BlackSheep II

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#1
The original BlackSheep was my dream ride. Foolishly I sold her. About 3 years ago. This was the day the new owner was coming to pick her up: IMG_2524.JPG
Most of what I learned about wheeling came from the folks on this forum while I was building BlackSheep.
That was then and I regret selling BlackSheep. Earlier this year I opted to buy another TJ and came upon this 2004 Rubicon:
IMG_2498.JPG
Of course I couldn't leave well enough alone, so the build has begun...
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#2
it started out innocent enough. My goal was a small lift and limit myself to no more than 33" tires, ideally something closer to 32" or even less if I could do it. I thought I might be able to do that with just a small 1" body lift and a leveling kit (so a 3/4" spacer in the front springs). In my mind, as I intended to keep the tire size on the smaller side, I also intended a belly-up / high clearance skid plate. This also pushed me towards 1" taller engine mounts. That was the plan - the DAYSTAR body mount kit (the one that incorporates the 1" body lift), the 1" engine mount and the spacer on the front springs.

Then I started on it... IMG_2987.JPG
IMG_2988.JPG IMG_2991.JPG
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Some of that I knew was there, some of it is worse than I had initially thought. Regardless of what it is or what I had initially thought about it, the rust needed to be addressed. I didn't take any photos, but the factory gas tank skid is also showing a bit of rust and had to be dealt with.
In order to address some of this, I felt I would be removing parts of the suspension - i.e. Shocks, Springs, most likely the trackbar(s) and possibly some control arms. Being who I am, I wasn't going to do all of that work and not do an upgrade. So I ordered the MetalCloak 3.5" RockSport (short arm) lift kit. Additionally, I also ordered their Gas Tank Skid plate. Unfortunately, they called me up and said I was looking at possibly the 2nd week of January before the kit shipped. Honestly, that's ok because I have a lot of work to do between now and then!

So, the items that will be installed during this period, after clean-up and repainting of the frame / body:
MetalCloak 3.5" Long Travel, Short arm RockSport lift kit
MetalCloak Rear upper spring perch relocation kit
MetalCloak gas tank skid
Daystar body mount kit
Daystar engine mount kit
Daystar comfort ride budget boot 0.75" - actually will end up replacing the factory spring isolators so I won't get any lift from them.
Tom Woods rear Drive shaft
POSSIBLE (actually very likely): Rokmen high clearance belly pan

Once I get all this assembled, I have to make a decision on tire size. I have a feeling I'm going to end up with 35" tires...
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#3
Working on BlackSheep II this weekend. Cleaning up rust and ended up removing the rear axle. I thought it would make it easier to access some of the rust areas as well as facilitate the installation of the spring perch relocation kit. Here's my passenger side frame rail:
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So before you say anything about it - yes, the crossmember is going to get removed, the frame will be cleaned up and painted. However, I'll won't be reinstalling the factory skid, I ordered the Rokmen high clearance skid last night. Before I remove the factory skid I need to get the body re-attached to the frame. Too much chance of things getting too far out of alignment if I get too much stuff disconnected.

I actually got both sides cleaned up and painted - from the front shock mount to the rear lower control arm (frame side) mount. That is a big step in re-attaching the body to the frame. I started on the frame cross-member that is also the shock mount today.
IMG_3024.JPG
tough to get a photo in there. Believe it or not, that is after I spent some time with my wire wheel. It's not in great shape but I think it's salvagable. I needed more room to be able to access it and I'm really not that far from having the rear axle out anyway, so, away it went...
IMG_3023.JPG
Thankfully a friend came over to help pull it out. It's not super complicated but having an extra set of hands and a strong back is huge!
Removing the rear axle probably also helps when it comes to welding in the spring perch relocation kit (which I'm told will be shipping next week).

The plan is to get back in there clear out that rust and get some protection sprayed in before the lift kit and other parts arrive.
 

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BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#4
Working on BlackSheep II during my Christmas vacation. A fair bit has happened since my last post. I'll try to bring the thread up to date.
Of course dealing with the rust is a big part of my work right now. With my last post I had removed the rear axle to allow better access to the back part of the frame where the crossmember is quite rusty. When I got back out there this past saturday, my goal was to get the body re-attached and try to tilt it forward. The goal in that is to give myself a bit more space to clean up the top side of that crossmember.

As I started working towards getting the bolts up through the new body mounts I realized that the body had shifted forward about 3/4". It took a while but I was able to slide the body backward by pulling on the body while hammering the base of the jack stand. Four jack stands supporting the body had to be moved about 3/4" each. That was fun. Anyway, I got the bolts to line up. There are 6 mounts in the main part of the body, between the wheels - three on each side. I assembled the three mounts and threaded the bolts through there just enough to ensure good thread engagement. For the two most forward mounts, I assembled them completely with all of the parts including the spacer and the rubber bushing that goes on the bottom side of the frame portion of the body mount.
IMG_3045.JPG
Maybe it's hard to see in that image but the body is resting on the most forward mount (left side of screen) and the jack stand is supporting the body near the third mount which you can see results in about 5" between the body and the frame at the very back of the body. All six of those body mounts are between the body and the frame and all six bolts are threaded in.

With the axle and the gas tank pulled I can actually really get back there to attack the rust.
IMG_3046.JPG
There is still work to be done here but with some new sanding disks I purchased, the work is going pretty fast. There is also a bunch of dust from the clean-up hanging around on that part as well. I'm pleased with how easy / accessible this bottom side is, the real question is the top. I'll dig into that tomorrow.

I hit some of the easy access places as well once I got the new sanding disks in play:
IMG_3001.JPG IMG_3050.JPG

The rust work is ongoing, did some Saturday, did some Sunday and today I did a bunch! Plenty left to do.

The other thing my buddy Scott and I did this weekend was to pull the front axle. As with the rear axle, pulling the front allows me to address some light rust situations up front. Not as bad as the back but it will def be easier without the axle. Another part of this is the rust / finish of the axle itself. with it outside the Jeep it will be easier to clean up and paint the axle housing. That will make me feel better - all kinds of new parts need to have the 'old' parts cleaned up. IMG_3042.JPG

Speaking of new parts...
img_3038_2.JPG
That's not fully unpacked yet - one more box to the right of the image contained the shocks, bump stops, hardware, etc. Anyway you can see the bulk of the MetalCloak 3.5" short arm kit. To the left lower is the rear upper spring perch relocation kit. Wrapped in all that plastic on the left are the parts for the gas tank skid plate. It is also a MetalCloak part. Super beefy! but also three of the four 'walls' of the skid are aluminum.
Anyway, rust removal and painting before I can really start re-assembling.
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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Premium Member
#6
If you ever lose you mind again and sell this thing, let me know. :D

Awesome work!
HA! Been down that road already, hope to keep my sanity this time!

Something that it seems I haven't mentioned yet - it looks like the backlash on the rear axle is pretty large. I haven't pulled the cover, but I think it's going to have to be rebuilt. Question is whether or not to re-gear. With this rig being a stick shift, I think it's going to handle larger tires with factory gearing better than the original BlackSheep that had an automatic. I did upgrade the axles in the original to 4:10 gearing but I need to dig into this model to see what it comes with factory. The front axle feels ok but will also need the cover pulled to verify.

So today was more rust mitigation. As I worked, I realized that if I removed the upper spring perches it would make access to some places a lot easier. So, away they went.
IMG_3056.JPG
That's pretty much been the work done today. Some rust stuff that you can't necessarily tell and pulling the spring perches. Ah, yes, contacting the guy who can weld up the new perches for me. Merry Christmas RME!
 

DAA

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#7
Question is whether or not to re-gear. With this rig being a stick shift, I think it's going to handle larger tires with factory gearing better than the original BlackSheep that had an automatic. I did upgrade the axles in the original to 4:10 gearing but I need to dig into this model to see what it comes with factory.
TJ Rubicons have 4.10 factory gears.

A lot of people are happy with the 4.10s with 35's. I regeared my LJ on 35's to 4.88's and have never regretted it. I believe your '04 has the 3550 5 speed. My '06 has the 6 speed, which has both a lower 1st gear and a lower OD. So, mine is geared even lower than yours would be with 4.88's. FWIW.

- DAA
 

I Lean

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#8
I was reasonably happy with my 4.10's and 33's. (with an AX-15). When I put on 35's, I wanted (and swapped in) 4.56's. FWIW....
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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Premium Member
#9
TJ Rubicons have 4.10 factory gears.

A lot of people are happy with the 4.10s with 35's. I regeared my LJ on 35's to 4.88's and have never regretted it. I believe your '04 has the 3550 5 speed. My '06 has the 6 speed, which has both a lower 1st gear and a lower OD. So, mine is geared even lower than yours would be with 4.88's. FWIW.
- DAA
I was reasonably happy with my 4.10's and 33's. (with an AX-15). When I put on 35's, I wanted (and swapped in) 4.56's. FWIW....
Thanks guys, I thought the Rubicon came with 4.10s. and yes, I do have the 5 speed. If I was still in Utah and had plenty of opportunity to do some real rock crawling (and money was no object), I'd definitely go to 4.56 or 4.88. However, the amount of rock crawling this rig will actually see is tiny due to living in South Carolina. Honestly, it's going to be way overbuilt for whatever I might find myself getting into out here. There is a lot of mud out here and I am not a fan of mud. Very little opportunity for rock crawling. That's not to say none, just very little.

Since I'm getting to a point where money is an object, the determination of re-gear will depend on the condition of the front gear set. If I have to replace gearing all round, yes, I'll bump to 4.56 or 4.88 (decisions, decisions...). I know that with the original BlackSheep, once I went to the 35" tires I wished I would have re-geared to 4.56 or 4.88. With this build, it will go (most likely) on 33s at least for a start. I won't say it will 'never' go to 35" tires...
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#10
Today I decided to play around with my axles to determine to what extent a rebuild is necessary. Going into it, I felt the rear diff would need a rebuild because what I thought was excessive backlash. Turns out that it's possible the backlash is close, but it's the pinion bearings that look to me that they are likely shot. I took a cool video but it's too big to upload. Anyway, the pinion gear has fore-aft movement. A lot of it. Plus, there is no preload on the bearings so what I thought was excessive backlash was just that it was so easy to turn and there is play in the axle splines. Am I going to need to replace the locker and the axles? I need to pull the axles to find out. I didn't get that far although I did get to a point where I could have pulled the axles if I had a slide hammer...

So all the brake hardware is removed from the rear axle and except for extracting the axles, it's almost stripped to just the diff and housing.

As for the front it doesn't seem like I got a lot done. What I do see during my inspection is that the pinion bearing has preload, the backlash doesn't seem horrible but I haven't pulled the cover. I did see that the u-joints on both axle ends need to be replaced. Fun stuff. I have a feeling that with 192,000 miles I should just bite the bullet and do a complete refresh on both axles - rings, pinions, bearings, u-joints, axle bearings, etc. it's just money.... :p
 

I Lean

Mbryson's hairdresser
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Location
Utah
#11
On the rear axle, what you need to replace all depends on how long it's been driven with a 'loose' pinion, plus exactly how/where it's loose. It's possible you still have a decent pattern under drive pressure...in which case you could probably reuse the R&P and everything else, and just do a rebuild. (new bearings and seal) Either way, the locker and axleshafts are unlikely to be affected.

You can use the brake rotors as "slide hammers", by placing them back on the wheel studs backward, put lug nuts on loosely, and pull the shafts by banging the rotor outward, against the lug nuts. You won't get a lot of "slide" on the lugs, but it's usually enough.
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#12
On the rear axle, what you need to replace all depends on how long it's been driven with a 'loose' pinion, plus exactly how/where it's loose. It's possible you still have a decent pattern under drive pressure...in which case you could probably reuse the R&P and everything else, and just do a rebuild. (new bearings and seal) Either way, the locker and axleshafts are unlikely to be affected.

You can use the brake rotors as "slide hammers", by placing them back on the wheel studs backward, put lug nuts on loosely, and pull the shafts by banging the rotor outward, against the lug nuts. You won't get a lot of "slide" on the lugs, but it's usually enough.
Thanks Carl! Good tip!
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#13
Today I took my axles to Krawl Off-Road, one of the 'local' shops in Upstate SC. They came highly recommended by other members of my local club - South Carolina Jeep Addicts. I've not been particularly active in the club, but following this build I think I'll need to - just so I can justify this build.

I started by pulling one of the rear axle shafts as @ILean suggested. Of course it popped right out. The splines are in great shape so I shouldn't have to replace the axle shafts which at least makes me feel that the locker splines are also in fine condition. Looking at the ring and pinion yesterday makes me think that they may be able to be saved - so yes, I'm sticking with 4.10 gearing.

Following inspection of the rear axles, I started to tear down the front. The steering mechanism, track bar and brake calipers were still connected to the front axle so I stripped all of that. Then my buddy Scott came up, we loaded them up in my truck and headed to Krawl.

They are putting together an estimate for me but essentially I'll be having them replace all bearings and seals in both diffs as well as the axle bearings on the rear and the unit bearing on the front. They'll also replace the U-joints on the front axles and the ball joints. They'll also order me up some sturdy diff covers to replace the nasty factory covers.

Additional items I've asked them to quote so I can make a decision are:
**replace all four lower control arm mounts - I know this is a good idea as the lower mounts got pretty beat up on the original BlackSheep.
**Reinforce the 'C's on the front axle. Doesn't sound like a bad idea really, but the truth is that this version of BlackSheep is unlikely to get wheeled as hard as the original. Depends on the cost really. I know now's the time to do it so if it doesn't break the bank I'll likely do it.
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#14
Big day today - some friends came over with their welders and we got the new upper rear spring perches assembled and welded in.
As a reminder, this is about how it looked from the factory:
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Clearly some clean up to do before I paint but I'm stoked to have these welded in. The install took quite a while because they came as 'builder parts' which means we had to weld them up piece by piece before we could weld them in place. They did a great job - Tig welded to assemble the perches, then used flux core wire to weld them to the frame.

The only thing I'm a bit concerned about is the fact that there is an air cavity above the spring perch / between the frame / plate. I am trying to decide how important it is to get some type of protection in there on what is essentially bare, untreated and therefore unprotected metal. There is no access so if I decide that I need to get something in there I'll have to either go up through the bottom of the cup (bolt hole), or drill through a side. How important is it to get some paint / protection in there? Further - how the heck would you suggest to do that?

Other stuff I did today while those guys were welding up the parts:
Assembled the gas tank skid plate:
IMG_3062.JPG
and lubricated / set lengths of the control arms:
IMG_3065.JPG
I didn't snap a photo but I also cleaned up / prepped for paint the front anti-sway bar and assembled the new front quick release sway bar links.

Haven't heard back from the axle builder today, I think they're now out until next wednesday. A little bummed that I didn't hear from them today.
 

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#18
Thanks guys, I thought the Rubicon came with 4.10s. and yes, I do have the 5 speed. If I was still in Utah and had plenty of opportunity to do some real rock crawling (and money was no object), I'd definitely go to 4.56 or 4.88. However, the amount of rock crawling this rig will actually see is tiny due to living in South Carolina. Honestly, it's going to be way overbuilt for whatever I might find myself getting into out here. There is a lot of mud out here and I am not a fan of mud. Very little opportunity for rock crawling. That's not to say none, just very little.
Blacksheep does not know he is going to be asked to accompany me to the promised land. Blacksheep needs to continue building until it is again worthy of RME4x4 and a trip out west. For when we get to the promised land we shall lay waste to the RM and turn it to dust.
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#19
Blacksheep does not know he is going to be asked to accompany me to the promised land. Blacksheep needs to continue building until it is again worthy of RME4x4 and a trip out west. For when we get to the promised land we shall lay waste to the RM and turn it to dust.
ha! And here comes my strong backed friend! I hope you posted an intro.
 

BlackSheep

baaaaaaaaaad to the bone
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#20
This weekend is about cleaning up rust and painting areas as I get them ready. Following the installation of the spring perch relo kit, I spent some time cleaning up the exterior, top and bottom of the frame in that area of the rear axle. Three coats of primer followed by three coats of enamel finish and I feel like that should hold up for a bit:
IMG_3082.JPG
This is an interesting contrast between before and after:
img_3034 cropped.png
IMG_2987.JPG
IMG_3084.JPG

Anyway, today is letting the phosphoric acid do its thing on some rust areas that I can't get at with the tools.
 
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