Our latest project vehicle, a brand new 2021 Jeep JL Wrangler Rubicon we dubbed ORXtreme JL, just recently went under the knife. Earlier this month we dropped an introduction article; It All Starts Here With A Total Transformation, which outlined the build-out of this soon to be totally tricked out 4×4. To reiterate the goal of this vehicle is to build a clean and tastefully capable off-road trail rig that retains its streetable daily driver attitude.
We started out in factory configuration and are just getting started. So here we are now with the first phase of construction complete, and detailing how we went about upgrading ORXtreme JL. The main ingredients in this recipe are a proper trail-rated suspension system, oversized off-road tires, and new upgraded wheels to match.
The first thing I did was select an off-road capable tire package that would get us off the ground. From the factory, the 2021 JL Rubicon is equipped with 33-inch BF Goodrich KM All-Terrain tires. These offer satisfactory performance but do not offer the clearance we will require to run challenging obstacles on both moderate and difficult trails. I knew that a 37-inch tire would give us the look and lift needed without compromising too much in regards to wheel well clearance. We will be re-gearing the drivetrain in a future build segment.
ORXtreme JL Jeep Wrangler Transformed With Mickey Thompson Tires
There are many terrific modern tire options out there, but the right choice comes down to preference and need. We needed something that would provide off-road performance, durability, and traction on the trail while delivering quiet and comfortable everyday street driving around town. Mickey Thompson’s Baja Boss A/T Tires fit the bill and checked all of the boxes. Besides the enhanced off-road traction features and rugged durability, these premium hybrid all-season tires present a low noise asymmetrical smooth ride tread pattern and offer a 50,000-mile treadwear warranty.
To fit these new 37×12.5×17 tires on our Jeep, we already knew our desired wheel size. Our optimal choice for function and more tire sidewall were 17-inch rims. This would allow for a better ride off-road and the ability to air down to low pressure when needed.
ORXtreme JL Jeep Wrangler Transformed With Dirty Life Wheels
With endless wheel options available, it can be overwhelming and hard to navigate the variety of styles, sizes, and applications. One tool that I found helpful in streamlining the product selection was the online visualizers. You can literally enter in your vehicle year/make/model, chose from resembling lift or modifications, and even adjust vehicle color. The Wheel Group Visualizer made this extremely easy with the available filters that allowed me to select diameter, width, backspacing, finish, brand, and more.
Looking specifically for something rugged and durable, I came across the Dirty Life 9311 Enigma wheels. They had the preferred look and styling I desired with negative 12-inches of offset. I am also very comfortable with the Dirty Life name, as they have been involved with the off-road industry, supporting various Ultra4 racers at King Of The Hammers and other competitions. Once I saw the gray wheel on our Granite Crystal Metallic Rubicon, I was sold. These particular wheels look like they were made for this Jeep!
The Dirty Life Enigma wheels I selected feature the faux bead lock look, but are also available in the 9313 racing series which is a true bead lock wheel. I wished I knew at the time, but Dirty Life just recently came out with its Dual-Tek series wheels. The DT wheels allow for a standard DOT bead seat to be legally used on the street. They can also function as an actual bead lock for off-road use. You simply configure the tire on either side of the bead and install the bead lock ring. This might be an upgrade in our future.
ORXtreme JL Jeep Wrangler Transformed With Local Talent And Product Specialist
To mount and balance these new aftermarket beauties, I tapped into our local Off Road Warehouse (ORW). Even though I brought in my own wheels and tires, Jim, the store manager of the Temecula location did not give me any grief. In fact, they completed the job as advertised and were very accommodating. The only hiccup was on my end since I did not provide any TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors) units. ORW located a new set of OEM replacements at a local dealership, which I went and retrieved.
Off Road Warehouse is also known as ORW by the patrons who frequent the growing chain. ORW has grown from a couple of core off-road shops in Southern California to an expanding national retailer with new locations in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. They are expert off-road specialists with all of the industry’s top products in stock and on the shelves. Staffed by knowledgeable enthusiasts that deliver honest value and exceptional customer service, I have been shopping for much of my off-road needs at ORW for more than twenty-five years. I also think it is pretty cool that the company owner, Greg Adler, is a legend in the industry and an accomplished off-road racer.
ORXtreme JL Jeep Wrangler Transformed With A Long Arm Suspension System
Moving onto the meat and potatoes of this meal is our proper trail-rated suspension system. Being a brand new Jeep planning to be regularly driven on road, we ruled out coilover shocks for now. I determined that a long arm crawler kit would satisfy our current needs and allow for future expansion with a coilover conversion if desired.
We did not want to go too high, and according to our calculations and research, lifting the JL by 3-inches would accommodate 37-inch tires in most every aspect. I wanted a complete package system that would enhance suspension articulation, use heavy-duty hardware, upgrade front and rear shocks, beef up the steering, and provide strong mounts and skids for extra durability.
I found what I was looking for in Fabtech’s Long Arm 3-inch Crawler System with Dirt Logic 2.25-inch shocks. The main attraction here are the heavy-duty 5-ton rod-end joints fixed into massive 2-inch lower links along with the super beefy full-width frame-rail-to-frame-rail cross member. As an added performance plus, I opted for the premium Dirt Logic 2.25-inch shock upgrade. These are available with or without external reservoirs. The overall kit design appears to be very robust and ties all components into a well laid out kit that is made specifically for the JL Wrangler Unlimited with V6. Fabtech advertises this system to provide superior off-road capability with a smooth and quiet ride on the street.
Fabtech’s Crawler System Includes:
- Front & Rear Lower 5 Ton Link Arms
- Front Link Arm Crossmember & Skid Plate
- Rear Lower Link Arm Mounts
- Corner Specific Dual Rate Coil Springs For Front & Rear
- Bump Stop Extensions For Front & Rear
- Sway Bar Links For Front & Rear
- Brake Line Drops For Front & Rear
- Track Bar Bracket For Front & Rear
- Heavy Duty Flipped Draglink
- Front Shock Mount Brackets
- Front & Rear Dirt Logic 2.25 Shocks
The main components include the link arms, link arm crossmember and mounts, rear track bar brackets, front track bar brackets, draglink flip system, bumpstop extensions, dual-rate long-travel coil springs, and dirt logic shocks. After thoroughly reading through the product description and instructions, and knowing the history of Fabtech’s devotion to off-road performance, I felt very confident with the Crawler System for our ORXtreme JL project vehicle.
When laid out, the kit displays a well-made and very complete system. For direct comparison, we have many of these aftermarket upgraded components laid out right next to the OEM factory parts. The sheer size and materials used is a direct correlation to just how beefy the Fabtech parts are.
For the JL, Fabtech does offer simpler sport systems, short arm trail kits, 5-inch lift systems, and also deluxe coilover kits. They also manufacture the whole tier of systems, shocks, or accessories for JT Gladiator, JK, LJU, Tj, and YJ Jeeps. It seems they really have the Jeep market covered for every level of off-road enthusiast. Besides that, Fabtech is most well known for the lift kits available for the expanse of most popular trucks and SUVs.
ORXtreme JL Jeep Wrangler Transformed With Dirt Logic Shocks
As an avid off-roader with a background in both desert racing and short course, I have handled pretty much all makes of shock products. These Fabtech-made Dirt Logic shocks are just as nice or nicer than everything else on the market. They are precision-crafted with premium materials and are fully assembled in-house. The Dirt Logic 2.25 shocks that come with our kit are pretuned and designed specifically for the Jeep JL and the suspension system, accounting for larger tires.
Dirt Logic Features:
- 2.25″ OD Stainless Steel Body
- 2.0″ OD Billet Aluminum Piston
- 7/8″ NitroSteel® Black Piston Rod
- Polyurethane Mounting Ends
Dirt Logic Shocks are also available as 2.5-inch coilovers, massive 4.0-inch coilovers, and even Godzilla-size 6.0-inch coilovers have been spotted. Editor’s Note: I am 6-foot, 4-inches tall standing next to that hog.
What Does It Take To Install A Fabtech Long Arm Crawler System?
For educational purposes, Fabtech invited Off Road Xtreme to its Chino Hills, California headquarters to capture and document the suspension system installation. With one technician working regular shop hours, and me slowing the process for step-by-step photography, the job was completed in three days.
The installation does require some welding, and a simple exhaust modification was required to allow for the driver side upper link to achieve the correct geometry and symmetrical mounting point. Our technical experts rate this installation with 3.5 out of 5 wrenches. Fabtech’s forward-thinking design and kit construction really simplifies the process, allowing for a moderately experienced and mechanically inclined enthusiast to be able to complete this job.
A vehicle lift is not required, but it does make the workflow much easier. Key to that waS the extensive use of jackstands to support the front and rear of the vehicle. We secured the axles with straps before disassembly and throughout the installation. As always, whenever working with tools and equipment, wear the proper safety gear, eye protection, face shield, gloves and heat guards. If you do not feel comfortable, do not have the necessary tools or required know how, consult with your local specialized auto professional.
Fabtech’s Research & Development Technician Shawn Giordano, who is also an esteemed off-road desert racer, was our master of the trade for this job. We graciously thank Shawn, Steve, David, and the rest of the Fabtech team for being part of the project.
We did document and photograph nearly every step of this install, which we have presented in the image gallery above. To spare you the drawn out play-by-play, instead, we walk through some of the noteworthy features.
Working Smarter Makes It Safer
PRO TIP: It is highly advised to thoroughly read and understand all instruction documentation before this process begins.
In standard fashion, the negative battery terminal was disconnected before we began. The vehicle was lifted up in the air and then the front and rear were supported by jackstands. The tires were removed and then we secured the housing before starting the disassembly. The axle housing was strapped up and supported from either side of the vehicle with heavy-duty ratchet tie-downs as well as another jackstand underneath. This gave us full control to free up whatever side we were currently working on.
Starting with the brake lines, electrical sensors, and on our Rubicon, the electronic locking differential plug was all removed from the axle housing and cleared out of the way. We disconnected the swaybar links, track bar, and steering arms and then pulled the front shocks which finally allowed for the axle to be lowered. This then allowed for the coil springs to be removed.
The factory crossmember could now be removed. We pulled that and then went on to full suspension disassembly. All of the upper and lower links were removed and set aside. These would not be used again. But we did hang onto and kept most of the hardware.
Measure Twice And Cut Once!
At this point, Shawn began to mark the vehicle where he would be cutting mounts, brackets, or removing any material. The instructions are clear and concise about where to cut, but be sure before you begin any kind of cutting and fabrication work.
Starting with the front upper and lower link arm pockets, Shawn used a blue paint pen to highlight the cut lines, careful to stay clear of the frame. Next, he moved to the back to outline the rear lower-link mounts, clearance the rear body mounts, and then the track bar link mount near the driver side rear hub.
Going back to the front, these heat guards were removed to reveal the front upper-link pockets. These would be marked for cutting away as shown, and again, being mindful to stay clear of the frame.
The Exhaust Modification Fits The New Subframe And Gives The Long Arms Proper Geometry.
It should be noted, the exhaust loop after the driver side catalytic converter will need to be cut and straight piped in with AFE P/N 48-48024 Loop Delete Pipe. This is all pretty straightforward but should be completed by a certified welder. This modification does not have any detrimental effect on the vehicle performance. At the time of installation, we were waiting on our part to come in so this was revisited at the end of the project and therefore was excluded from the photography.
The Cutting And Metal Fabrication Should Be Quick Yet Meticulous.
If you have not already, remove the OEM suspension links. Carefully following your cut lines, and wearing a face shield and eye protection, proceed to cut and remove the predetermined mounting points as indicated in the instructions. This would include the rear link mounts, front upper and lower link arm pockets, the rear body mounts, and the rear track bar link mount.
The rear link mounts inner and outer mounting tabs were carefully cut away from the frame. Shawn rightfully used a small metal plate to guard the fuel tank from any accidental, overzealous runaway cutoff wheels. All rough edges were cleaned up and sanded down. Next, the rear body mounts were clearanced to make room for the new Fabtech rear link mounting brackets which will be fixed and bolted to the frame as shown below.
Continuing on, the Fabtech rear link mounting brackets were mocked up and temporarily bolted into place to use as a template to identify where to mark for drilling. Finally, a hole saw was used to bore out a large enough opening to allow the installer to manipulate the mounting hardware inside the frame cavity. The Fabtech rear link mounting brackets were all mocked up into the final position. This would be repeated on the opposite side.
Masterful Design Makes For Light Fabrication And Quick Easy Work
Now it is time to make preparations for the mounting brackets that will be installed. Using the supplied brackets as a template, we fixed them into place with a clamp and bolted them into position. These supplied bracket mounts are designed to precisely locate into the correct location, but it would be a good idea to confirm proper fitment with the new links before welding takes place. Be sure to follow the instructions for final welding.
Moving up to the front, this track bar bracket is also just as simple. If you have not already, remove the track bar arm and begin cleaning up the bracket to fit the supplied Fabtech track bar bracketry.
Again, we use the supplied brackets as a template and matched the hole with the removed OEM hardware. It can only go one way, so make sure to fit it cleanly so it sits level. Once into position, we fixed the new fabricated track bar mount into place with a clamp and welded it into position according to the instructions. In the end, the brackets are both bolted and welded into place.
Before final assembly, all bare metal would be cleaned up and painted with a protective heavy coating that matched the factory finish and would protect against corrosion.
Time To Install The Shocks, Bump Stop Extensions, And Coils
The upgraded Dirt Logic 2.25-inch shocks are a nearly bolt-on replacement for our Jeep JL, but because of the new shock’s large cap and shoulder, they require a bit of clearancing to fit. Shawn used a cutoff wheel to square off the obstructing material and we quickly had the Dirt Logics mounted into position.
With the taller-lift springs, Fabtech supplied a Coil Correction Kit P/N FTS24280 that locks the coils into a straight and correct orientation. The factory upper and lower spring isolators are removed. The lower plastic isolator can be discarded and will not be used again.
The provided drill guide template allows for precise drill hole markers to be made. Put it up into the top spring pocket and make sure the arrow is pointed towards the front of the vehicle. Mark where drill hole provisions indicate and then remove the template and drill the marked holes out to 1/4-inch. Now you can install the factory rubber isolator so the locating pins slip into the new holes drilled.
At this point, we can modify the factory coil spring perch. Drill out the existing factory hole with a 1/2-inch drill bit.
Take the supplied coil spring, the bumpstop spacer, and the new rubber isolator and put it into place as one unit. Insert the 1/2-inch x 3-1/2-inch bolt inside the front bumpstop spacer and tighten down to the supplied nut tab slipped into the spring perch opening from below.
Fabtech Drag Link Upgrade
The Fabtech Long-Arm Crawler System includes the Drag Link Kit P/N FTS24210 as part of the kit. Following the call out of the instruction pamphlet, we harvested parts off of the old drag link bar and fitted it to the supplied drag link. Everything was assembled according to the directions, and then we reamed out the steering knuckle to fit the oversized heavy-duty ball joint. Shawn installed the new drag link bar and torqued her up tight as specified.
The Subframe Can Now Be Installed.
At this stage, things will start to move a lot more quickly now that the meticulous fabrication is out of the way. Starting with the Fabtech Crawler System subframe, we started actually installing the kit components. It is a heavy-duty unit that should be supported in place, or have a buddy hold it up while it is bolted in. Some drilling is required that will allow for the appropriate hardware to securely mount the subframe to the vehicle’s frame.
Once the subframe is securely mounted, you can fit the new Fabtech fabricated upper control arm mounts.
Clear Sailing And Final Assembly
Everything we presented above pretty much covers the main points of fabrication and modifications. From here on out, everything came together quickly. It is a smooth operation to put the remaining brackets and components using the supplied kit items or reusing the OEM hardware. After the install was wrapped up, all the bolts were torqued to spec and then marked to indicate they had been. The vehicle then received a four wheel alignment for good measure. For any questions on this suspension setup, feel free to use the comment section below or reach out to Fabtech directly.
As far as long-arm production off-road kits go, I will say that the Fabtech Crawler System is super beefy and the install was really straightforward and made easier by the well-engineered design. Overall, the Fabtech-manufactured components were 100% on point. There was not one defect in the pallet of boxes. Each and every weld looked perfectly executed. Every part wearing the heavy powdercoated finish was without blemish. It was actually very refreshing to see this level of quality in a production suspension system. With that being said, this is a high-dollar premium-level performance package and it seems very much worth the value.
I feel super confident that I made the right choice going with the Fabtech Crawler System to transform our ORXtreme JL into a proper trail rig.
Next on the ORXtreme JL Project Vehicle series, we will install a robust body armor package, some high-tech rock sliders, and a few other tricks to help get this rig down the trail. Stay tuned for more on this build!