Project LJ Defined

Article Series - Project LJ

  1. Project LJ Defined
  2. Project LJ: Stage 1
  3. Project LJ: Stage 2
  4. Project LJ: Stage 3

Jeeping and Me

I’m proud to say that responsible Jeeping runs in my family. A native of Colorado, I grew up going on camping trips that inevitably involved some four-wheeling in the Rocky Mountains or in the nearby semi-desert canyon country of places like the Canyonlands. Decades before every soccer mom drove an SUV — indeed, before anyone knew the term “SUV” — we drove around town and in the boonies in a variety of four-wheel-drive vehicles. My childhood memories are strewn with images of riding in Jeeps (CJ-5s and -7s, mostly), little Broncos, big Broncos, sequel Broncos, and even more Jeeps. When my older brother turned 16, he got a black CJ-7 Levi’s edition. When I turned 16, I got a 1981 CJ-7 of my very own: a copper brown, Laredo edition, on which I learned to drive (and, inevitably, to conduct basic repairs). I eventually sold that first rig to by an Isuzu Amigo, which my dad and I fixed into a terrific little vehicle despite its lack of low-end power. That little beauty was, in turn, replaced by another CJ-7, which I thought would last me for many years.

But then there came an offer, as Brando would say, that I could not refuse: a terrific, once-in-a-lifetime deal on a brand-new 2005 Jeep LJ (Wrangler TJ-D Unlimited), Rubicon edition.

And I even liked the color.

The Beginning: Getting a Rubicon

There are some “purists” out there who insist that buying a Rubicon edition is some sort of cop-out. “Jeeps must be built, not bought,” they say.

Well, some purists are schmucks. The Rubicon edition is loaded with terrific elements — lockers and Dana 44s front and rear, for starters — that, by virtue of coming on the vehicle stock, are not only cheaper than they would be added-on later, but also fully covered under warranty. So getting the Rubicon edition is thus a no-brainer, really.

Thus, I bought Thumper III, my Jeep LJ Rubicon, in the spring of 2005, with less than 20 miles on the odometer. Brilliant silver, it brought immediate smiles to our faces the day we drove it home.

Project LJ Defined

One of the joys of a Jeep is the opportunity (perhaps even the necessity) to customize the vehicle. The Jeep aftermarket, especially for Wranglers, is massive, so there are countless ways to personalize your Jeep and make it truly unique and your own. No stranger to modifications — I can’t remember the last time our family didn’t have at least one vehicle with a lift-kit — I set off planning for Thumper’s future even before I pulled her into my driveway.

Thus began Project LJ: a staged, planned build-up of this already formidable vehicle, aimed at producing a machine that is as capable off-road as it is on-road. In other words, I wanted to balance trail-conquering with street-safety — all the while keeping a careful eye to the bottom-line.

  • Street-safe.
  • Trail-conquering.
  • Cheap.


That’s Project LJ in a nutshell.

The confines of the pocketbook meant that, like most owners, I couldn’t accomplish the full range of my planned modifications in one swoop. Buying the rig itself was no small dent in my available funds, after all, despite the deal I got. Luckily, a stock LJ Rubicon is an out-0f-the-box beast on the trails. So it wasn’t like I had to do too much before I could start to enjoy myself.

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