roll were not an issue. Steve took his Jeep in, through, and around Truckhaven in search of harder and harder obstacles to conquer.

In the end, the results were a new longer platform with a host of goodies included with the kit. In total, about 10 inches of wheelbase were added, with the front axle being shifted three inches forward. The rear was kicked back about seven inches, keeping the body centered in the new wheelbase. King two-inch coilovers featuring dual rates and special Jeep valving now sat on all four corners. Also included with the kit was a new three-link suspension kit up front and a four-link setup in the rear. A hollow GenRight sway bar was also included to tie the sides together.

Now with components being shifted around nearly a foot, there are some other things that need attention as well. The kit included some of these, one being a new 23-gallon gas tank. Others were a lighter-weight skid plate and “stretch” rock sliders to make sure everything is protected out on the trail.

Currie RockJock axles keep the rubber turning in the harshest conditions. King bump stops and limit straps keep the suspension within its limits on either side. PRP handled most of the interior upgrades in the form of seats and this quick-disconnect steering wheel.

With all the upgrades taking place and the axles being shifted, it was time to upgrade the driveline as well. An Atlas 4.3 twin stick was installed. Despite already having Currie RockJock 60 axles, now was the time go all the way. So, the 60s were swapped out for a Rockjock 70 rear and 60VRX up front, along with ARB air lockers.

The SoCal deserts can be an unforgiving place for anything but the most rock-solid builds. This Wrangler just keeps tackling the trails and asking for more.

While at the garage, aluminum fenders were installed all the way around for a little weight savings. Despite the weight savings effort, steel bumpers from Crawler Conceptz were chosen to maximize protection. Rounding out the protection part of the build, Steve and his wife custom-designed a cage to accommodate extra headroom.

With all the major surgery complete, it was almost time to roll the Jeep back into the world. Raceline 17-inch wheels fitted with Maxxis Creepy Crawlers were installed. “I really like the look of the wheels, and the tires stick really well once they’re broken in,” Steve said. When it comes to slowing down all that rubber, Wilwood handles the job with one of its Wrangler big brake kits.

With the wheels on, paint was the next step to tackle. Originally black, the new sand-colored paint with black accents ties right into the Wrangler’s understated look. Now one thing that wasn’t going to stay understated would be the mural on the roof. “We had one on our sand buggy slingshot and knew we needed one on the Jeep. Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan was the designer and painter of the Mural out of his shop Hot Dog Kustoms in Temecula, California.

Steve enjoyed showing off the custom-painted mural on the roof of his TJ. He also enjoyed showing off the flex capabilities of his GenRight/King coilover suspension setup!

Moving inside, the Jeep features PRP seats, as well as upgraded harnesses to keep everyone in place. PRP also came through with a quick-disconnect steering wheel to make getting in and out a bit easier. The area behind the rear seat is dedicated to vital gear, including a high lift jack and fire suppression bottle.

From a power standpoint, Steve opted for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. He stayed with the tried and true Jeep 4.0-liter inline-six. “It’s really dependable and torquey, plus it never gets hot,” said Steve. Peeking under the hood revealed a few bolt-ons. These included a K&N filter to help mitigate dust ingestion. There was also a throttle body spacer to improve throttle response. The remainder of the motor is in original form.

When asked about the name, Steve says it was thanks to a fellow off-road enthusiast. Someone declared it was “Hammer Time” on a trip to the Means Dry Lake, home to the Ultra4 King of the Hammers. Ever since, the name has stuck.

For now, Steve says he is happy with where his TJ is at. “It just goes everywhere, and the more comfortable I get, the further it goes.” So, with no more upgrades planned for the near future, this Jeep and its owner enjoy tackling just about any and every trail the Golden State has to offer.

About the author

Dustin Singleton

Dustin is an internationally published photographer and the founder of IALS Photography. Managing a successful mobile electronics shop led him to become completely entrenched in the tuner scene.
Read My Articles

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