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No Time and Less Money build


NAXJA Forum User
Cranford, NJ
I'm not really sure where the right place is to post a build thread so if this should be moved please do so. I'm really just posting this up to help me keep track of what I've done to this thing and what works and what doesn't work for me so here it goes. I've built about 20 various jeeps over the years but with 4 little kids now my free time and free money is pretty much nonexistent. I had been working on an old school model A hot rod build but it was going nowhere and I was basically given this 96 XJ so I figured I'd make it my new project DD/beater.
A little history on the jeep, it was my wife's about 12 years ago then it went to her brother, then her other brother, then her father for a bit then back to the first brother then to me so while I know the jeep's history it was also in need of alot of catch up maintenance by the time I got it. Luckily it had gotten a new radiator, water pump and steering box within the past year. It still needed tires, rear hatch struts, an exhaust, fluid change, and a bunch of other little things. I took care of all that stuff and made sure she was running good then I decided to build it up a bit for as little cash as possible. I threw on some coil spacers in the front and a pair of Chevy drop shackles in the rear along with a set of JK Rubicon shocks. This along with ripping off the flares and some sheetmetal surgery gave me room for some used 32 x 11.5 BFG ATs and my total investment in the Jeep at this point was around $520.
Well I drove it like this for a bit and everything worked fine. My plan was to DD the XJ and find a YJ or CJ to build again but being that the XJ has been in the family so long my wife told me to just build it up and it would fit my two older boys for wheeling trips better anyway so I started gathering parts from classifieds and such. I was still in the gathering stage when the brake calipers started dragging the other day so I figured while I had stuff apart why not throw on what I had so far. So along with the new calipers on went some lightly used Rough Country adjustable lower control arms, a pair of 4.5" Rubicon Express front springs and a full length AAL in the rear. I pulled out the coil spacers but kept the shackle and it sat pretty nicely with just a little rake but the 32s just looked too small.
Now I expected the driveshaft angle to be less than ideal in the rear so I ordered up Iron Rock Offroad's Hack and Tap SYE and picked up a used XJ front shaft at the local junkyard for $50. A pair of 4 degree shims got my angles good and vibe free. For shocks I used off the shelf Gabriel rear shocks for a 97 F150 in the front part number 61612 and 95 F150 rear shocks in the rear part number 61530. Both sets have the right mounting styles (with a little work for the bar pins and drilling out some sleeves) and they have over 10 inches of travel in the rear and over 12 inches in the front. As a bonus I paid for them with what I got selling off the JK shocks and coil spacers.
I also sold off the 32s and picked up a set of well used 33x10.5s on rock crawler rims from a guy in the local club. I kept the rims and sold off the 33 tires for almost as much as I paid originally so i got a nice set of steelies for $20. I also picked up two random sets of 35" old style BFG mud terrains and was able to get 4 tires with really good tread and a decent spare and am selling off the rest.
Now to take advantage on my new height and travel I needed longer brakelines. In the rear I swapped to a 96 Dodge Dakota rear line (Autozone part number 77825) which is a bolt in and gives plenty of length at 22". For the front I relocated my hard lines as far down as I could which got it drivable but for my peace of mind when off road I'm swapping to front lines from a 95 Chevy C1500 in the next few days (Autozone part numbers 77760 and 77761) Total for all the lines was under $50 and they are easily replaceable at any local parts store.
Now as I'm sure most know fitting 35s on 4.5" of lift is tough and requires a fair amount of trimming and work with a grinder and hammer. I had done the standard cut in the front and the cut and fold in the rear but needed a little more now especially in the front wheelwell because theres just too much in there. The best way to do it for me was to mount up the 35s and see what hits which will be a lot but luckily it's all pretty easy to cut out and bang back and still keep it clean looking. At this point the cost to go up to 4.5" and 35s from the 32s after selling off the old parts is under $200.
Now there are a few issues I still need to address. To start I'd like to push my front axle slightly forward so I just scored a pair of brand new Rubicon Express fixed upper control arms which with my adjustable lowers should let me push it up a half inch or so. I would have preferred adjustable uppers as well but it was too good of a deal. For now I redrilled my track bar mounting hole which has centered my axle fine and I have avoided any death wobble issues but a stronger track bar and possibly a new mount are on the list to upgrade still but that's waiting until I decide what I'm doing with my steering. Obviously I also need to upgrade the steering and as of now I am planning on doing the ZJ V8 upgrade to get by for a bit. Over the winter I am hoping to score a 4.10 geared 8.8 and, if I can find one, a 4.10 geared Dana 30 to build up and swap in. This should get me a little better gearing and 4 wheel discs for $500-600 as I already have some parts for the 8.8 swap. I'm waiting to see if I can find a factory 4.10 front or if I will get mine regeared and at that point I will probably use tie rod flip inserts and a right hand drive drag link to pull the steering up over the knuckles at which point I will see what I'm going to do about my track bar (new custom mounts and bar, lower the frame mount, Iron Rock double shear bar and mount, etc...) but for now it works on the street and will last the winter. One thing I would like to address pretty quickly is that while the rear AAL gave me the lift I wanted it rides about as stiff as I expected so I'm looking to find some springs to build a bastard pack with or if I can scrape together $230 I may just go with new RE 3.5" leaf packs from Amazon. I also picked up off a forum classified a set of never installed JCR unibody tie in brackets for the front that will reinforce the front frame area and steering box mount so I will mount those up and probably build a new bumper or at least D ring mounts off of them. I don't think I could've bought the steel to make them myself for what I paid for them. My other option is to resell them and spring for an ORS winch bumper and add on my own outer protection. I also plan on making a new crossmember and adding a skid plate when I get the time.
Now I'll try to get a few pics up of things at various points but as I said with 4 little kids most of my time working on the jeep is after they go to bed or for a random hour here or there when I can sneak outside so taking pictures is never a top priority for me. For example I installed the budget boost at about 1 AM in my driveway using a work light and a LED headlamp to see. Also I do everything myself including mounting and balancing the tires which was also done in the middle of the night... my neighbors must love me. Anyways that's how it sits for now, I will try to update when I get stuff done but if anyone has any questions or words of advice post up. Oh and yes it's staying short arm for a while but I have been researching mid arm kits and stuff but its a long ways off.
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Here's how it sat after the 4.5" lift still with the 32s and original trimming

Here's with the 35s and some more cutting

I will get some better pics of what else I cut and the inner fender work later on.
Well I had some time this morning so I swapped in the RE fixed upper control arms and changed over to the C1500 brake lines. The control arms went in great and now my caster and pinion angle are good without pulling the axle back too much. I managed to get rid of the vibe I was getting from the front driveline. As for the brakelines they are not a bolt in. They require grinding on either the locating tab on the caliper or you can grind a notch on the metal end where the banjo bolt passes through. I opted to grind the notch for clearance but you do also need to watch out as the metal tube is offest slightly and if you install it with the offset facing in it will not let the banjo bolt seal all the way and it will leak under pressure. I also had one flare nut round off on me so I cut the tube and reflared it on the jeep with a new nut on. The length on these hoses is great. I moved my hard lines back up to the stock spot and still have room at full droop however due to the grinding it may be a better option for some to relocate the hard lines lower and use YJ soft lines as they are longer and will bolt right up with no modifications. I remembered to take some pics today so I will put them up later.
Sweet build so far! I like how you're doin everything on such a tight budget, that's my style too. Looks good man!

Thanks sometimes it takes a while but I can usually find some pretty good deals on used parts or discounts or trades or whatever. My toy fund disappeared a few kids ago so I have to be creative in my funding but it'll all come together eventually.
Yanked the sagging headliner out with plans of recovering it but I kind of like it without it in and really it serves no purpose for me so I might not bother putting it back. I'd really love to cut a big hole in the roof and put in one of those giant sliding canvas sunroofs but that'll have to wait till I have a cage, etc...
Swapped out the AAL for some S10 springs, rides nicer but I may have lost an inch. Ill have to see if it bothers me enough to put in another leaf. At least it was 40 degrees out so it wasnt too bad working outside. Supposed to be in the low 30s all week so I figured I'd better get it done while I could.
Yanked the sagging headliner out with plans of recovering it but I kind of like it without it in and really it serves no purpose for me so I might not bother putting it back. I'd really love to cut a big hole in the roof and put in one of those giant sliding canvas sunroofs but that'll have to wait till I have a cage, etc...

I put off doing the headliner for years, and when I did it I was kicking myself for waiting do long. Took me a couple hours and cost about $50 in materials.
Well I tossed in another spring tonight and got back my inch of lift in the rear. I also swapped in my new $30 mechless head unit while I was waiting to pick up one of my kids at school. I have learned with jeeps to go with the cheapest radio possible that way I don't care if it goes missing or gets wet. I also get ones without CD players that will take a line in or have a USB or SD card port. This way I can just use my iPod or a card or flash drive for music. I plan on pulling the doors come spring so I hopefully I don't have to worry bout it walking away.